NASA 3D Prints Plastic Design Tool in Space

By: Heather Caliendo 13. July 2016


NASA challenges students to upload and print a part astronauts can use on the 3D printer orbiting earth in International Space Station.


The space agency has established its Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), which is a permanent feature in the International Space Station (ISS) to begin additional testing of 3D printing technology in orbit, since when a part breaks or a tool is misplaced in space, it is difficult and cost-prohibitive to send up a replacement.


Using replaceable subassemblies, the AMF can easily be upgraded to add new functionality and manufacturing methods in the future. The AMF is designed to last the entire lifetime of the ISS and the AMF printer can work with a wide range of various extrudable materials including flexible polymers and aerospace-grade composites.


NASA also has a focus on getting the next generation of engineers engaged in space. For instance, there’s the Future Engineers Space Tool design competition, which challenged students to create a device that astronauts could use in space. The catch was that it must upload electronically and print on the new 3D printer that was going to be installed on the orbiting laboratory.


In January 2015, NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation announced that Robert Hillan's design, a multi-purpose precision maintenance tool, was selected out of hundreds of entries to be printed on the station.


Hillan's design features multiple tools on one plastic prototype compact unit, including different sized wrenches, drives to attach sockets, a precision measuring tool for wire gauges and a single-edged wire stripper. After the new manufacturing facility was installed on the station in March, NASA uploaded Hillan's design to be printed.


Hillan was invited to watch his tool come off the printer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Hillan watched as the NASA astronauts displayed the finished tool from the AMF. The Marshall Center is located just a few miles from where Hillan is a sophomore engineering student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.


"I am extremely grateful that I was given the opportunity to design something for fabrication on the space station," Hillan said. "I have always had a passion for space exploration, and space travel in general. I designed the tool to adapt to different situations, and as a result I hope to see variants of the tool being used in the future, hopefully when it can be created using stronger materials."


Not only did Hillan get to watch his tool being made, he also got to spend a few minutes chatting with astronauts on the station. While talking to Hillan, astronaut Tim Kopra complimented his design and said, “One thing that often times comes up with prototyping with 3D printing is there’s a plastic version. But even this plastic version I think would work up to a certain torque value. So well done, I think it’s really cool.”


"When you have a problem, it will drive specific requirements and solutions. 3D printing allows you to do a quick design to meet those requirements. That's the beauty of this tool and this technology. You can produce something you hadn't anticipated and do it on short notice,” Kopra added.


The space station's 3D printer started operations in 2014 and built nearly two dozen sample designs that were returned to the Marshall Center for further testing. Now with the newly installed AMF, NASA is continuing 3D printing development that will prove helpful on the journey to Mars.


"When a part breaks or a tool is misplaced, it is difficult and cost-prohibitive to send up a replacement part," said Niki Werkheiser, NASA's 3D Printer program manager at Marshall. "With this technology, we can build what is needed on demand instead of waiting for resupply. We may even be able to build entire structures using materials we find on Mars."


"When I won the competition, I started seeing problems I face as new opportunities to create and learn," Hillan said. "Since then I have tried to seize every opportunity that presents itself. I love finding solutions to problems, and I want to apply that mentality as I pursue my engineering degree and someday launch my own company."


Here’s the video of Hillan’s exchange with the astronauts. You can see the 3D-printed tool float in space!



Expanding Global Middle Class Equals Growing Energy Demand

By: Tony Deligio 13. July 2016

There is a clear correlation between economic growth and energy use, or put more mathematically—total people times higher living standards equals greater energy needs.


Larry Gros, ExxonMobil Chemical’s global polymer products and applications technology manager, shared those insights and more at injection molding machine and automation supplier Engel’s first ever North American Trend.Scaut Automotive event, held in Livonia, Mich., at the end of June (read more here and here).


Gros presented ExxonMobil’s Outlook for Energy to 2040—an exhaustive review of what types of energy would see what level of demand from all over the world. From 2014 to 2040, the energy and chemical company sees global energy demand rising by 25%, noting that:


All the world’s energy sources will be needed to meet rising demand to 2040, but there will be a marked shift toward cleaner fuels, particularly natural gas.


While other energy sources make gains, Gros noted that oil will remain the top energy source for transport and for chemical production, with natural gas demand growing more than any other source.


Other key themes explored by Gros included the fact that energy is fundamental to living standards, and because of this, developing nations—which will lead in growth of GDP and living standards over the forecast window—will also lead in growth of energy demand over that time.


In the U.S., per capita energy consumption equates to 7 equivalent oil gallons per day, while globally, the average is only 1.7 gallons per day. “We will quickly see issues if rest of world grows into U.S. levels of consumption,” Gros noted, adding that, “as technology advances, it will improve efficiency and mitigate energy consumption growth.”


