Engineers are looking for ways to boost value and gain business. One example comes from Mazda, which is leveraging a plastic foaming process developed at MIT. Mazda’s injection molding process cuts part weight 20 to 30 percent by mixing supercritical fluid with plastic resin, such as nylon, in the injection barrel. The SCF causes the melt to expand rapidly when injected into a mold, requiring less resin. After initial injection, the mold core is precisely retracted, creating an outer layer with microscopic bubbles that ensure each part has the necessary strength and rigidity. The size of the bubbles in the core layer are adjusted to reduce density as desired, thus allowing control of the resin savings. Mazda says the technique can be used on most plastic car parts, and will be introduced on 2011 models.Mazda’s initial announcement called the technology proprietary, and Mazda has in fact been awarded patents for the development. Mazda, however, neglected to mention that the microcellular foam technology was developed at MIT and licensed to a Massachusetts company called Trexel. More than 300 molding machines use the SCF technology. Eighty-five discrete components have already been developed for use in cars, Trexel President David Bernstein told me in a recent meeting in Woburn, MA. MuCell works best with semi-crystalline engineering resins.
Mazda apparently did develop the concept of using core-back or “expansion” molding with the process, a brilliant idea. Trexel and Engel will be showing their approach to core-back molding at the National Plastics Exposition in Chicago June 22-26.
I’ll be posting more ideas on microcellular foam here at www.designnews.com, and writing articles for the print edition as well. One big issue I’ll explore is how the microcellular foam process can improve component properties.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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