Polycarbonate, one of the fastest-growing engineering polymers in recent years, looks like it’s in for some hard times. On one side, the clear thermoplastic is getting battered by concerns over adverse health effects of biphenyl A (a key constituent) and on the other by declining sales of CDs and DVDs.New clarified polypropylenes are replacing PCs used in food and beverage containers. The economics favoring polyolefins is also changing. The price differential between the two polymers, already substantial, is likely to widen further as massive new PP supplies come on one. PC is easily twice as expensive as PP right now.
Meanwhile, one of the giant markets for PC is under siege. Since the introduction of the MP3, sales of CDs have dropped in seven out of the last eight years. Large label CD sales dropped 20% in 2008. The outlook is grim as it becomes apparent that movies and other content will be increasingly delivered over the Internet.
That’s why you see so many concept cars (like the first Chevy Volt) featuring polycarbonate roofs. Automotive glazing has been the Holy Grail for PC for at least five years. But that won’t be coming anytime soon because of concerns over performance issues.
What does all this mean for mechanical engineers? Look for major producers (such as Sabic IP, Bayer, Dow or Mitsubishi) to show more interest on working with you to develop new applications. Key candidates are components requiring clarity, stiffness, temperature resistance and impact resistance.
A make-your-own Star Wars Sith Lightsaber hilt is heftier and better-looking than most others out there, according to its maker, Sean Charlesworth. You can 3D print it from free source files, and there's even a hardware kit available -- not free -- so you can build one just in time for Halloween.
Some next-generation bio-based materials are superior in performance to their petro-based counterparts, but also face some commercial challenges. This is especially true of certain biopolymers, adhesives, coatings, and advanced materials.
Cars and other vehicles, as well as electronics and medical devices, continue to lead the use cases for the new plastics products we've been seeing, as engineers design products for tougher environments.
LeMond Composites, founded by three-time Tour de France cycling champion Greg LeMond, is the first to license a new carbon fiber production method invented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) that's faster, cheaper, and greener.
This month will mark the launch of the SpeedFoiler, a super-fast, ultra-lightweight foiling catamaran that can fly short distances over water faster than other foiling designs, in part because of its carbon composite materials.
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