Iscar Metals
Creating Clever Things With Plastics

The auto industry and its suppliers are coming up with some clever ways to do everything from saving gasoline to providing pedestrian protection with plastics. Here are the category winners in the SPE Automotive Div.’s annual plastics awards.

The proliferation of innovative uses for plastics is something that isn’t always evident, at least for people who don’t take into account all of the various applications that are found. One group of people who do is the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (http://www.4spe.org/communities/divisions/d31.php), which holds an annual competition for the best-of-the-best in the world of automotive plastics use. This year, the group judged entries in the categories of Body Interior, Body Exterior, Materials, Safety, Environmental, Chassis/Hardware, Powertrain, Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies, and Performance & Customization. The companies assembled—OEMs, suppliers (component, material, tooling)—are literally from the Global Who’s Who of companies, and their work represents what is certainly the state-of-the-technology, if not the state-of-the-art.

Here is a look at those developments that won in their category. The empanelled judges were asked to consider aspects from value, price, performance, impact, to innovation, just to name some of the key factors. Making the selections weren’t easy—as full disclosure requires that I note that I was one of the judges. As the grand prize winner isn’t being announced until after this issue goes into production, we’ll let you know what took top honors in the next issue.

 

Body Interior

  • WINNER
    HVAC Film valve developed for the 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier: Delphi Corp. Material processor: Macauto Industrial Co. Material supplier: Saint-Gobain PPL. Tooling supplier: Macauto Industrial.
  • MATERIAL
    PTFE/fiberglass/silicone.
  • DISCUSSION
    In typical HVAC systems, there is a series of injection-molded valves that are used to meter the amount of hot or cold air that’s being emitted into the cabin. This tends to result in a sizable plastic assembly. As package space is becoming increasingly important in vehicles, this development is remarkable. What they’ve done is create a film made of the aforementioned materials. There are areas cut out of this film through which air can flow. The film is held between two spring-loaded spooling devices: think, in effect, of a roller window shade, but in this case there are two rollers so that the film is held in tension. As the amount of airflow is adjusted by the driver, the film moves on the rollers so that the apertures are positioned as required. One of the benefits of this system is that it permits 13 different settings versus a conventional unit. Because the material is under tension, there aren’t the rattle problems that can occur with the plastic paddles ordinarily used. And given the smaller size, it is estimated that there is as much as a 30% weight savings. If it is compared apples to apples with the previous system, then the cost is equal. If the additional settings (and the other benefits) are taken into account, the cost savings can be as much as 15%.

 

Body Exterior

  • WINNER
    Composite in-bed trunk for the 2006 Honda Ridgeline.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier and material processor: Meridian Automotive Systems. Material suppliers: Ashland Chemical; Saint-Gobain Vetrotex; Rohm & Haas; Meridian Automotive Systems. Tooling
    suppliers: Century Tool & Gage and Global Tooling Systems.
  • MATERIAL
    SMC.
  • DISCUSSION
    Everyone—including Honda—knew that the world really didn’t need another pickup truck. So the Honda designers and engineers set about figuring out the ways and means to create special features for the Ridgeline pickup, one of which is the lockable in-bed trunk. This trunk, which fits between the boxed frame rails, has a storage area of 8.5-ft3. The bed itself is made of high-strength SMC (with steel cross members). So, too, is the trunk. The trunk is an assembly of compression-molded panels, hardware (hinges, fasteners, etc.) and steel reinforcements. The assembly is adhesively bonded. Apparently, steel was considered, but then it was determined that there would be in excess of 100 parts required. This has 10. Based on the typical weight savings of SMC versus steel, the mass is reduced by from 20 to 40%. Tooling costs are about half that of steel. The trunk not only can handle a 72-quart cooler, but can actually be filled with ice and used as a cooler, as it has a drain plug.

 

Materials

  • WINNER
    Molded-in-color reactor TPO for side airbag covers for the 2006 Buick Lucerne.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier: Autoliv. Material processor: Key Plastics. Material supplier: Basell Polyolefins. Tooling supplier: Key Plastics.
  • MATERIAL
    A thermoplastic olefin (TPO), Hostacom CA199P.
  • DISCUSSION
    The interesting development here is related to the fact that the material used for the airbag cover is an alloy, not a blend. Consequently, they’re able to create a TPO with a high rubber content, which is certainly valuable in an airbag-release situation. In addition to which, because this is a molded-in color material, the need for painting is eliminated, which has benefits not only related to cost, but environmental, as well. One of the concerns is with the impact resistance of materials at low temperatures for auto interior applications; this material proved able to handle the demands at -35°C (as well as deal with heat at +85°C). Estimated weight savings compared with other materials in this application is estimated to be 20% or more. Direct cost savings is on the order of 45 to 65%.

 

Safety

  • WINNER
    Pedestrian-protection energy absorber for the 2005 Suzuki Swift.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier, material processor, and tooling supplier: Takagi Seiko.
  • MATERIAL SUPPLIER
    GE Advanced Materials.
  • MATERIAL
    Xenoy 1102 PC/PBT (polycarbonate/polybutylene terphthalate).
  • DISCUSSION
    The issue was to develop the wherewithal to meet the European Union’s Phase 1 lower-leg pedestrian-protection requirements. This is a unit that had to fit within a 45-mm packaging space behind the front fascia. They designed an injection-molded plastic crush box that deforms in response to an impact. Previous approaches have involved using an expanded polypropylene foam and steel structure; this approach usually requires at least twice as much space (100 mm or more). What’s more, the crush box design provides a weight savings of 0.7 kg.

