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.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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