Good point about the Cadillac ATS, Dave. With high-strength steel offering much more strength than convntional steel, and with ultra-high-strength offer another big bump up, structural applications can do a lot of lightweighting.
This may be a pedestrian observation, but it strikes me, from reading your coverage over the past several months, that materials is amid the biggest wave of innovation in years. Bioplastics and composites are just two of the areas which are advancing at an incredible pace. Additive manufacturing similarly made big strides in 2011. Sounds like there's going to be a lot of interesting stuff to write about this year.
I agree, Dave. Steel and aluminum are fighting for their lives as industry looks for lighter, stronger, more environmentally friendly materials. The steel and aluminum industries are working hard to deliver the same -- or superior -- qualities that make composites and plastics attractive.
Dave, thanks for your links and comments on metals. I plan to start covering them more in the months ahead. The number of breakthroughs and advancements in composites over the last couple of months has been spectacular.
Regarding bioplastics, it's usually--but not always--the single-use kinds that tend to be biodegradable. The durables usually--but not always--are not biodegradable, but can sometimes be recycled. Look for an upcoming feature on bioplastics in March.
Ann, thanks for mentioning aluminum and steel. Aluminum and steel technologies are hardly standing still, and they offer a lot of big advantages which are hard to beat. As Chuck's article about the Cadillac ATS shows, steel can be an important part of lightweighting strategy. People often forget about the "strength" part of "strength-to-weight ratio," but there's a lot to be said for the strength and stiffness of steel. And new aluminum alloys are giving composites a run for their money. Let's not forget about metal-matrix composites, either.
With regard to your last item, it's important to remember that biodegradable and recyclable are two very different things. Often, biodegradable plastics can't be recycled, and are intended to be landfilled or composted.
I don't think there are any general guidelines yet. At this point, it seems to be if it works, do it. But as we've noted elsewhere, medical and dental appliances and implants are pretty big, as are "bridge" parts--a small run of regular parts made while waiting for the larger order that has been delayed--or on-the-spot customized replacements, especially in aerospace and remote locations.
It is pretty amazing the progress the industry is making on the materials front in terms of providing so many more highly durable, cost effective options for additive manufacturing. Has this wider range of materials options expanded the use of additive manufacturing procedures for manufacturers in any significant way? Are there any general guidelines governing when this route is preferable vs. more traditional manufacturing methods?
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