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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
@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.
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.
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.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
Independent science safety company Underwriters Laboratories is providing new guidance for manufacturers about how to follow the latest IEC standards for implementing safety features in programmable logic controllers.
Automakers are adding greater digital capabilities to their design and engineering activities to promote collaboration among staff and suppliers, input consumer feedback, shorten product development cycles, and meet evolving end-use needs.
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