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Articles from 2016 In May


For 3D Printing To Grow, It Needs Materials, Machines & Software

Major changes are happening in the world of 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM), in the three key technology areas of materials, machines, and software. But if the industry -- and the design engineers and OEMs it serves -- are to grow, all three of those areas must become much more tightly integrated.

As patents have expired on existing 3D printing processes, most notably FDM (fused deposition modeling), numerous startup companies have come up with a wide variety of low-cost machines based on those processes. This has also opened up a huge materials market, as both existing materials companies and completely new ones have started supplying a much broader range of filaments and other materials.

"For making quality prototypes, you can get desktop machines today for as low as around $1,000," Autodesk's Duann Scott, business development manager for its digital manufacturing group, told Design News. "This has ushered in a new era of faster prototyping, made on less costly machines, with lower-cost quality materials. Similar trends -- lower-cost machines and a broader materials palette -- will also impact different 3D printing processes as patents expire for other additive technologies, such as selective laser sintering and stereolithography."

Software leader Autodesk is also seeing more reliable industrial-quality machines, plus better materials and a broader materials palette, for the series production of end-products. "This is true whether you're making a single object 1,000 times, or making millions of unique objects in mass customization," said Scott. "In both cases, the quality and availability of machines and materials has increased."


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The other advancement Autodesk is seeing is the rise of multi-materials printing capabilities. "Objet has been around for awhile, but now there are others, as well," said Scott. These include Voxel8's dual printhead that prints both polymer and conductive ink, as well as nScrypt's multi-nozzle machines. Some of these, and others such as Optomec's technology, have made it possible to embed electronic devices in a 3D-printed part. That will also be possible with HP's Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology announced earlier this month. Autodesk is an industrial partner in HP's MJF ecosystem and shares this open approach to developing 3D printing technology.

For its part, Autodesk offers a complete AM solution, said Scott. This includes software for handling the entire design-to-manufacture chain, starting with design, simulation, and optimization, all the way through to print preparation.

"So now there's a lot more choice of how to put everything together: software, hardware, and materials," said Scott. "We understand that we're a part of the industry and we want to help grow it. In the past, the industry was very closed. We want to help grow an open platform, not continue to develop separate silos. This includes looking at how we can advance the old-school prototyping into the current continuum to serial production, and bring some of the unrealistic hype back down into reality."

Scott will be giving a talk on these subjects at next month's Design & Manufacturing Atlantic conference in New York. "Developments in 3DP/Additive Manufacturing: Selecting the Right Prototyping Method for Your Needs" will be held on Thursday, June 16, at 1:15 p.m.

Scott's presentation will discuss practical ways to apply 3D printing and AM to traditional, subtractive manufacturing methods. This will include a look at recent advancements that have been made in both printers and materials, which give engineers and product designers much broader capabilities for customizing their products. His talk will explore application techniques that can be used for several different materials classes, including precious metals, polymers, powders, high-resolution, and exotic materials. He will also include a look at available methods for 3D printing components for embedded devices and the advantages of this design approach.

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

The Internet of Animals Is Here

It's a fact -- Americans spent more than $60B on their pets in 2015. Folks are definitely spending their money on more than dog food. We’re spending on things like dog spas and fancy toys, and as you can imagine, the wearables market is becoming well represented here.

Want to find out how much you and your dog are walking? You can try FitBark fitness trackers, designed to allow “dogs and humans to get healthy together.” Or how about the canine equivalent of a nanny cam? You can use the HACHIKO activity monitor to ensure that your dog is healthy and is getting enough exercise. (Is my dog walker really taking the dog for a 60-minute walk?) And I really love Scraminal. It uses heat and motion sensors to keep pets out of restricted areas -- like the dinner table, for example. And then there’s the Indiegogo-funded startup No More Woof, developed by the creative team at NSID, a small Scandinavian research lab. The No More Woof-ers have built a protoype that you pop on your dog’s head; through EEG-sensors, it interprets what your dog is thinking. That SO reminds me of Dug, the “talking dog” in the Pixar film Up, who wears a collar that translates Dug’s thoughts into English language. The best thing, of course, is when Dug sees a squirrel.

