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.”
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.
A fun and informative tour you can attend at the upcoming Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis, MD&M Minneapolis, and other events there, is the Materials Innovation Tour on Wednesday afternoon. I'll be leading it.
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