It’s amazing to consider the long-term potential of carbon nanotubes as a polymer reinforcement if major issues (cost and health concerns) can be overcome. Research reveals the possibility of cross-linking CNT molecules prior to incorporation in a polymer matrix to form a super composite with a tensile strength of 20 million psi. Single-walled nanotubes exhibit unique electric properties and may be used for miniaturizing electronics beyond the micro electromechanical scale. Big producers are placing major bets on the technology. In Japan, Showa Denko is building a 400 million metric tons per year production plant. In Germany, Bayer is building a 200 million metric tons per year plant. They’re betting they can dramatically reduce the cost of CNTs which had been in the stratosphere as a pilot scale product, say $40,000 per pound. Multiwall nanotubes are down to $50 to $70 per pound now. Prices will drop as new plants come on line. Health issues must also be addressed.
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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