The New Obama fuel mileage requirements for cars are music to the ears of the American steel industry. That might seem odd. After all, aren’t a lot of those concept cars rolled out of Detroit every year loaded with plastic and other lightweight materials options? Yes, but a lot of those concepts remain concepts. Take the Chevy Volt for example. It was first shown at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2007 with a polycarbonate roof and a hood made from recycled soda bottles. Once GM decided to actually make the Volt, those two ideas were quickly dropped. Too impractical. Too expensive. A study recently released by the American Iron and Steel Institute predicts a 10 percent annual growth rate in the use of advanced high-strength steels through 2020 as auto makers try to meet tough new fuel standards.
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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