For months leading up to January's introduction of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.'s first pickup truck, the Ridgeline, plastics industry insiders knew the automaker was looking at composites for the bed.
But even minutes before its debut at Detroit's North American International Auto Show, executives of the Tokyo-based automaker promised they still had something new to reveal.
That new concept - a lockable trunk integrated into the sheet molding compound bed - won Honda the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division's grand award for the most innovative use of plastics during a Nov. 16 ceremony in Livonia.
The trunk, molded along with the rest of the SMC bed by Meridian Automotive Systems Inc., allows Ridgeline drivers to store golf bags, groceries or other items beneath the bed floor. The trunk also won the body exterior award during the annual event.
Honda and its suppliers, including Dearborn, Mich.-based Meridian, Ashland Inc. of Dublin, Ohio, and mold maker Century Global Tooling Systems, also were honored for best exterior part.
While the Ridgeline was a large and highly visible addition to the auto industry this year, SPE also marked the appearance of parts most drivers will never notice.
General Motors Corp. received the interior award for its use of a multilayer film that can replace a series of pivoting flaps and paddles in the airflow distribution unit of heating and air conditioning systems.
Delphi Corp.'s Harrison Thermal Systems unit worked with GM to create the system, which can improve passenger comfort while freeing up space on the instrument panel for things such as CD changers or navigation systems, said Gerald Goupil Jr., product development engineer.
Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics of Merrimack, N.H., stepped in to help create the film, which includes polytetrafluoroethylene and fiberglass along with silicone rubber coating and adhesives.
The film is wrapped around tension rods much like a window shade and can be rolled open or closed to fine-tune airflow. Using the film allows Troy, Mich.-based Delphi to turn out an air-distribution system that is as much as 15 percent smaller - freeing up space under the instrument panel for other functional parts.
Using the film rather than rigid plastics also allowed GM to offer 13 different modes to direct airflow and strength, Goupil noted.
``If they wanted 20 modes, we could give them 20,'' he said.
The unit is 15-20 percent lighter than existing modules and 10-15 percent smaller than the industry standard. Detroit-based GM first put it into production on the Pontiac Grand Prix, but since has expanded it into seven other vehicles. A European automaker is slated to begin using the unit on a luxury sedan in 2006.
Other awards were:
* Volkswagen AG and Suzuki Motor Corp. shared the safety award for their pedestrian protection programs, which use a combination of plastics designed to reduce the extent of injuries to nonpassengers.
Japanese injection molder Takagi Seiko Corp. used a GE Xenoy polycarbonate and PBT blend to create a pair of bumper beams that can absorb some of the impact when the front of the Suzuki Swift hits a person's leg. Germany's Aksys GmbH used a glass-mat thermoplastic from Quadrant AG to create its bumper beam for the 2005 Volkswagen Golf.
* Volkswagen also received the process, assembly and enabling technology award for its use of a new bonding system for the front-end carrier on its European-made Polo. Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co. created the acrylic adhesion system used by Portugal's Grupo Simoldes to bond the long-glass-fiber polypropylene on the structural part to steel components, allowing for faster production and lower weight. The bond also allows weight to spread over a larger area compared with individual attachments.
* Tokyo-based Toyota Motor Corp.'s use of a DuPont Zytel-based water spacer to improve the performance of its Crown sedan won the award for powertrain. Uchiyama Manufacturing Corp. of Okayama, Japan, molds the spacer, which is used within the cylinder bore liner to direct engine coolant to the most-needed areas. Better performance of the engine through the jacket leads to a 1 percent savings in fuel use.
* Lear Corp. of Southfield, Mich., teamed with two other molders to create a cargo management system available as a dealer option on Ford Motor Co.'s Escape sport utility vehicle, winning the award for performance and customization parts.
SCA Packaging North America of New Brighton, Pa., produces an expanded PP structural ring for the unit, which then is combined with injection molded parts produced by Bbi Enterprises Group LP of Holland, Mich., and a blow molded lid made by Lear, which then assembles the parts.
The combination of processing methods creates a cargo unit that is 6 pounds lighter than one using only injection molding, and also is less expensive because of lower-cost tooling options.
* GM's Buick Lucerne sedan is using a new molded-in-color reactor thermoplastic olefin that received the award for best new material. The TPO can resist low temperatures, making it available for use on side air-bag covers. Key Plastics LLC of Farmington Hills, Mich., is molding the air-bag cover for supplier Autoliv Inc., based in Stockholm, Sweden, using a blend created by Basell Polyolefins. The color allows a cost saving of 45-65 percent over parts that required painting.
* DaimlerChrysler AG's Mercedes A car received the environmental award for its use of PP reinforced with fiber from the abac plant in spare-wheel covers. The covers mark the first wide-scale use of a plastic using a natural-fiber reinforcement for an exterior car part, with 40 tons of the fiber used annually. Manila Cordage of Manila, the Philippines, provides the fiber from the abac plant, which is a fruitless banana tree.
Reiter Automotive Management AG of Winterthur, Switzerland - part of Reiter Holdings AG - is both the compounder and molder for the compression molded part, which replaces a glass-fiber-reinforced PP at a 7 percent weight savings and 3-5 percent cost savings.
* Dura Automotive Systems Inc. developed a plastic window regulator for power windows on DaimlerChrysler AG's PT Cruiser, taking the chassis/hardware award. The unit replaced a metal one at a 25 percent weight reduction and cost savings of about 15 percent per part. Mertech Intellectual Properties LLC of Nashville, Tenn., worked with Rochester Hills, Mich.-based Dura on creating the regulator. Titan Plastics Group Inc. of Portage, Mich., is the molder and toolmaker on the program, and Michael Day Enterprises of Wadsworth, Ohio, is the compounder.
* The Hall of Fame Award, honoring a product that has been in use for at least 10 years, went to carmaker Porsche AG of Stuttgart, Germany, and material supplier BASF AG of Ludwigshafen, Germany, for development of the first plastic air-intake manifold.
The thermoplastic part first went into a 1972 911 Carrera and since has expanded into use throughout the auto industry.
SPE also honored three people for their work with auto plastics:
* Shigeki Suzuki, general manager of Toyota's materials engineering division in Japan, received the lifetime achievement award for developing and managing new uses for plastics. Suzuki helped develop a glass-reinforced composite used to support an existing steel door panel on Toyota's Soarer in 1982, helped create a fiberglass top cover on the 1984 Hylux and worked on multiple foam noise-absorption components.
* Dave Hill, chief engineer for GM's Corvette vehicle line, was given SPE's first chief engineer award. Hill was named vehicle line executive for Detroit-based GM's performance cars in 1995 and led development of the fifth- and sixth-generation Corvettes, which have composite bodies. Hill also oversaw creation of the Cadillac XLR, a composite-body, luxury sports car for the automaker.
* Tom Edson, director of applied materials and manufacturing technology in advanced vehicle engineering for the Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler unit of DaimlerChrysler, received the executive leadership award.
Edson backed studies looking into composite auto bodies and paint-replacement systems using polymer films, and SPE members noted he has been open to hearing about new technologies that would open the door to more plastics use by the automaker.