DETROIT — While Detroit automakers remain environmentally aware, recycling issues figuratively have moved from the back seat to the trunk.
Recycling issues joined quality issues in the trunk — where they are out of sight and nearly out of mind, but accessible, should carmakers need them.
``Cost is driving the industry,'' said Erik Fyrwald, director of Engineering Materials for DuPont Automotive of Troy, Mich.
``For the past few years, [cost] was a significant concern, but this year it is the only concern,'' he said at a press conference Feb. 24 at the Society of Automotive Engineers International Congress and Exposition in Detroit.
Fyrwald based his remarks on the third annual survey DuPont Co. of Wilmington, Del., has sponsored with SAE. The survey asks respondents to rank the most pressing design and engineering problems they expect to face in the coming year.
In previous years, respondents cited recycling issues and quality concerns, along with cost reductions, as top challenges.
``This year [cost] outranked all other considerations by more than a 30 percent margin,'' Fyrwald said. ``No other single issue got more than 10 percent of this audience's attention.''
Further, he noted that 70 percent of the respondents said their companies have put systems in place to account for the final assembled costs of an automotive component or a system.
Plastic materials suppliers long have argued that determining the cost of a total assembly makes the economics of their materials obvious. Plastic assemblies usually cost less than metal alternatives, because they can be molded to the desired shapes and can consolidate many designs.
Fyrwald also noted that nearly 40 percent of the respondents identified plastics as materials that can be recycled readily.
``There is quite obviously a growing recognition of the recyclability of engineering thermoplastics,'' he said.
Separately, Fyrwald announced five developments in product applications that he said may have far-reaching results:
DuPont has developed a nylon windage tray with an integrated oil pan gasket that is being used on an automotive engine made by General Motors Corp. The tray acts as a barrier between the oil reservoir and the crankshaft of the engine to prevent sloshing and aeration.
Fyrwald said the device improves engine performance without adding weight or cost.
DuPont signed an agreement with Cesaroni Technology Ltd. of Toronto to produce, use and sell nylon heat exchangers for military vehicles, marine engines and offshore oil rigs.
When DuPont announced two years ago it was developing heat exchangers — commonly known as radiators — from nylon, many plastics industry observers scoffed. Nylon is hygroscopic and a poor conductor of heat, and observers and competitors said such radiators would absorb moisture, swell and quickly become inefficient in the high-heat environment in which they are expected to perform.
Fyrwald said those qualms are unfounded, and the potential for the uses of DuPont's heat-exchange technology appear to be promising for auto applications.
DuPont, with Compact Membrane Systems Inc. of Wilmington, has developed oxygen-enrichment membrane technology that the companies believe can be used to enhance automotive engine performance by 40-50 percent. The technology is based on membranes made with DuPont's Teflon AF fibers. Fyrwald said the membranes can increase engine horsepower and fuel efficiency while decreasing emissions.
DuPont provided nylon resins for a cylinder head cover for a BMW six-cylinder engine and a twin air-intake manifold used on an engine made by Porsche.