There’s an interesting new player in the plastics-from-plants arena. A company called OriginOil was formed in Los Angeles last year to develop a technology in which plastics and other chemicals are derived from algae. Algae cells contain up to 60 percent oil—who knew? OriginOil developed a helix bioreactor that speeds algae growth. Low-energy lights are arranged in a helix pattern to enhance algae growth. Last month, the company announced automation of the process, providing real-time monitoring, nutrient injection and carbon dioxide delivery at the micron level. Oil is extracted from the cell walls through a microwave process. Believe it or not, there are actually nine companies involved in algae-to-energy development. All the technical issues aren’t resolved, and it will be fa ew years before production units are ready—if then. The economics are a whole different issue. They’re “under study”, says the company. The price of oil, of course, will be a huge factor.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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