Hear your dog’s thoughts with the No More Woof device.
(Source: No More Woof)

All these applications for pets have MEMS and/or sensors inside of them. And while they constitute a unique use of the technology, they are still nice-to haves not really must-haves. Though I guess I can’t argue with a $60B/year industry, there surely are some luxuries that even Fido can’t live without. But are these products fads or are they providing real value to the pet (or owner)?

Now consider the MooMonitor+ by Dairymaster, which serves the dairy industry. The MooMonitor+ allows dairy farmers to monitor, from their smartphones, each individual cow’s fertility schedule and overall health, utilizing networking and cloud computing technologies. There are 270 million dairy cows in the world, so the potential impact is huge.

In many ways, technologies like the MooMonitor+ are real examples of an Internet of Things (or perhaps, the Internet of Cows, in this case). We talk a lot about IoT but rarely have case studies that demonstrate how IoT devices are saving/making money (in a multi-billion dollar industry) and saving/improving lives (in this case, bovine).


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Speaking of large animals, have you ever thought about the value of a racehorse? Horseracing is big money, and much of that value rides on the backs (excuse the pun) of the racehorses themselves. A horse bred for racing can be valued in the millions, and its health is part of their ROI to the owner. At MEMS & Sensors Industry Group’s last MEMS Executive Congress, I recently learned about Pegasus Equine Technology, developed by Horse Sense Shoes. Pegasus Equine Technology tracks a horse’s postures, gate and other variables. By using the combination of an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, temperature sensor, and pressure sensor, Horse Sense creates real-time biometrics to monitor the health of high-value horses. The biometric technology can tip off the vet before there are life-threatening issues (to both horse and jockey). The Pegasus is attached to the underside of the horse’s tail to best monitor the biometrics. Apparently horses don’t enjoy getting their temperature taken with a rectal thermometer, so the Pegasus is a HUGE improvement for everyone involved in monitoring a racehorse’s health.

The placement of the Pegasus device brings up an interesting topic often bantered about in the wearables space. Where is the best place for a wearable? It’s the place where you don’t realize you’re wearing it. For a racehorse, it might be the inside of the tail. For a dog it might be around the collar. So what’s the equivalent perfect spot for a human? Perhaps we don’t need to get too specific but I would warrant that it should be in a place or in an article of clothing that has the highest biometric advantage and is neither invasive nor annoying. I look forward to the day one of those exists for people like me.

But even before we decide where the best location is for any animal, we still have some challenges to address in this Internet of Animals. Power management and creation are still big un-cracked nuts, as battery technology is remains quite ancient, given our advances in other areas. Security is also important; if I am running a multi-million/billion dollar farm, I want to ensure that the data I am transmitting is secure and un-hackable. Likewise, standards and interoperability are also critical because we would want to guarantee that all the devices are truly connected and are managed efficiently in the cloud.

This gets us to our last nut to crack -- analyzing all the data that our MEMS- and sensor-laden animals provide: How will we both extract and manage all this data? Yes, we are still talking about animals, but as with any IoT scenario, we need to address all of these issues. Fortunately, we can learn more about the technical challenges of applying MEMS/sensors to human-centric IoT devices by observing what’s being done with them in the animal kingdom.

With all of this thinking about animals, I am starting to believe that it may be a good idea to become a vegetarian – or at least take my dog out for a long walk.

Harvesting Energy in the Dark for Future Solar Technology

Collaborating researchers in Australia and the US have discovered a nanoscale material that could boost solar-energy harvesting because of its potential to harvest heat when it’s dark to create electricity.

Physicists from the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have shown that a new artificial “metamaterial” glows in a unique way when heated, sending off heat in specific directions. This characteristic has the potential to be used as a heat emitter with thermophotovoltaic cells, which convert radiated heat -- such as that from the sun -- into electricity, researchers said.

"Our metamaterial overcomes several obstacles and could help to unlock the potential of thermophotovoltaic cells,” said Sergey Kruk, a researcher in the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering, in an article on the ANU website. These types of cells have the potential to be more energy-efficient than solar cells, he said.

Indeed, research has shown that thermophotovoltaic cells can be twice as efficient as conventional solar cells because they don’t need direct sunlight to generate electricity. Instead, they harvest heat from infrared radiation present in their surroundings. They also can be combined with a burner to produce energy on demand, or can recycle heat that’s emitted from hot engines, researchers said.

