GE Plastics is funding redesign research that will focus on recovering engineering plastics in car instrument panels. The Pittsfield, Mass., resin supplier awarded the University of Rhode Island's Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering De-partment a one-year, $87,000 contract to study two generations of instrument panels from the same model car.
IME will evaluate instrument panels from 1987 and 1995, because those model years mark major differences in the vehicle's construction, said Greg Jones, manager of design development for GE Plastics. He said the panels were large-scale applications chosen for their higher content of engineering plastics, such as ABS and polycarbonate. He would not disclose the vehicle or carmaker.
``Beginning in 1987, there was a swing [from metal] to plastics in the instrument panel of this particular vehicle line,'' Jones said by telephone from Detroit. ``Vehicles are fairly iterative in how they change their structures. To a consumer, there are lots of changes visually. But in terms of construction methodology, there was no major change [in the car's instrument panel] till 1995.''
The purpose of the project is to judge how well each panel meets end-of-life disassembly and material recovery goals; compare panel designs and quantify changes based on environmental, disassembly, cost and manufacturability studies; and make re-design recommendations, according to a joint news release.
Jones said he thinks the research will confirm the cost and environmental benefits of designing with engineering plastics, such as those supplied by GE.
``It's an economic-driven kind of thing,'' he said. Though re-designing the instrument panel may not result in reducing manufacturing costs, it may keep those costs from increasing, he added.
Between 1987 and 1995, as cars added more safety features, instrument panel designs made use of ``the ductile capability of plastics'' to help manage energy absorption, Jones said. But he did not know whether the 1995 panel used more plastic than the 1987 design. Because engineering plastics have a higher per-pound value than commodity resins, they are more worthwhile to recover and recycle, he said.
``We feel there is a big need all over the industry to really make better use of the materials that are there,'' he said.
GE Plastics supplied IME with information on material properties, automotive engineering re-quirements and plastics recycling. The firm chose IME for its ``pioneering research'' in designing for manufacture and assembly, the release said. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are among the firms that help fund IME's ongoing design research. The University of Rhode Island is in Kingston.