 

Environmental

  • WINNER
    Spare wheel cover with Abaca fiber reinforcement for the 2005 Mercedes A-Class.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier and material processor: Rieter Automotive. Material supplier: Manila Cordage (for the fiber).
  • MATERIAL
    Abaca fibers and polypropylene.
  • DISCUSSION
    Essentially, this is an application that is using a fiber that is grown in place of one that is manufactured: Abaca rather than glass. Fundamentally, the component is produced in a compression molding process just as had been the case when glass fibers were used for reinforcement. The fiber provides a weight advantage (7% lighter) as well as a cost savings (3 to 5%). In addition to which, the energy used to create the fibers (it starts with a plant, then the cords are removed, the material is dried, then rovings are produced) requires 60% less energy than glass.

 

Chassis/Hardware

  • WINNER
    All-plastic window regulator for the 2006 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier: DURA Automotive. Material processor and tooling supplier: Titan Plastics. Material supplier: Michael Day Enterprises.
  • MATERIAL
    Gearcomp 6001 PA 6/6.
  • DISCUSSION
    Traditionally, powered window lift systems are based on, primarily, a steel assembly, consisting of such things as stamped or roll-formed rails, stamped gliders, and braided cables. In all, there are 21 parts in a typical system. But this system—called Racklift—is based primarily on injection-molded 30% glass-filled nylon 6/6 components (e.g., rack, housing, gearing) and it consists of 13 parts. While the steel assembly requires five attachments, this requires two. The system is lighter—as much as 46%. And an interesting performance aspect is that the nylon gears don’t require grease for lubrication, so assembly plant operations can be tidier.

 

Powertrain

  • WINNER
    Water jacket spacer for the 2003 Toyota Crown.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier: Aisan Industry. Material processor and tooling supplier: Uchiyama Manufacturing. Material supplier: DuPont K.K.
  • MATERIAL
    Zytel HTN 51G35HSL PPA.
  • DISCUSSION
    Can an injection-molded part that weighs just 220 grams improve the fuel economy of an engine such that the savings are equal to reducing the weight of the vehicle by 25 kg? Apparently that’s the case on the engine developed for the Toyota Crown and used in the ’06 Lexus GS 300. The V6 engine has an aluminum block and head. The function of a water jacket in an engine is to help maintain a better temperature distribution in the cylinder bore. What they’ve determined is that by inserting the spacer into the jacket casting (the engine has an open-deck configuration so it is easy to insert) they are able to tailor the heat transfer, which improves cooling; that is the factor that improves the fuel economy (in addition to helping extend the engine life). The part is 326-mm long, 120-mm wide, 85-mm high, and has a minimum wall thickness of 1.5 mm. The cost is about $3.50 per spacer; two are needed per engine. Given the cost of gasoline (premium unleaded is recommended for this engine), the payback can occur rather rapidly.

 

Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies

  • WINNER
    Bonded hybrid metal-plastic front-end carrier for the 2005 Volkswagen Polo.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier, material processor, and tooling supplier: Simoldes. Material supplier: Dow Automotive.
  • MATERIAL
    Inspire DLGF 9310.00ZB and Betamate LESAadhesive.
  • DISCUSSION
    Not all award-winning parts are plastic-only. This one attaches an e-coated steel part to an injection-molded long-glass fiber polypropylene composite. The key factor to making this happen is the development of the two-component acrylic adhesive, the Betamate LESA. It is formulated to directly bond to PP without any pretreatments, which simplifies processing. This adhesive is proven to be strong, as well, as the failure mode is substrate failure of the plastic material rather than the area bonded. It cures at room temperature. The component as designed is 25% lighter than the alternative carrier design and provides a system cost saving in excess of 10%.

 

Performance & Customization

  • WINNER
    Cargo management system for the 2005 Ford Escape.
  • COMPANIES INVOLVED
    System supplier: Lear Corp. Material processor: SCA Packaging North America. Material supplier: JSP International. Tooling supplier: Lear Corp. and SCA Packaging North America.
  • MATERIAL
    Arpro expanded polypropylene (EPP).
  • DISCUSSION
    When the Ford Escape’s spare tire was located beneath the vehicle, this opened up an opportunity to put a container in the vacated space. Which led to the development of this system, which uses a molded EPP ring that forms a support structure around the opening in the load floor onto which a blow-molded lid assembly with molded-in color is attached. Then there’s a deep-draw thermoformed carpeted tub assembly. An alternative approach would be to create the system out of laminated fiberboard. That was estimated to require two tools, seven processes, and approximately five people. The blow molding approach, alternatively, requires one tool, four processes, and two people. In addition to which it is some six pounds lighter than the alternative.
    This plastic window regulator developed by DURA is not only weight savings, but even provides a process advantage in the assembly plant because unlike its steel alternative, no grease is required, so things tend to stay cleaner.