Automotive lighting is shrinking, with standard bulbs increasingly switched out in favor of small light emitting diodes, or LEDs.
That change in the electronics, meanwhile, is prompting new demands for the plastics that house lights throughout the vehicle - both inside and out.
``We've come up with a lot of concepts for connecting to [LEDs] and packaging them,'' said Jeff Terrell, manager of product development for Tricon Industries Inc., an injection and insert molder that specializes in automotive electronic components. ``We're showing them all of our alternatives.''
Developments in LEDs to improve the brightness and color is permitting suppliers and automakers to consider new ways to light vehicles that are less expensive, require less energy, take up less space and last longer. Those all are big selling points, David Hulick, global auxiliary lighting manager for Osram Sylvania, said at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2004 World Congress, held March 8-11 in Detroit. Osram Sylvania of Danvers, Mass., is the North American unit of Osram GmbH.
About 40 percent of upcoming vehicles will use LEDs for center high-mount stop lamps - the brake light mounted at the rear window or roof of a vehicle.
Twenty cars made in the United States this year - representing 5 percent of the market - will use LEDs for rear taillights. The biggest changes are expected by 2008, when direct LEDs will go into headlights.
Each swap affects the housings.
Cooler operating temperatures mean that housings probably can use less-expensive resins as well as less material. The bulbs can provide their own color palette, reducing the demands for red or yellow covers on brake and directional signals.
The bulbs also can provide a direct light, meaning no more requirements for the metalizing process now used to provide a reflective surface on the plastic housing for indirect bulbs, Hulick said.
``There are a lot of changes,'' he added.
While using smaller lights will provide more room in trunks or engine compartments, the systems also allow for new concepts in the look of the lights themselves.
Dearborn, Mich.-based Visteon Corp. has created a concept vehicle that places the LEDs within an acrylic rod, which then is curved around the rear corner of the truck in a brake light.
Taking advantage of the bulbs' ability to dim or brighten, the company created a high-mount stop lamp in which the red grows in intensity the harder a driver steps on the brake pedal.
``You're really looking at using the LEDs both to see and to be seen,'' said Stacia Smith, product marketing manager within Visteon's exteriors group. ``There are a lot of different things you can do here.''
Tricon engineers are busy looking for the best way for customers to adapt to the much smaller systems. Rather than having traditional sockets and backing mounts, the diodes are tiny, capable of fitting within a flimsy strip.
Lighting suppliers need to produce something robust enough for shipping and placement within the car, said sales manager Rick Zech.
Lisle, Ill.-based Tricon is turning out concepts that look at using the MuCell process to overmold a finished housing around the LED, so customers will be exposed to prospects they may not have considered.
``We want to be there showing them every packaging opportunity,'' he said.