Developing World Develops
In 2014, more than half the world’s global GDP of $72 trillion could be attributed to advanced OECD countries, but the fastest growth rates were occurring outside those states, in nations like Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa. ExxonMobil forecasts that by 2040, global GDP will more than double to $150 trillion, with all countries making gains, but the fastest rates experienced outside the OECD.


In fact, by 2040, Gros said developing countries will officially account for more than half of global GDP, with China and India expanding at rates of 5% and 5.5%, while the OECD at large grows at a rate of 2% over the forecast period. The greatest growth on a demographic basis, will occur within the middle class, which is forecast to more than double to five billion people by 2030, with the majority of that growth once again coming in India and China. By 2040, 85% of the world’s population will live in urban centers in OECD countries, as the globe adds the equivalent of 30 Chicago's during this period.


Efficiency Gains Allow OECD to Do More With Less
Even though overall energy demand will expand by 25% across the globe by 2040, it will be flat in OECD countries, as efficiency gains allow these countries to do more with less. Meanwhile, the 1.2 billion people without access to electricity today will finally start to join the global energy market. As they do, Gros said oil and gas will remain the world’s primary fuels through 2040, but sources of energy will shift. Particularly for coal, which will see its share of demand drop from 26% to 20%, while renewable sources, natural gas and nuclear grow.


Emissions to Flatten, Decline
In terms of emissions, Gros said ExxonMobil is predicting that global carbon dioxide output will peak at 2030, and begin to decline afterwards, with emissions falling 20% in OECD countries through 2040.


Fuel Standards Globalize
Transportation remains a key driver for energy demand, and Gros noted that the advent of stricter fuel standards globally will have a huge impact. “In 2008, only four countries had mandatory fuel economy standards, while some others had voluntary ones,” Gros said. “In 2014, many more adopted regulations, and now about 90% of light duty demand is in countries with standards or developing standards.”


Gros said global demand for light duty vehicles will peak in 2020, but added that there will not be fewer cars—with a global fleet of 1.7 billion by 2040—just that tomorrow’s cars will be more efficient (he also said China will surpass the U.S. in 2025 as the country with the most vehicles). Part of that efficiency will come from resins. Gros explained that without plastics, current vehicles would be about 10% heavier, adding that that 10% weight reduction leads to about a 7% improvement in fuel economy.


Instead of electric vehicles, Gros and ExxonMobil expect to see a big jump in hybrid vehicles, with those accounting for one quarter of the global fleet by 2040. 


Kuraray Celebrates 90th Birthday

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 13. July 2016

Planting trees and a trip to the ballpark just part of the celebration.


I love the company I work for, and nope, no one is twisting my arm. Look, you hear people say they like their jobs but it typically stops short of “I love my company”. For me, I do, and I feel so very fortunate.


What prompted this expression of affection? It was a press release on Kuraray’s 90th anniversary and the accompanying photos. It reminded me of all the Gardner Business Media people I have had the pleasure of meeting through the years and the fact that our company makes sure to bring us together—particularly important to those of us who work remotely.


The fun activities that our company plans for us, the terrific meals, and the company of so many terrific people makes me miss Cincinnati when I leave, or even the big shows, like NPE, when GBM makes certain that we mingle and enjoy each other by planning company dinners each night.


So, here is Kuraray commemorating its 90 years of business in specialty chemicals by doing two pretty cool things: a tree planting at every one of its production sites; and treating its employees to a fun outing at a Houston Astros game.


A leading global supplier in performance-based polymer and synthetic chemistry technologies, including resins, chemicals, fibers and textiles, Kuraray was the world’s first entity to bring EVOH polymers to market.


Today it operates 19 subsidiaries globally, including Kuraray America, which is headquartered in Houston. The U.S. division is leader in barrier materials with products like Eval EVOH and Plantic, a bio-based polymer with barrier properties. Happy Birthday Kuraray!


For more on Kuraray’s Eval and Plantic materials, see PT’s materials database.


APR: Plastic Cans With Metal Lids Contaminate Recycling

By: Heather Caliendo 6. July 2016

Recycling association says new container design can lead to significant issues in the plastics recycling stream.


Editor's note: the original blog article inaccurately mentioned both the Klear Can (developed originally by Kortec, which was acquired by Milacron) and TruVue clear plastic can developed by global packaging company Sonoco, Hartsville, S.C. as part of this story. However, the APR news release is referring to a "PET can with a metal lid that contaminates the PET recycling stream," and those manufacturers recyclability claims.  Plastics Technology apologizes for this error. ​


A clear plastic can with a metal lid is an interesting new packaging innovation, but The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR)—the international trade organization representing the plastics recycling industry—said that the containers could contaminate the PET recycling stream. APR went as far as urging caution to those companies considering the use of plastic cans.


