Boeing’s recent decision to buy a contractor’s plant in South Carolina is kicking up a lot of dust in the Seattle area. Some mavens see it as a potential “Southern strategy” to avoid balky unions. The result, says one, could turn Seattle into a “Detroit with pine trees”. The issue is a hot one because Boeing is trying to determine where to locate its next Dreamliner factory. Another columnist states: “Boeing risks overplaying its hand. We survived the loss of its headquarters. We’ll survive without the second 787 assembly line and hopefully be prodded to reinvent ourselves for the 21st-century economy.”
The Dreamliner is one of the most exciting materials’ technology stories of the past 100 years. And as for as business stories go, it seems to rival to just about anything I’ve written about since my career began in 1969 at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Everything is news: fastener shortages, composites, engine technologies, supply chain outsourcing, delays, and now the mirage of Southern competition. From a business perspective, it’s become Michael Jackson, Jennifer Aniston and Bono all rolled into one.
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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