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Is material substitution impacting the way you work?

Two industries, for the most part, drive metalworking. They are automotive and aircraft/aerospace. What's happening is no secret. Where once steel, aluminum, and titanium ruled supreme, now it's graphite, and boron, and ceramics, and filament technology and composites-which may or may not be part metallic-that increasingly are catching the manufacturer's fancy and winning new applications.

A survey of T&P readers indicates they see annual growth of composite/structural plastic applications growing in the 12% to 15% range. One prediction has usage of structural plastics in North American cars up 17% to 264 lb by the turn of the century. Detroit's Big Three has a consortium dedicated to studying what it'll take to make plastic cars the rule rather than the exception.

What happens in those two manufacturing arenas greatly impacts the economic welfare of the individuals, the profitability of the companies and their international competitiveness, and the direction of product development within the metalworking industries.

Of the survey respondents, 28% already feel structural plastic and composite materials are posing a "major" threat to metals in traditional applications. Almost twice as many surveyed readers (50%) feel the threat will grow to major proportions in 10 years. When it comes to a level of experience, 57% of the readers say they have none; 38% enjoy only limited experience in those competing material technologies. Seven out of ten respondents claim their companies have to farm out 100% of the jobs that require working with structural plastic and composite materials.

As a result, 81% of the respondents claim the growing use of nonmetallic materials is having an effect on their jobs. Yet, 44% say they, personally, feel no need for training in these material technologies.

The battle over material substitutions is not new. But for sure it is going to intensify as structural plastic and advanced composite materials and processes are improved. The latest volley comes from Chrysler Corp, which has decided to use plastic fenders on the front of its new intermediate cars.

Change is coming almost faster than it can be assimilated. When it comes to availability of expertise that respondents could reach out for within the company, only a third of them find that it is readily available, even though 29% of those surveyed anticipate a future need for in-house expertise.

There is ample evidence that metalworking firms are meeting-and even capitalizing on-the challenge of material substitution they find themselves facing. Although it is hardly conclusive, our survey makes us wonder just how aware some metalworking managers are about the winds of change being stirred on the materials front, and how they could change the way they do business.

Is your job changing? Is your company or operation being impacted-either favorably or unfavorably-by material substitutions? We'd like to know. Drop me a note at: Tooling & Production; 29100 Aurora Road, Suite 200; Cleveland, OH 44139.

Stanley J Modic

COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:new materials in engineering
Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Let's color outside the lines.
Next Article:Training corner: future work will demand adaptability.

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