Automotive Observations: Acknowledging Innovation

The Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Div. announced the winners of its 31st annual Most Innovative Use of Plastics Awards.

The Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Div. announced the winners of its 31st annual Most Innovative Use of Plastics Awards. Winners were chosen in six categories: Chassis, Powertrain, Interior, Exterior, Materials, and Enabling Technologies/Processes.
The winning entry in the chassis category was the Audi A2 front-end module. The innovative module was the first to join metal to metal during the injection molding process. This gave the Audi designers increased design freedom associated with plastics, while allowing for the structural integrity and safety performance of fender-to-fender steel. Faurecia was the system supplier, molder and tooling supplier, while Bayer supplied the material. Faurecia estimates that the innovation offered a 30% weight savings, and a cost avoidance of 20%.

If the Audi A2 front-end module illustrates what plastics can do for the tiniest of vehicles, the Powertrain winner certainly shows that it can be equally effective for the biggest. Charge-air-Cooler (CAC) end tanks for the Ford F250 to 550 trucks took honors in the Powertrain category. These high-volume parts are a direct replacement for cast-aluminum parts, and saved over 3.5 lb. per assembly. Valeo was the supplier for the system, while Carlisle Engineered Products did the molding and built the tools.

The Aztek took top honors in the Interiors category. The unique vehicle’s self-stowing/rolling convenience system supplied by Lear earned some redemption for the much-maligned crossover. The cleverly designed storage system is capable of holding 400 lb. as it rolls out over the tailgate; it sets a new standard for utility vehicle storage. Lear worked with Duroplast, Nova and Spartech Polycam to better the metal prototype by 12 kg and $34.

In what shows that these people are willing to leave no stone unturned, the linchpin of the rolling system is a high tech device that offers smooth-ultra quiet operation: inline skate wheels.

General Motors also had a winner in the Body Exterior category. The Silverado composite pick-up box offers a glimpse of the Holy Grail for the plastics gang. The box out performs the conventional steel box in all customer applications, offers a 50-lb. weight reduction, and is obviously corrosion resistant. It has the largest SRIM panel ever produced for volume production, and its quarter panels ‘snap-fit’ together. The composite box is a team effort, with Meridian, Budd, Century, Prospect, Dow, Bayer, and Owens Corning all sharing the credit. However, it still has a price penalty to the consumer—it is about an $800 option.

A new material application on a long-in-the-tooth vehicle took honors in the Materials category. Molder Blackhawk Automotive teamed with Plastic Mold Tech and Basell USA, Inc. to develop the first automotive application of nano-composite filler technology. The TPO nano-composite is used for step-assist covers for the GM Astro and Safari mid-sized vans. The material offers reduced weight, improved cold weather impact performance, and better surface appearance with no cost penalty.

The winner in the Process/Enabling Technologies is also for GM vans—the Montana, Venture, and Silhouette.

Plastic Ominium and tooling suppliers Collumn S.A. and Husky developed a hybrid thermoplastic composite bumper beam for the vehicles. The process allows the combination of glass-filled polypropylene and continuous long-glass fiber weave to form the hybrid thermoplastic. This offers increased intrusion protection and greatly increased static load capacity for the bumper, while eliminating the energy absorbing foam.