After two weak years, look for some excitement at the North American Auto Show, which opens to the press on Monday in Detroit. Audi’s new 2012 A6 will officially debut this week. From a materials’ perspective, Audi is a big believer in aluminum as a way to cut weight and boost performance. In fact, more than one-fifth of the chassis is made from aluminum, which is also used in the, doors and trunk lid. Another high-end car getting its first public showing is BMW’s 2012 1 Series M Coupe, which also make extensive use of aluminum in its chassis and various structural components.
Emphasis on lighter weight continues with the expected unveiling of Honda’s 2012 Civic concept. Design engineering of the iconic car was held up after an edict from Honda CE Takanobu Ito to make the new Civic smaller, lighter and more efficient than its predecessor. Materials’ details to come. Aluminum, again, likely will be a winner because engineering of new composites’ structures takes a few years to implement. GM, Ford, and Chrysler are working on a new composite underbody, but there likely will be little evidence at the auto show this week.
Ford is expected to show a concept that will point to the future of its SUV brand. General Motors is expected to show the Chevrolet Sonic (shown below), a new compact for the North American market that will go into production this year in Michigan. We’ll hear about the specifics this week.
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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