The transformation of global auto engineering continues at a dizzying pace. In the latest spin, Chrysler engineers are making monthly trips to a huge Fiat plant in Tychy, Poland. Small cars come off the assembly line at the plant every 55 seconds, double the production rate 13 years ago. The plant is considered a model of efficiency, and flexibility, and the Chrysler engineers are there to learn. Chrysler engineering is going on a massive diet now that the company is being run by Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat. It was only 18 months or so ago that Chrysler planned to import small car technology from China. It also wasn’t so terribly long ago that Fiat left the USA market as a failure. It wasn’t so long ago that Poland was behind the Iron Curtain-the home of the world’s worst cars. Things change fast. Maybe that can work in the favor of American car OEMs today.
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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