Physicists from the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of California Berkeley have shown that a new artificial “metamaterial” glows in a unique way when heated, sending off heat in specific directions. This characteristic has the potential to be used as a heat emitter with thermophotovoltaic cells, which convert radiated heat -- such as that from the sun -- into electricity.
(Source: ANU)

The metamaterial that Kruk and his team worked with is made of tiny nanoscopic structures of gold and magnesium fluoride. Its physical property -- known as magnetic hyperbolic dispersion -- is key to the material’s behavior and potential for use in thermophotovoltaic cells, researchers said.

Dispersion describes the interactions of light with materials. The dispersion of the new metamaterial is different from standard materials like wood or glass in that it not only radiates heat in specific directions, but also can be manipulated to emit radiation in a specific spectral range, researchers said. This is in contrast to standard materials that give off heat in all directions as a broad range of infrared wavelengths.

The team, which was inspired to look at the material on the behest of Kruk -- who predicted it would have these useful properties -- published an article on its work in the journal, Nature Communications. The ANU team tapped scientists at UC Berkeley for their research because the latter have specific experience to manufacture materials at such a nanoscale, Kruk said.

"To fabricate this material the Berkeley team was operating at the cutting edge of technological possibilities," he said. "The size of an individual building block of the metamaterial is so small that we could fit more than 12,000 of them on the cross-section of a human hair."

While the work done by the team already has shown how the material can improve the efficiency of a thermophotovoltaic cell, it’s possible to improve it further if the emitter and the receiver have just a nanoscopic gap between them, researchers said. In this way, radiative heat transfer between the two elements of the cell can be more than 10 times more efficient than between conventional materials, they said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

A Kinder, Gentler Kindle and a Better Way to Recycle

All of these projects include a video, complete build instructions, pictures to guide the build, and a full bill of materials. Today's collection includes everything from a smart bike that shifts itself to the Frankenkindle -- an easier-to-use Kindle for the special-needs community.

Do you have a cool, original, homemade gadget collecting dust in your garage? Give us the details at DesignNews.com/GF, and you may receive $500 and entry into our Gadget Freak of the Year contest for a chance to win $6,000!

Will you build one of these cool gadgets? Tell us in the comments section below!

Click the robotic hand to begin the slideshow:

Adam Allevato and his fellow mechanical engineering students at Colorado State University created a human-like hand that can be operated in environments that are toxic to humans. Click here.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

The 10 Best New Sports Equipment Technologies

Using the Zepp Labs’ Zepp 2 sensor, golfers can track club speed, club plane, tempo, hand path, backswing position, and hip rotation. The sensor, which contains two accelerometers and two gyroscopes, attaches to a glove-mount, then connects wirelessly to

Time was when sports equipment was made only from common, everyday, low-tech materials -- wood, cowhide, and pigskin.

No more, though. Today's bats, balls, clubs, and shoes have a new high-tech ingredient. Silicon, in the form of microcontrollers, accelerometers, gyroscopes, transceivers, and memory chips, has joined the sports equipment domain. The new technology enables players to hone their game by gathering data on speed, power, and form, among many other metrics.


Atlantic D&M logoMonitor in Real Time. Learn how to leverage next-gen intelligent sensors for preventative maintenance and improved plant safety at Industry 4.0: Smart Manufacturing, part of Atlantic Design & Manufacturing Expo, June 16 in New York. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM. Enter promo NY16DN for a FREE Expo pass & 20% off Industry 4.0 Conference.


Here, we've gathered a fraction of the many high-tech products aimed at the sports equipment market. From golf club motion sensors to ultra-wideband basketballs, we offer a look at some of the latest and greatest.

Senior technical editor Chuck Murray has been writing about technology for 32 years. He joined Design News in 1987, and has covered electronics, automation, fluid power, and autos.

Humanoid Robot Diver Finds Lost Treasure, Will Explore Ocean

A humanoid diving robot has recovered treasure from the wreck of French King Louis XIV's flagship, untouched for nearly 400 years. The bot not only looks somewhat human-shaped, it's also got stereoscopic humanlike vision, artificial intelligence, and haptic force feedback. This virtual diver, dubbed OceanOne, will take on underwater work too dangerous for humans, as well as exploration of the ocean's depths.

The robot's shipwreck excursion was its maiden voyage, on a dive 100 meters below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea to La Lune, wrecked in 1664 and not touched since by human hands. OceanOne operates like a highly specialized remotely operated vehicle (ROV), and looks something like an unusually shaped ROV attached to a humanoid torso, arms, and head.

