Access to solar power is increasing, albeit slowly and at a steep price. A Florida company called SkyShades is selling shade umbrellas equipped with flexible solar panels that slip into the canopies. There’re being sold to coffee shops as well as leisure resorts that want more battery-charging capability poolside. “My friends who go to places like Starbucks have said there has been insufficient access to outlets,” Joe McKenna, executive vice president of SkyShades said in a recent interview with me. They’re pricey - at $10,000. But the regular price for these canopies is $5,200. “They seem expensive. However for SkyShades to build a PVC structure it would cost $75-$80 per sq ft and these work out to about $31 per sq ft.” adds McKenna. Another new consumer item is a handbag with integrated solar panels. Price: $472. This is pretty much in the realm of the Tesla electric cars that sell for more than $100,000. You can buy these products, but for a while real solar-powered stuff is pretty much a toy for the eco-rich. Check my feature in the April issue of Design News for the amazing plastics technology that provides power for the flexible solar panels.
Siemens and Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology have achieved a faster production process based on selective laser melting for speeding up the prototyping of big, complex metal parts in gas turbine engines.
BMW has already incorporated more than 10,000 3D-printed parts in the Rolls-Royce Phantom and intends to expand the use of 3D printing in its cars even more in the future. Meanwhile, Daimler has started using additive manufacturing for producing spare parts in Mercedes-Benz Trucks.
SABIC's lightweighting polycarbonate glazing materials have appeared for the first time in a production car: the rear quarter window of Toyota's special edition 86 GRMN sports car, where they're saving 50% of its weight compared to conventional glass.
Design engineers play a big role in selecting both suppliers and materials for their designs. Our most recent Design News Materials Survey says they continue to be highly involved, in some ways even more than the last time we asked to peek inside their cubicles.
Daihatsu is one of the first carmakers to customize car exteriors using 3D printing's mass customization capabilities. Effect Skins -- small exterior bumper and fender panels in different colors and textures -- can be ordered for its Copen convertible.
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