The word is in: An article in yesterday’s New York Times declares that stainless steel is better than plastic bottles for the environment–if one stainless bottle takes the place of at least 50 plastic bottles. The two writers of the column are developing a software product that conducts lifecycle assessments. They issued their verdict on stainless steel bottles after taking into account the environmental impacts of mining iron ore, chromium, and nickel, transporting them large distances, making the steel, transporting the steel, fabricating the bottles, and so on.
I can’t comment on the quality of the argument because zero data is provided on any of the inputs, and no information at all is provided on the plastic product.Assuming they are correct, however, isn’t this a little strange? Under what circumstances would someone use a stainless steel bottle to drink water? A hike maybe. No, stainless is too heavy. And how does stainless steel get into the recycling stream? Do you take it to a car shredder? What if people re-fill plastic bottles to drink water?
And what about the environmental waste of printing this silliness on half a page of the New York Times and distributing it across North America to a million people?
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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