During the treasure-hunting expedition, it was remotely operated by its designer, Oussama Khatib, a Stanford University professor of computer science. Khatib's team of graduate and undergraduate students helped build the robot, which is the first prototype in what he hopes will be a fleet that works in concert, according to a Stanford University news service story.



(Source: Frederic Osada and Teddy Seguin/DRASSM)

OceanOne was designed to work together with human divers, as well as independently. In the photo above, you can see it handing an object it's brought up from the wreck to a human diver. It can dive as deep as 1,000 meters, more than twice the world record for human scuba divers. Before descending to King Louis' shipwreck 20 miles off the south coast of France, the robot underwent rigorous testing in the waters nearby.

The original idea for OceanOne came from a need to access coral reefs in the Red Sea, far deeper than human divers can comfortably go. But handy as many ROVs can be, they're still not capable of the delicacy, skill, and care that a human diver can provide. The 5 ft-long bot was built from scratch to combine robotics, haptic feedback systems, and artificial intelligence. Its tail section contains computers, batteries, and eight multi-directional thrusters. Its stereoscopic vision shows its human operator what the robot sees, and its haptic feedback system lets its pilot feel whether OceanOne is grasping a delicate, light object, or one that is heavy and firm.



(Source: Frederic Osada and Teddy Seguin/DRASSM)

Two fully articulated arms end in hands with fully articulated wrists, where the force sensors that relay haptic feedback to the human pilot's controls are located. Eventually, tactile sensors will also cover each finger, but even without that degree of feedback Khatib could feel the weight and contours of a vase the robot picked up in the wreck after Khatib spotted it using the robot's vision.

OceanOne's processor also reads that same haptic data and makes sure its hands grip things firmly enough so they don't drop them, but not so tightly that they break delicate objects. This level of control makes it possible for the bot to adeptly manipulate fragile coral reefs and carefully place sensors where they're needed during underwater research.


Atlantic D&M logoEmpower with Automation. Enhance the productivity of your factory with the power of collaborative robotics. Learn how at Industry 4.0: Smart Manufacturing, part of Atlantic Design & Manufacturing Expo, June 16 in New York. Register here for the event, hosted by Design News’ parent company UBM. Enter promo NY16DN for a FREE Expo pass & 20% off Industry 4.0 Conference.


Although the robot can communicate with human divers via hand gestures controlled by its pilot, it can also operate independently and will be especially useful when diving without them during dangerous tasks. Those might include oil-rig maintenance, deep-water mining, or underwater exploration during disaster situations like the Fukushima Daiichi power plant nuclear disaster.

OceanOne contains sensors throughout its body for gauging current and turbulence, which automatically activate its thrusters to keep the robot's body in place. At the same time, quick-firing motors adjust the robot's arms to keep its hands steady while it works. The robot navigates via data received and processed from both sensors and cameras to avoid collision. One advantage of the humanoid body shape is the ability to use its arms for bracing against impact if the thrusters aren't moving fast enough.


Ann R. Thryft is senior technology editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Collaboration Is Key to the Modern Design Process

The days of designing a product alone on your computer are gone. Outside experts, suppliers, customers, and internal groups such as purchasing and manufacturing are involved in the design from product conception through the prototype and prep for production. Design tools have become collaboration friendly. The design software tools integrate with other software tools -- even tools from competing providers -- so each group can see the design in its own preferred platform.

From beginning design through the manufacturing process, multiple teams are collaborating. “Say the product is a new lawnmower. Requirements from marketing say we need a 10-horsepower product with a 24-inch blade,” said Craig Therrien, product manager at Dassault Systèmes’ SolidWorks. “Then purchasing gets involved early to get a cost target. The manufacturing people also get in earlier to help reach a reasonable price point.”

With Siemens PLM Teamcenter you can easily review, collaborate, mark-up, and add comments to requirements as they evolve.
(Source: Siemens PLM)

As well as multiple teams within a company collaborating, there are also outside experts, customers, and suppliers who may be half a world away. Even within the same company, the design team may be dispersed. “Our customers no longer work at a facility that contains all of the design. They don’t do it under one roof. It’s a dispersed workforce globally. It’s inter-department, state-to-state, and continent-to-continent,” said Mark Fischer, director of partner strategy for CAD at PTC. “It’s not just models they collaborate on. It could be the whole process: analysis results, manuals, specifications. Everything that makes up a product is what they’re collaborating on.”

