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Innovations That Can Revolutionize The Manufacturing Industry As We Know It
The global smart manufacturing industry is expected to grow to over 576 billion USD in size by 2028, according to Fortune Business Insights. Tech-driven manufacturing processes are taking over at a much greater rate than in the previous decade.
Every day, advancements are being made in research that will make our manufacturing processes cheaper and more time-efficient, and our products more useful and durable.
From improvements to well-established tech such as 3D printing to the development of all-new tech such as smart materials, we are slowly but surely pushing towards the dream of post-scarcity.
Ultra Lightweight Materials
Mass has always been a primary consideration in industry because of the effect it has on structures and machines. Excess weight causes buildings to need more support and vehicles to need more fuel. Since the dawn of modern technology, material scientists have been hard at work developing techniques to make traditionally heavy materials lighter. In the meantime, workarounds like hollowing out solid material were applied. But now, two tech startups seem to have come upon the secrets to making intensive lightweighting available on a widespread scale.
Poland-based Fibratech focuses on lightweighting aluminum for the mobility sector, but the techniques they learn can potentially benefit material lightweighting at large. They mainly make use of hybrid composite metals reinforced with carbon fiber to make stronger, lighter wheels. These hybrid wheels were shown to be sturdier, more customizable, and much lighter than forged aluminum wheels. On the other hand, TxV Aero from the USA fabricates composites augmented with thermoplastics that allow for advanced features like near-net-shape and ply orientation. These were designed for increasing the utility of commercial aerospace vehicles. Right now, they are being used for the development of cutting-edge Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing vehicles, as well as retrofitting other aerospace vehicles currently in service.
Advanced Additive Manufacturing
Known to the layperson as 3D printing, additive manufacturing has come a long way from using standard thermoplastics. Additive manufacturing now makes use of a vast array of materials, from ceramics and synthetic fibers to metals and alloys. Still, 3D printing consists of only 1 percent of all industrial activity. But growth has been stable and has shown no sign of stopping. As additive manufacturing tech advances, we’ll be able to see this percentage increase steadily in the coming years. Metals commonly used in 3D printing have also begun to get more affordable. Titanium prices, for example, are starting to normalize since the concerning spikes of the previous year. This is being reflected in the competitive rates of various titanium suppliers. The price situation improving could be another big factor that fuels the progress of 3D printing tech.
Spearheading the research effort are startups like Chromatic 3D and MAT3D. Chromatic is based in the US and primarily deals in polyurethane elastomers, materials that are both strong and flexible, thus useful for a wide range of applications. Italy-based MAT3D, on the other hand, is researching high-performance plastics that can perform similar to metals, with magnetic, electric, and thermomechanical capabilities. The lessons learned in research efforts like these could provide valuable insight that improves the utility of additive manufacturing as a whole, no matter the material being used.
Smart & Sustainable Materials
Programmable nanotech is a common motif in science fiction. Having materials that can reconfigure themselves on the fly would be invaluable in terms of utility. With smart materials, we may have touched upon the first stepping stone towards making that fantasy a reality. These responsive materials react to the stimuli from their surroundings, such as light, heat, and electricity. They can also remember the shape they were fabricated in and revert to it over time when deformed, similar to elasticity. This principle also allows them to self-repair. Some material scientists are even experimenting with smart material that can change their phase of matter once certain parameters are met.
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The “programmability” of these materials relies on our current understanding of physics and chemistry. The tech is somewhat rudimentary, but so far, experts have come up with some incredible ways to use it. Memetis, a German company, is currently specializing in creating electronics and industrial parts that are capable of withstanding and repairing extreme deformations. Sorex Sensors from the UK have managed to create highly sensitive sensors on thin silicon wafers using a film with piezoelectric properties. But the most prominent usage of smart materials today is in sustainability research and development. Thanks to responsive substances, the dream of fully biodegradable plastic and the elimination of global pollution finally seems within reach.
While these groundbreaking technologies certainly won’t be making any sweeping societal changes overnight, they are a testament to what we can yet achieve. By the turn of the century, industrial tech could have advanced so far that it raises the capabilities of all other sectors, improving quality of life for everyone on the planet.
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Any facts, figures or references stated here are made by the author & don't reflect the endorsement of iU at all times unless otherwise drafted by official staff at iU. This article was first published here on 18th June 2021.