Dave, thanks for your comments about bioplastics. I'm working on a March feature that will focus on this topic, and it's been heartening to find that there's a lot of research on non-food source plant-derived feedstocks. I think much of it looks promising. So far, it appears that renewably sourced bioplastics tough enough for engineering uses in automotive, aerospace and industrial apps are not also recyclable/compostable at the end of their lives. I'm looking into why that might be true. Stay tuned!
Tool_maker, the composites are primarily carbon fiber reinforced plastic/polymer (CFRP or carbon FRP), and some are glass fiber reinforced. The fibers are joined to a matrix material, usually made of a polymer, usually an epoxy. But other polymer matrix materials such as nylon or polyester may be used.
What an interesting observation, Tool Maker. I would imagine large manufacturing such as automotive has adjusted to new steel, but on the tool side, I can understand how products are not keeping up with advances in the materials. Composites seem to be ahead of themselves as well, particularly in aerospace. Ann discusses in Composite Aircraft Repair Advances.
There is no doubt the steel industry is taking a serious look at competing technologies, with so much of new products, particularly automotive, being made from the ultra strength steel. I deal with it on a daily basis and since I make my living by forming, punching and stamping steel, it is cool to see the inovation that is taking place, but I sure do wish it was easier to work with. Part of the problem is that the steel fabrication is evolving faster than the tool steel. So we can arrive at a point where the fabricated product is lighter,stronger and more economic to use, but the production tooling takes such a beating that tool maintainence rises and steals part of the economic benefit. But we are learning.
A question: what is the raw materials bank from which all of these composites are made? I have no idea, but is it possible we are aiming our future at a raw material that will become scarce in the next say 50 years. I'm just asking.
I agree about AM hype, Alex. The low-volume production manufacturing I've heard about is in very small quantities, often for "bridge" parts. But none of the vendors I spoke to visualize AM as taking over or replacing high-volume mainstream manufacturing, at least not anytime soon.
And Chuck, I think you nailed it regarding composites. The big challenge there is getting the price down. Of course, that depends on volumes, which depends on price and manufacturability, and so it goes.
I think Dave is getting to the heart of the issue regarding additive manufacturing. On the one hand, it's an extremely promising and versatile technology. OTOH, as he writes: "there has been a little too much emphasis on the idea that you can manufacture production quantities of parts using additive manufacturing techniques, or that additive manufacturing is poised to displace other manufacturing techniques such as casting or forging." Additive manufacturing is currently a niche technology with broad potential, especially for complex designs, but is not going to displace these others, because of cost considerations.
Yes, the steel industry has been very aggressive in the face of potential competition from composites. Steel is fighting for its marketshare on two fronts -- one, as Ann mentioned, in making product that works to match the advantages of composites, and two, to instruct the industry that steel produces lower emissions in the manufacturing process and is easy to recycle.
Thanks for your comments, Dave. It's true that bioplastics have not lived up to earlier hype. But engineering-grade bioplastics are getting a lot closer to reality.
Regarding low volumes of production manufacturing using AM, including high-performance laser sintering processes, and replacement of some casting, those are also a reality. These are showing up in aerospace and even some high-end automotive applications, as detailed in an upcoming December feature on this subject.
I agree with you and Rob that metals aren't going away anytime soon, and that's why I included them in the top five. I think we'll see some interesting developments here next year, too.
Only time will tell whether any of these "trends" is more than hype. Biopolymers, in particular, are something which I view with extreme skepticism. The fact that they don't use petroleum-based feedstocks does not necessarily mean that they are environmentally friendly or sustainable - as the steel recycling article points out, the entire product lifecycle needs to be taken into account. I also think that the use of food crops to produce disposable plastic packaging in the midst of a global food crisis is morally unacceptable. There may be a role in the future for some biopolymers which are not derived from food crops, but this remains to be seen.
Additive manufacturing is a technology which is unquestionably going to play a bigger role in the future. Personally, I think there has been a little too much emphasis on the idea that you can manufacture production quantities of parts using additive manufacturing techniques, or that additive manufacturing is poised to displace other manufacturing techniques such as casting or forging. Quite frankly, I don't think the technology is there yet - and it may never get there. However, additive manufacturing is a good way to make patterns for castings, and this topic ought to be receiving more attention.
Composites have supposedly been about to replace metals on a mass scale for the past 30 years, but with a few notable exceptions, this hasn't happened. In reality, adoption has been slow and steady, and relatively limited in terms of applications. I think there is a real trend towards increased use of composites, but it is proceeding at a much slower pace than some people seem to think it ought to. I also think that there are many applications where metals are simply better, and always will be.
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