The introduction last month of Kenworth Truck Co.'s new, T2000 Class 8 tractor is of more than passing interest to the plastics industry. The vehicle, in the category of heavy trucks weighing more than 33,000 pounds, constitutes the greatest use yet of composites in a Kenworth product. Other heavy-truck manufacturers are similarly boosting their use of plastics in the production of brawny transportation equipment intended for a million miles of use or more.
In North America, the demand for reinforced plastics in transportation equipment grew from about 1.1 billion pounds in 1989 to nearly 1.5 billion pounds in 1994, according to Freedonia Group Inc. of Cleveland. By the end of the decade it is projected to reach 1.9 billion pounds.
While weight is a significant issue that plastics help designers address in constructing these vehicles, so is the shaping of fuelefficent, aerodynamic parts because of the formability of sheet molding compound. Those issues converge without conflict in the face of the need for larger cab storage areas in modern trucks, which often carry teams of drivers over long distances.
The director of component technology at Navistar International Transportation Corp. spoke to those issues recently at ANTEC '96 in Indianapolis. He also pointed out a corollary to greater composites use in the evolving heavy-duty truck market.
``We need processes for large-part molding,'' Navisar's V.K. Sharma said. ``We need more work on low-pressure SMC.''
Given the direction the heavy trucks are headed, that is a clear invitation for creative processors to join the transportation market.
Ignorance is the enemy
The results of a recent National Science Foundation survey underscore the major difficulty the plastics industry has in dispelling public perceptions that it does more harm than good.
The telephone survey of 2,006 randomly selected adults was conducted last October for the Washington-based foundation by the Chicago Academy of Sciences. The study, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, found that about 75 percent of those contacted couldn't muster a passing grade in basic science.
Less than half knew that the Earth rotates around the sun yearly, according to the survey. Of particular interest to the plastics industry, the environmental knowledge of those surveyed was very weak.
According to the report issued by the foundation, only one in 10 respondents felt they are well-informed about science and technology.
The absence of a basic understanding of science and technology is the bane of many industries and the national economy. It is also why the American Plastics Council sponsors advertising campaigns to inform people about an industry the public perceives as causing environmental problems - a perception largely due to fear of the unknown.