1. Tough economic conditions will force greater efforts to reduce cost and improve product effectiveness through accelerated design engineering. Value engineering processes took a back seat when business was booming. Now efforts will be redoubled to find more efficient assembly systems and more cost-effective materials.
2. Injection molding will gain more attention as a design tool, for plastics, metals and ceramics. Advances in materials, simulation and processing technology make injection molding more feasible for difficult (e.g. high temperature) applications. There will be growing emphasis on molders who offer design support and advanced technology, as other molders fall by the wayside.
3. Weight reduction efforts in cars will get far more serious as OEMs such as General Motors finish materials engineering for electric cars, such as the Chevy Volt. The short-term winners will be known materials solutions (e.g., forged aluminum wheels) rather than exotic and very expensive solutions (e.g., large scale use of carbon fiber composites).
4. Medical engineering will rise in importance as OEMs continue to move away from low-margin manufacturing. The troubles in the car industry received huge press in 2008, but this is a trend established more than 20 years ago.
5. The Japanese companies will lead in new engineering applications for plastics using natural feedstocks in place of hydrocarbons. Sixty per cent of the interior components of Toyota’s new hybrid will be made from plant-based plastics. Parts include scuff plates, headliners, and seat cushions.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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