Ann, these are really interesting advances in composite materials. They are driven, of course, by the aerospace and defense industries. There are lots of other industries where these materials could be really useful, but they are generally conservative in their engineering.
Hopefully the legwork and advances pioneered in the A&D and government sector can translate back to other industry segments. Cross-pollination of research and technology is the key to making some of these new composite innovations more mainstream.
I agree, this is a case where R&D for military and space apps is potentially extendable to other areas, such as industrial and commercial aircraft uses. One of the most critical factors in that extension is expanding manufacturing capacity and tailoring it to the needs of high-volume production, which is a very different animal from the production of smaller quantities for military use.
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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