Look for increasing development of bioplastics for the medical market. In one of the more interesting announcements at last month’s MD&M show in Anaheim, CA, Arkema said it is in the process of developing a sustainable, bio-based acrylic polymer for medical devices that will feature extremely high impact strength. Introduction is scheduled for mid-2011.
No details are currently available, but it’s expected the compound will be an acrylic blended with polylactic acid (PLA), possibly in the 20 to 40 percent range. That route would be no surprise because Arkema is a major developer of additives that boost performance (particularly impact resistance) o of PLA, which is a thermoplastic aliphatic polyester derived from corn starch, sugar cane, and other crops, even tapioca.
Arkema scientists are looking for feedstocks that could produce acrylic in place of methyl methacrylate (MMA), which is in very short supply. Demand for MMA is rising, but supply is declining due to plant closings. Major chemical producers, such as Dow, are putting less emphasis on bulk petrochemicals. Climate change is also an issue in the biomonomer development, but not the key driver.
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.
Two teams, one based in the US and one in Europe, have 3D printed space-worthy support structures for satellite antenna arrays. These aren't prototypes: they're fully functioning antenna supports that will operate while exposed to the harsh temperatures and radiation of outer space.
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.