The five most important materials trends of this coming year, like the top five for 2011, will enable volume manufacturing. They are concerned mostly with new, alternative materials or processes, along with developments in current ones. Once again, the materials or processes are those likely to prompt high growth.
1. Additive Manufacturing (AM). The most important developments will likely involve new materials. One will be the static-dissipative ABS described in Stratasys Develops Static-Dissipative ABS. In addition to rapid prototypes and low-volume production components, AM can create custom jigs and manufacturing fixtures, such as those for electronics manufacturing. A big problem has been the static electricity produced by most thermoplastics. The Stratasys ABS-ESD7 material, used with the company's Fortus Fused Deposition Modeling machines, prevents static electricity buildup and eliminates buildup of particulates from dust and powders. Today much of the electronics market consists of consumer devices, so once a component or material becomes part of this manufacturing flow, it's practically assured a high-volume future. Other AM materials will likely include biocompatibles for medical and dental applications and stronger, high-performance formulations for low-volume aerospace and automotive production.
Some of the most important developments of 2012 will likely be new materials, one of which will be Fortus's static-dissipative ABS-ESD7 thermoplastic.
2. Plastics. The most significant breakthroughs will be thermoplastics that are good enough for automotive uses. That means high enough performance (whether structural or not, interior or exterior), low enough cost, and the ability to lend itself to high-volume automated manufacturing. Finally We Get Some Truth on Plastic Body Panels discusses the search for engineering-grade thermoplastics good enough in all these senses for automotive body panels, starting with fiberglass, one of the best known fiber-reinforced plastics. FRP manufacturing is a slow process, and to date it's been too slow for high-volume, mainstream car production. Other problems have included the higher coefficients of thermal expansion for thermoplastics than for steel, which make it difficult to design body panels (and cars) with clean lines. The thermoplastic manufacturer that solves these problems will be an Arthur pulling the sword from the stone for the automotive industry.
3. Automotive Composites. Composite manufacturing has suffered from laydown speeds too slow for automated production. Major changes here will include things such as Teijin's thermoplastic molding technology, which speeds up carbon FRP manufacturing by 500 percent. Composite Processing Speeds Up discusses this and other technologies Teijin has developed for welding thermoplastic carbon FRP parts together and bonding them with other materials, increasing throughput in automotive assembly. Teijin intends to develop mass production applications for carbon FRPs in other industries requiring high amounts of structural strength, such as machine and industrial tools.
Thanks for the info, Dave. Perhaps that's something you could tackle in a future blog post, how the variety of metals is still robust in the face of all the activity in plastics and composites, and how one shouldn't necessarily get seduced by the latest, but rather determine the right material (both appropriateness for app on a techical basis and cost) for the job.
@Ann: I guess I'm still not sure what you mean about there not being as much variation in steel products as plastics or composites. There is an entire universe of steels. Companies like QuesTek are expanding this universe. (That's something you could definitely write an article about).
But I think you're right that us metallurgists often tend to talk exclusively to each other in language that only we understand. This might explain why you have a hard time finding general information in a Google search.
Thanks for your feedback, Dave, but you apparently misunderstood what I said. I wasn't talking about microstructures or what can be seen under a microscope, so much as products. And I wasn't talking about receiving announcements so much as what can be found by broad, general level searches on Google, for\ instance. The number of announcements regarding composites and possible composites has simply been huge. And that's not been the case for metals. I already have the ASM link, thanks, but please feel free to send more. I'm always looking for new sources.
@Ann: I think you're deeply mistaken about the amount of variety in metals. Some people think steel is "just steel" and aluminum is "just aluminum." Nothing could be further from the truth. The wide variety of microstructures and resulting properties which can be obtained from steel by alloying, heat treatment, and mechanical processing help to explain why it has formed the basis for technological civilization for literally thousands of years.
I'm not sure that anyone can fully appreciate the tremendous diversity of metal microstructures without looking at them under a microscope. If you don't have a microscope handy, this website is a good start. But it's really just the tip of the iceberg.
And if you're not getting announcements about advances in metals, maybe you're not looking in the right places. ASM's Materials News Wire is a good place to look.
I think you're right on the worthiness of the argument, Rob. There have been a ton of announcements and breakthroughs in composites since I started this beat, yet I've seen few on metals. One reason is no doubt because there are zillions of ways of making and even designing composites, as well as many materials to combine, whereas the number of metals and how they can be modified are more limited.
Agreed, Ann. The steel industry is particularly engaged in telling its story. As steel customers begin to consider lighter, stronger, and more environmentally friendly materials, the steel industry is screaming, "We can be lighter and stronger, and we're already environmentally friendly." It's a worthy cry.
I kind of liked Rob's purple prose regarding metals, and since he meant the industry itself, not the materials, I tend to agree with him. A long-term incumbent, whether an individual or a group or an industry, tends to get blinders about its importance and standing, and then is surprised when things start changing. This is just human nature. It's also the nature of technological and market changes.
I'm getting the same impression. I've been following where the news leads me, and the materials announcements just in the last three months on this beat have been spectacular and mind-blowing. I think you've accurately identified the three areas that seem to be undergoing the most change and the most innovation. I would never have guessed when I started that there's so much going on, and can hardly wait to find out what's next.
Yes, perhaps my word choice was a bit excessive. But those industries have already gone to work to argue their relative strength as environmentally friendly materials. The arguement is that they produce less carbon than composites as they are produced, and that they are far easier to recycle.
@Rob: To say that steel and aluminum are "fighting for their lives" is a poor choice of words. I don't think anyone is under the impression that steel and aluminum are going away anytime soon. They simply provide a combination of properties (high strength, high toughness, low cost, etc.) which is extremely difficult to beat. And when it comes to being environmentally friendly, a very strong case can be made that steel and aluminum outperform plastics or composites.
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.