“There is a reason Maine, Illinois, and Minnesota imposed restrictions or bans on this type of packaging,” said Steve Alexander, Executive Director of APR, in a news release. “A plastic can with a metal lid is a contaminant to PET recycling and not compatible with today’s material recovery and plastics reclamation systems.”  According to APR, the state restrictions were imposed in response to production of plastic cans in the 1980s and their negative impact on the recycling process. These laws remain in effect today.


Although the PET portion of the can may be recyclable, the metal lid is seamed onto the PET. Currently, there are no practical solutions to separate the two components in material recovery facilities (MRFs), rendering the entire container non-recyclable, argues APR.  


“APR has already reached out to companies producing plastic cans to voice the concerns of the plastic recycling industry,” said Byron Geiger, President of Custom Polymers PET and Chairman of the APR PET Technical Committee. “Brand companies consistently require suppliers to provide evidence of compatibility with recycling. The APR works with companies to ensure this is possible, and offered this support in communication with plastic can manufacturers.” 


The APR has created laboratory test methods used to assess the impact of new innovations to the recycling market as an integral part of The APR Champions for Change program. Companies use these tests to confirm their innovations do not interfere with recycling. Once testing requirements are met, those companies receive APR Critical Guidance Recognition. This process addresses the challenge of introducing packaging that is consistent with recycling technology, and the APR encourages plastic can producers’ participation. 


Additional information about metal components or attachments on PET containers is detailed in The APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability. The goal of the APR Design Guide is to have packaging designed that is compatible with the recycling infrastructure. 



“As the voice of plastics recycling, APR strives to solve industry challenges,” commented John Standish, APR Technical Director. “Because the plastic can is a significant contaminant to the plastic recycling stream, we encourage its producers to collaborate with APR to design packaging that is recyclable and sustainable.”



Pictured: Polish packaging maker Invento's PET cans with aluminum ends.


New Group Gets Continuous-Fiber-Reinforced Composites Ready for the Road

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 6. July 2016

New team to support partners though all stages of Tepex component development.


Since Lanxess (U.S. office in Pittsburgh) acquired Bond-Laminates four years ago, the company has been ‘nurturing’ and further expanding the Tepex range of continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic semi-finished composites for lightweight construction of automotive components.


And, the company is now further zeroing in on the automotive industry through the formation of a project group that is geared to its needs and support of partners through all stages of Tepex component development right up to production launch. Moreover, by K 2016 in October, the company will have published a brochure on Tepex processing.


It comes as no surprise to us—this increasing thirst for thermoplastic composites in automotive and beyond—as we witnessed full attendance, at each of the 22 presentations of our second “Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive” (TCC Auto2016) which covered topics in Applications & Materials and Machinery & Processes. It took place just last month in Novi, Mich., occurring concurrently with the Amerimold 2016 show and conference, and presented by Plastics Technology magazine and Composites World, sister publications within Gardner Business Media.


So, Lanxess’s new group—Tepex Automotive Technical Marketing & Business Development—essentially brings together the expertise of Lanxess and its subsidiary Bond-Laminates in materials, processes, and the selection of suitable components for automotive lightweight construction with Tepex. This team will act as an interface between CAD concepts, component/process design and simulation, the mold makers and the equipment manufacturers for processing and handling Tepex.


“Our expertise and services are available locally all over the world thanks to the global network of regional product and application development centers that Lanxess has established. We can therefore assist international development partners at all their locations, with everything from first application idea to starting up large-scale production.” Said Martin Klocke, head of the group in the High Performance Materials (HPM) business unit.


Comprehensive processing information on Tepex and the way it works is also underway. Lanxess will showcase this processing guide and K 2016. It will provide information on the advantages of the thermoplastic composite, its potential in lightweight construction and the product families, and will cover in detail the many methods for processing Tepex—such as thermoforming and hybrid molding.


Extensive sections will address techniques for heating Tepex as well as the design and calculation of components for draping and integrative simulation. It will include recommendations on mold design and how to handle hot Tepex inserts. A final section will offer tips on finishing, joining and recycling Tepex components. The brochure is both directed at engineers as well as readers interested in the technology who work, for instance, in marketing or purchasing.


The range of applications where Tepex is being applied has broadened significantly. Initially, it was used to locally reinforce plastic areas in front-ends. By now, it is used to manufacture seat shells, back seats, back rests, brake pedals, battery carriers, infotainment brackets and underbody panels. Just recently, the world’s first, hybrid-molded rear bumper beam went into production for the Honda’s new Clarity Fuel Cell car.


Moreover, the product range continues to expand as we have been reporting since the acquisition. The latest example is multiaxial Tepex, designed to enhance the mechanical performance of components, because the orientation of the reinforcing fiber layers can be adapted to the flow of forces in a component and thus to stress scenarios, according to Klocke. This new structural material is production-ready and will soon be introduced to the market in the first application. 


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