With a wide variety of partners involved in the design, that also means a variety of design software platforms. Integration, even among competing software platforms, is critical. “Collaboration often involves multiple CAD sources. We have collaboration tools that allow for a Creo user to open any native CAD model inside of Creo,” said Fischer. “I might get a SolidWorks file, and I don' have to lose any data if I open it inside of Creo. I can convert it into a Creo file, provide my analysis, make some changes to it, and return it in SolidWorks without losing any data.”

SolidWorks users can collaborate on mobile devices
(Source: SolidWorks)

Through the design process, teams manage numerous iterations of the product as specific aspects of the design are explored. The individual iterations need to be managed so nothing is lost along the way. “We can take a design, make some changes, remove some objects, and add some objects. Then we can go back to the original and try another concept and create sub-concepts,” said Fischer. “We have to orchestrate this tree of different concepts as a thread of iterations and check them in as an archive so we can visualize it together.”

Another thread in the process that needs to be managed is the series of conversations that lead to design decisions. The goal is to capture a conversation thread and attach it to the design. “Collaboration can be difficult because not everyone is in the same building. No matter where they are, they can have an asynchronous conversation about a change order or anything in the design,” said Steve Chalgren, EVP of product management at Arena Solutions. “The problem is that you can have many people involved. If one person is left out, they don’t have the information. But if the thread is right there with the product, they can review it a year later and see the whole conversation.”

Hybrid Energy Harvester Eyed for Solar Cells Captures More of Light Spectrum

Most solar-energy harvesting to date has focused on photovoltaic conversion--or generating electricity from light. However, more recent work has explored the possibility of harvesting heat for thermophotovoltaic or pyroelectric energy harvesting.

Now new research out of South Korea combines tapping these various sources of energy combined with a typical solar cell, offering a new hybrid energy harvester that has potential to optimize the harvesting of solar energy beyond what is capable today, according to the research team.

Researchers from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, have developed an energy harvester that combines photovoltaic, photothermal, pyroelectric and thermoelectric devices. The harvester would theoretically enable use of the full solar spectrum--not just light or heat--to generate electricity, researchers said in an article published on the website of SPIE, the International Society for Optics and Photonics. The team includes scientists Eunkyoung Kim, Teahoon Park, Jongbeom Na, Byeonggwan Kim, Younghoon Kim, and Haijin Shin from the university.

The energy harvester is comprised of several elements. It includes a photothermal layer--a thin polymer film combined with a pyroelectric polymer film--to collect solar heat, according to researchers. It also includes a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC), a pyroelectric film device and a thermoelectric device. Additionally, a circuitry composed of capacitors, switches and a diode bridge rectifier operate an LED lamp and electrochromic display (ECD) device.

The diagram shows energy harvesting and storage circuitry of a hybrid energy harvester comprised of an LED lamp, capacitors, switches and an electrochromic display device. Researchers at Yonsei University in South Korea created the device to optimize harvesting of solar energy from multiple spectrums.
(Source: Yonsei University)

Researchers used the rectifier to convert the pyroelectric film device output (AC to DC), which was then stored in a capacitor used to turn on the LED lamp. A second capacitor also stored output energy generated by the series-connected photovoltaic and thermoelectric modules and drove the ECD, they said.

Hybrid energy harvesting happens though collaboration between the elements harvesting different types of energy, researchers explained. The DSSC converts UV and some of the visible light into electricity, letting near-IR and the remaining visible light through, they said. To reuse this light in the harvester, the team prepared a pyroelectric film with highly conductive and photothermal poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene), or PEDOT, electrodes.

Researchers confirmed the photothermal effect of the PEDOT electrodes--key to the harvester’s functionality--by varying the number of PEDOT film layers on the pyroelectric film. The team prepared a bare pyroelectric film, one layer of PEDOT electrodes and then two PEDOT layers coated on both sides of the pyroelectric film, they said.

In tests, researchers found that the film with two PEDOT layers absorbed more near-infrared and had a temperature increase of more than 10 kelvin, leading them to conclude from light spectra of the sample that the PEDOT electrode layers drove the photothermal effect of the harvester.

