ASC Inc. has teamed up with GE Plastics in a development partnership that could get more plastic on cars.
The two companies jointly are looking at ways to use Pittsfield, Mass.-based GE Plastics' Lexan GLX-brand polycarbonate in large sunroofs in minivans, sport utility vehicles and other large cars and trucks.
``GE came with its material technology and they [ASC] brought their expertise and technology as a supplier,'' Derek Buckmaster, global market director for body panels and glazing at GE Automotive, said during a Jan. 8 interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
ASC showcased Lexan in its TriLite concept, which had three PC panels stretching the length of a modified minivan.
ASC, a Southgate, Mich.-based exteriors specialist, also rolled out its Diamondback Viper concept, showing off improvements to its proprietary carbon-fiber processing system called OmniCarbon.
``Anything that lightens the weight of a car is worth considering,'' said ASC President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wilbur.
Polycarbonates like Lexan, which is coated with a proprietary glazing created by Exatac LLC to stand up to scratches and weather damage, are being considered for a variety of glass-replacement options on cars and trucks. Exatac is a joint venture of GE and Bayer MaterialSciences LLC.
A sunroof makes sense because it can replace heavier glass, not only removing weight, but allowing the carmaker to take that weight out of the highest point of the vehicle, lowering the overall center of gravity and reducing the risk of rollovers.
Large sunroofs like the ASC-developed InfiniVu on the minivan - which open both above the front seats as well as rear seats - would add a lot of weight in glass, Wilbur noted.
``When you put a [glass] sunroof into a car the size of this van, you're putting the weight in exactly the wrong place,'' Buckmaster said.
Lexan already is used in a few smaller roof systems, but the development deal with ASC opens the possibility for wider use.
ASC also has proposed InfiniVu sunroofs using cloth and glass, Wilbur said. It has sold InfiniVu for use on a 2008 vehicle, but the company has not disclosed the model or material it will use.
GE's Lexan also went onto the large rear window on the Diamondback Viper. The 615-horsepower sports car is designed to show off a variety of ASC products and convince both automakers and designers to consider new ways to make cars.
ASC has developed its own way to compression mold carbon fiber, cutting 80 percent of the production time from traditional autoclave processing but still retaining the ability to showcase the fiber's weave and tensile strength.
The firm is not releasing many details, but Stephen Formella, who manages carbon-fiber programs for ASC, said part of the improvements lie in adapting the material to automotive production techniques.
ASC engineers have added automation, standard processing methods and fine-tuned molds, he said.
``We've taken what we've learned from [resin transfer molding] and [sheet molding compound] and capitalized on it with carbon fiber,'' Forello said.
The complete carbon-fiber hood - with inner and outer skins and attachments - weigh less than 22 pounds, compared with the 44 pounds for the standard SMC hood.
The outer skin alone is only 4.9 pounds.
The Diamondback also is painted to show how car companies can cover the material or showcase the weave design.
The Viper's hood uses a combination of those approaches on a single part by masking areas for paint and clear coat.
``My theory is that we've got to show these designers how we can use carbon fiber,'' Wilbur said.
And while carbon fiber is a niche material now, he said he believes it can grow just as the use of aluminum grew.