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.”
Alcoa has unveiled a new manufacturing and materials technology for making aluminum sheet, aimed especially at automotive, industrial, and packaging applications. If all its claims are true, this is a major breakthrough, and may convince more automotive engineers to use aluminum.
NASA has just installed a giant robot to help in its research on composite aerospace materials, like those used for the Orion spacecraft. The agency wants to shave the time it takes to get composites through design, test, and manufacturing stages.
The European Space Agency (ESA) is working with architects Foster + Partners to test the possibility of using lunar regolith, or moon rocks, and 3D printing to make structures for use on the moon. A new video shows some cool animations of a hypothetical lunar mission that carries out this vision.
If there's one thing 3D printing's good for, it's customization. New Balance Athletic Shoe Company has begun using 3D printing to make customized spike plates for its running shoes made for members of its Team New Balance runners. They provide better traction and shave off a tiny bit of weight.
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