Researchers then used the heat generated by the photothermal conversion in the PEDOT electrodes to generate pyroelectric output, as well as a thermoelectric device attached below the pyroelectric film to convert unused heat into electricity.

Researchers said their work so far has allowed them to understand better how to boost energy harvesting in a simple structure. They will continue their work with the next step of building a self-powered smart window system using the hybrid energy harvester that further tests its effectiveness and how it functions, they said.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York. In her free time she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

Make Big, Stronger Parts With Near-Net Shape Technology

A new high-pressure injection molding technology produces near-net shape parts with 2-inch-thick walls from high-performance materials like PEEK, PAI, and carbon-filled polymers. Parts show no voids, sinks, or porosity, have more consistent mechanical properties, and are stronger than those made with either extrusion or compression molding.

Piper Plastics developed the near net shape proprietary process and equipment to cut the cost of machining large parts made of expensive high-performance materials, Dave Wilkinson, materials engineering manager, told Design News. "In the past, if you wanted to make large plastic parts more than 1/4-inch thick, you were limited to using either extrusion or compression molding to get that stock shape, which you'd then machine into a part," he said. "But if you try to injection mold a part that's anywhere close to 1/4-inch thick, you get voids, sinks, or porosity. With this new process, you can make parts up to 2-inch thick without any of those problems."


Machining a polymer part from a rectangular plate usually results in about 80% wasted material. Using Piper Plastics' new near-net shape high-pressure injection molding process results in 15% or less material waste. It's especially suited to larger parts, and weights of up to about 6 lb per blank. This PEEK near-net shape part (top, before machining) weighs only 1.82 lb and measures 34.66 cubic inches. Making it from a blank of the same material would waste 114.03 cubic inches of material weighing 5.31 lb.
(Source: Piper Plastics)

Bigger parts and weights of up to 6 lb per blank are the best candidates for this process, especially those with complex geometries and varying wall thicknesses, said Wilkinson. Compared to extruded shapes, parts made of high-performance thermoplastics, whether filled or unfilled, are typically 15% to 20% stronger. Compared to compression molded shapes they're 50% stronger. Mechanical properties are also much more consistent than in parts made with either of those processes.

"Many customers are coming from the world of metallics," said Wilkinson. "In that world, you can take a metal data sheet to the bank: the properties on it are all tested, all uniform, because the materials are standard. But in the plastic world, it's the opposite. If you were to compression mold a carbon- or glass-filled product you'd lose about 70% to 75% of the material's mechanical properties per the data sheet. In extrusion, it's a bit better: there you'd lose about 50% of the mechanical properties. With this process, we can get 70% to 100% of data sheet properties."


This bracket's design requirements were a flexural modulus of 1,000,000 psi, tensile strength of 25,000 psi, good impact strength, density of 1.35 g/cm3 or less and it had to be cost effective compared to aluminum. The component also has a thin cross-section machined in the center of the part, so property loss in the internal regions was not prohibited. Using the near-net shape high-pressure molding process, brackets were created that were 10 inch wide x 1.25 inch thick, with center regions 0.06 inch thick, exhibiting 0% porosity on loss of properties in the internal region.
(Source: Piper Plastics)

Piper Plastics can also do small batch runs to make sure the right polymer or blend has been selected for an application. "With this technology, we can mold custom blanks from more than 3,000 polymers and compounds," said Wilkinson. "We can also come up with a compound just for one application." That's in contrast to distributors, which he said usually carry only about 50 different types of engineering plastics. Typical high-performance resins used in the process include PEEK, PEI, PAI, PPS, PEK, TPI, and carbon-filled high-strength polymers.

Wilkinson said the company invented the new technology because it was challenged to come up with a high-pressure injection-molding process. "Our machine shop couldn't get high-quality plastics in these filled compounds." he said. "We bought several different injection molding machines, tore them apart, and rebuilt them, adding proprietary hydraulic, feed, and computer systems. Our next technology will also be based on an injection-molding platform, but it's a different process, with different pressures than conventional injection molding."

Ann R. Thryft is senior technical editor, materials & assembly, for Design News. She's been writing about manufacturing- and electronics-related technologies for 28 years, covering manufacturing materials & processes, alternative energy, and robotics. In the past, she's also written about machine vision and all kinds of communications.

Advancements in Adhesives and Fasteners