Previously, if you wanted to make an object out of plastic you had to get an absurd amount of people involved. Investors in the tooling, plastics suppliers, moldmakers, people to work the machinery, et cetera. Only corporations could muster that kind of scratch and manpower, leaving a huge gulf between themselves and the independent designer.
Inexpensive 3D printers have narrowed that gulf, enabling individuals to make plastic parts without leaving the house or picking up the phone. But they've been limited to working with mostly ABS-like plastic. So now we see a new gulf opening up between individual maker and corporation, one of materials science. Large chemical companies and their deep-pocketed patrons will have access to materials currently impossible for the lone maker to afford.
A good example of this is the glass-fiber-reinforced polyamide we saw BASF use to create plastic automotive rims. A similar material, this time produced by an automotive parts collective patronized by Ford, has popped up as an award winner in this week's sexily-named 42nd annual Society of Plastics Engineers Innovation Awards Gala. This is a bit convoluted, but bear with us: Ford designed the bracket you see above, which is made out of a material called LGF PP—that's Long Glass Fiber Polypropylene Resin—developed in collaboration between global materials company Styron, system supplier and molder Magna Exterior, and toolmaker Advantage Mold. In other words, yeah, there were a lot of people on that e-mail chain.
So what does the thing even do, and why is it noteworthy? That little bracket is used in the Ford Fusion for mounting bumpers and headlights to cars. This almost beggars belief, but because the glass fibers add an unusual amount of "stiffness, strength and impact-resistance" to the part, they reduce the Head Injury Criterion of motorists involved in an accident by some 30%, which helped Ford take home that trophy.
Individual makers still have plenty of wiggle room with the limited plastics available for 3D printers, as seen by ArtizanWork's "Sweater" Case. If advanced materials like Styron's ever trickle down to us, it will be a while yet. We still hope that it will happen, of course, and charitably assume Styron isn't taunting us by re-naming their material—while its scientific name is LGF PP, the company is calling it INSPIRE™.