It's no surprise what the biggest concern is for auto suppliers' engineers this year.
``Cost,'' said Walter Fields III, vice president of automotive engineering materials for DuPont Automotive.
Fields revealed the results of the company's annual survey of top challenges March 6 in Detroit at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2002 World Congress.
``Eight years running as the top priority, delivering cost without sacrificing innovation is, and always will be, one of those seemingly paradoxical challenges,'' Fields said.
But other concerns are climbing the survey charts, with fuel economy, emissions regulations, safety and ``designability'' seeing increased emphasis.
Last year, barely 1 percent of the engineers listed design issues as their top priority. This year it was 10 percent. That is a reflection, Fields said, of higher demands that suppliers provide more integration and innovation in the parts they produce.
``As components become more complex, design issues become more important to engineers,'' he said.
The Troy, Mich.-based DuPont unit has launched a Web site, plastics.dupont.com, to provide online design assistance, he said.
Fuel-economy issues are the second-highest concern, selected by 17 percent of engineers. Plastics can play a role there: A nylon air-intake manifold, he pointed out, could save 600,000 gallons of fuel over the life of a fleet of pickup trucks with V-8 engines, compared with aluminum manifolds, without harming performance.
Multilayer hoses and tubes in the fuel system can help automakers reduce emissions, Fields said, while laminated glass and air bags increase occupant safety, the third- and fourth-highest concerns, drawing attention from 14 percent and 12 percent of the engineers respectively.
Recyclability did not score high - 36 percent expect it to become less important and 32 percent expect no change. But Fields said government regulations may have a greater impact than engineers expect.
DuPont has a pilot program with Japan's Denso Corp. that has produced radiator end tanks with 100 percent of the glass-reinforced nylon recycled directly from scrapped end tanks.
``This is a cradle-to-cradle application,'' said William Hsu, vice president of DuPont Engineering Polymers, global technology.
The developmental composite recycle technology is separate from DuPont's ammonolysis system to chemically convert nylon 6/6 and nylon 6, Hsu said.
The recycling technology used in the Denso project is not economically feasible yet, but Hsu said it could achieve that goal through economies of scale. The firms also must determine how best to recover the used tanks from auto yards. But the research is promising; Denso already plans to use its tanks in automakers' prototype vehicles to test the results further.
``When companies in the complete value chain work together with joint goals, we can make things happen,'' Hsu said.