Owens Corning is seeing increased use of its polypropylene-based thermoplastic StaMax for structural components in European vehicles. Now it is picking up steam in North America, with automakers considering it for use in instrument panels, grille-opening reinforcements and door systems.
``We've come a little later to the U.S. in terms of this material, but it's picking up,'' said Andrew Hopkins, general manager of Owens Corning's automotive business unit, in an interview at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2003 World Congress, held March 3-6 in Detroit.
The injection moldable StaMax, developed along with DSM Automotive Polymers, uses long-glass-fiber reinforcement, and already is in production as the front-end module carrier on BMW AG's Mini Cooper and as a door panel substrate for Ford Motor Co. Fiesta vehicles made in Europe.
It also makes its debut this year as the front-end carrier on the Volkswagen AG Touareg and Porsche AG Cayenne, the firms' jointly developed sport utility vehicles. The system is far larger than the unit on the Mini, Hopkins noted, allowing Owens Corning and molders a breakthrough in the thermoplastic's capabilities.
``It took a long while to prove that you could produce something this large out of this material,'' he said. ``We had to develop proprietary mold-flow studies and show what we could do.''
StaMax also was in head-to-head-to-head competition through years of development on the vehicles, vying with both metal and reinforced-nylon carriers. Owens Corning recorded about $12 million in sales last year for StaMax, and expects to double that in 2003.
The front-end systems probably will not make the jump to North America, since carmakers here do not use that manufacturing style. It is finding approval as a replacement for other thermoplastics such as polycarbonate/ ABS blends in instrument panel substrates and for metal carriers in door systems, Hopkins said.
``We're not trying to go everywhere with this,'' he said. ``We're keeping our focus on three or four key applications, and we're making progress.''