Dana Corp.'s search for more sales opportunities in the auto industry is prompting it to consider new uses for plastics under the hood.
The Toledo, Ohio-based company is developing prototype thermoplastic transmission pans and oil pans, with hopes it can convince automakers to switch from steel and aluminum systems.
``Plastics offers the same advantages [for the pans] it does in other places,'' said Dwayne Matthews, executive director of global sales and engineering for Dana's sealing products division in Paris, Tenn. ``It has lighter weight; it can work in more complex shapes.''
A few European automakers are using plastics for transmission pans now, although the trend has not moved to North America yet, Matthews said in a July 14 interview while he was in Dearborn on business. In North America, oil pans are exclusively metal at this point, but Matthews said there is the potential to convince carmakers to switch if Dana can make the right case. Both systems serve as fluid reservoirs for their respective parts and may contain gaskets, seals, electronic connections and pumps.
``If we can show them that we can improve value and give them something better for the same price, we've got a chance,'' he said.
Dana will stress its own capabilities - as well as the material's - in developing the systems. The company views itself as a sealing supplier, but one that integrates its seals into thermoset and thermoplastic parts that it also molds. Valve covers, for instance, can include gaskets, acoustic enhancements, a crankcase ventilation system, and clips and connectors for various hoses and wires. The industry is pushing to integrate even more components, such as baffles or air-intake manifolds.
A single unit that contains multiple parts potentially can reduce assembly time and total system costs.
Tight spaces under the hood could give plastics a competitive advantage in transmission and oil pans since it can be molded into complex shapes.
But resin also would have to show it can stand up to rough road conditions. The pans are housed on the underside of the engine compartment, making them vulnerable to scrapes and damage from roadside debris. Matthews said a skid plate beneath the engine compartment could provide a protective barrier.
``We're going to have to prove it,'' he said.
Dana probably will have faster customer response with transmission pans since they already are in limited use in Europe, Matthews said. It is important for the company to take a serious look at potential new products to survive, though, even if any successful sales are long off.
``We have to be the on-site experts for what we do,'' he said. ``We're expected to bring [automakers] new ideas. If we don't, then others will.''