One of the big stories at this week’s National Plastics Exposition in Chicago is the evolution of America’s plastics industry. These are my first thoughts based on a press conference this morning at the Sabic Innovative Plastics booth. Sabic IP was formed in 2007 when Sabic acquired GE Plastics, one of the original plastics companies in the world with the development of phenolic housings for radios. Dan Fox, who worked with a young chemical engineer named Jack Welch, invented polycarbonate at GE. Charles Crew, CEO of Sabic IP, announced today that the company is launching a program called “One Sabic”. The company will sell a range of Sabic products, which could range from polyethylene to metals. “We’re going to start with glass-filled polypropylene for the automotive market,” Crew said in a response to a question from Design News. That move makes a lot of sense because of the high growth rates for polyolefins in auto applications from bumpers to interior components. Filled PP is a highly engineered material that fits the Sabic IP portfolio well. But it’s also a sea change from the standard operating procedure of the old GE Plastics, which at one time publicly denigrated lower level materials.Sabic, of course, is a major producer of polyethylene and polypropylene in Saudia Arabia, where it has a highly advantaged feedstock cost structure. It certainly makes sense for Sabic to use the former GE Plastics unit to market its whole portfolio. The decision, I’m sure though, was not an easy one. Mohamed H. Al-Mady, Sabic CEO, also said at the press conference: “Our strategy for selling polyme s in America is still evolving.”
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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