Try wrapping your ears around this concept: You are rolling down the road in your new sedan, listening to your favorite Bruce Springsteen CD. But that Clarence Clemons saxophone solo you hear is not bursting out of traditional speakers.
Instead, a small actuator placed inside the door panel has turned the specially designed material base of the injection molded interior trim into a flat-panel speaker. The same technique sends sound directly out of the instrument panel, the compression molded headliner and the trim over the pillars.
``The space problems of finding room for the speakers aren't there anymore,'' said Dick McKechnie, automotive business director for the composite solutions unit of Owens Corning's automotive division.
The flat-panel concept created by Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning is an early result of the company's shift to an application-specific focus, McKechnie said March 5 at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2002 World Congress in Detroit.
``Tell us your needs, and we can come up with a product that meets those needs,'' he said.
The first applications already are on the road. Others, like the flat-panel program, are being introduced to automotive customers now and could hit the market in just a few years.
Owens Corning partnered with DSM Automotive Polymers to create StaMax, a long-glass-fiber thermoplastic composite that is injection molded into the front-end carrier for BMW's new Mini-Cooper. Production also is about to launch for an injection molded door panel - standing in for what would have been a compression molded plastic or a metal system.
``When you're looking at injection molding, you can pump these out every 60 or 70 seconds,'' McKechnie said. ``You're looking at a completely different set of economics.''
The door panel - which will go into production in Europe this year — also reduces assembly complexity, dropping the number of steps to 14 from 40.
The company is not releasing many details yet on the resin technology going into the flat-panel speaker system, but McKechnie said it could hit the road by the 2004 model year.
Still in the pipeline are more systems focusing on improvements to muffler technology, including research into a thermoplastic housing, and lighter- weight composite leaf springs for light trucks.
``We're just at the start of the curve now,'' McKechnie said. ``There is more to come.''