Design engineering is becoming much less complicated at Ford Motor Co, which is clearly the most successful American auto company in recent years. Under the “One Ford” plan initiated by CEO Alan Mulally, The auto producer is dramatically reducing the number of options available and is reducing the number of nameplate vehicles from 97 a few years ago to 20. One of the goals is to make Ford brands more universal on a global basis; that is, much less local customization. At one point, for example, Ford had three regional versions of the Focus, requiring three different engineering teams.
The Ford approach flies in the face of longtime American automotive conventional wisdom. General Motors, for example, achieved great success by developing a Buick platform in China with Chinese engineers.
The implication of the Ford strategy for materials is clear: there will be an accelerated trend toward common chemicals platforms within car areas. For instance, look for even greater emphasis on polyolefin polymers in auto interiors. The trend had already begun to facilitate recycling.
The 100% solar-powered airplane Solar Impulse 2 is prepping for its upcoming flight, becoming the first plane to fly around the world without using fuel. It's able to do so because of above-average performance by all of the technologies that go into it, especially materials.
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.
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