Toronto's ABC Group Inc. is continuing to expand the concept of what blow molding can do in the auto industry, this time showing its capabilities on an icon vehicle.
When DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s 2007 Jeep Wrangler launched this year, it came with its first plastic bumper system, replacing a roll-formed steel bar with a blow molded part that combined the fascia, energy absorber and other integrated parts all in one molded-in-color package.
And the bumper had to do more than meet basic crash standards. As part of the Jeep family, it had to meet tougher off-road performance requirements and stand up to the scrutiny of Wrangler fans.
``You're really pushing the boundaries because you've got a Class A part there that everybody's going to see,'' said Tim Chapman, vice president of ABC's advanced product group. ``When I first started, people thought blow molding in automotive was [limited to] washer bottles.''
Now the bumper is winning attention from the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Division as its grand winner for the 2006 Innovation Awards. The module also won Auburn Hills, Mich.-based DaimlerChrysler the Body Exterior award during the Nov. 13 event.
The awards honor plastic parts already in production, as well as top industry executives who have led breakthroughs in the use of plastics.
ABC and DaimlerChrysler's Jeep engineers first began developing the blow molded bumper in 1999, but held off on replacing the existing steel part - which also has plastic end caps - until launching the new Wrangler this year.
During that time, ABC found other opportunities for blow molding, including a step assist that won the SPE division's Body Exterior award in 2004.
ABC Group has an inside track into developing new parts, Chapman said. It builds its own machinery, has its own proprietary resin blend within its Saflex Polymers unit, and even has its own in-house tooling through Supreme Tooling.
Once Jeep decided it was time to bring a fully plastic bumper onto the new Wrangler, ABC could move quickly, he said.
Chapman said he knew the Wrangler would be high profile, but did not realize just how big it would be until the North American International Auto Show in January, when Chrysler introduced the next version by crashing a Wrangler through a window at Detroit's Cobo Hall, with Chrysler President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Lasorda in the passenger seat and ABC's bumper leading the way.
The integrated bumper fascia and energy absorber comes with a 12 percent price cut and a 9 percent drop in weight over the old steel part.
Honda Motor Co. Ltd. took the Environmental award for rethinking the material in its headliners to make them easier to recycle.
Traditionally, Japan incinerates parts at the end of their life, but the glass reinforcement in Honda's headliners melted at the 900° C (1,650° F) temperature used in the furnaces - resulting in a molten mess.
Working with material supplier Azdel Inc. of Shelby, N.C., and molder M-Tek Inc. of Manchester, Tenn., Honda developed a headliner that uses basalt fibers for reinforcement. Basalt is a volcanic rock that stands up to the high temperatures in the incinerator. The companies can even reclaim the fibers after everything else burns off.
Other awards were:
* Chrysler's Dodge Ram pickups won the Materials category for the use of a proprietary thermoplastic vulcanizate blend developed by Jyco Sealing Technologies of Dexter, Mich., for primary door seals. The JyFlex resin marks the first time TPV has gone into a primary seal, replacing rubber.
* Chrysler's 2007 Dodge Nitro received the Body Interior award for the in-line compounded structural duct assembly used in the two-piece vibration-welded instrument panel. Intertec Systems, a joint venture of Plymouth, Mich.-based Johnson Controls Inc.'s auto unit and Inoac Corp. of Nagoya, Japan, created the parts using in-line compounding to combine the polypropylene from Basell Polyolefins and a long glass fiber from Saint-Gobain Vetrotex for the 30 percent glass thermoplastic composite. Phillips Tool & Mould Ltd. of London, Ontario, was toolmaker for the project. The part saves 15 percent compared with the cost of a similar duct assembly using polycarbonate and ABS.
* The Nitro also picked up the award in the Chassis/Hardware category for its use of a railless window regulator. The part uses an integrated, cable-driven window regulator for door modules without a metal or plastic rail, cutting 25 percent of the weight and $7 per vehicle. France's Faurecia SA is the molder. Omega Tool & Die produced the molds and Saint-Gobain and ExxonMobil supplied the materials.
* Turbo diesel versions of the Nitro and Jeep Liberty received the Powertrain award for using a combined wideband turbo resonator, which improves the engine sound. The resonator, developed by Woco Group of Bad Soden-Salmunster, Germany, is mounted on the turbocharger and eliminates the distinctive ``whine'' heard from the turbo diesel engines. It is housed in a 33 percent glass-filled DuPont Zytel polyamide and saves 60 percent of the mass compared with alternative resonators.
* A sliding window for the rear window in pickup trucks picked up the Performance and Customization award. Guardian Industries Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich., developed the injection molded window, which sits flush to the rest of the glass, compared with competing windows that have an extruded external frame. The part is available as an aftermarket accessory for General Motors Corp. trucks. DuPont supplied the PET resin.
* Chrysler's Dodge Caliber took the Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies award for its use of a two-shot injection molded door panel developed by Lear Corp. The Southfield, Mich.-based company worked with press maker Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. of Bolton, Ontario; material supplier Kraiburg GmbH of Waldkraiburg, Germany; and toolmaker Hi-Tech Mold & Engineering Inc. of Rochester Hills, Mich., to create the two-shot part, which overmolds a thermoplastic polyolefin over polypropylene to produce both hard and soft textures in one process. The door comes at a cost savings of more than 10 percent over competing technologies and cuts 15 percent from the weight.
* Audi AG took honors for Safety with the blow molded thermoplastic seat back used in its TT. The all-plastic PC/ABS seat backs contain the structural stability needed to pass European safety requirements, while also saving about $4 and 5 pounds per vehicle. Lear is the supplier, using materials from MÃ¶llertech GmbH of Bielefeld, Germany, and Midland, Mich.-based Dow Co.
* The Hall of Fame award, presented for parts in use for at least 15 years, went to the thermoplastic front grille first used by GM in 1966 on its Pontiac Bonneville, Catalina and Tempest cars. The ABS grilles were the first thermoplastic exterior auto part.
SPE also noted two executives for their careers during the event.
* Chris Theodore, vice chairman of Southgate, Mich.-based ASC Inc., received the Global Executive Engineering Leadership award, which recognizes individuals for overall leadership throughout their careers. Theodore has been involved in the development of the Ford GT, Chrysler's PT Cruiser, the Dodge Viper, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the second generation of Chrysler's minivans.
* James McCaslin, president and chief operating officer of Harley-Davidson Motor Co., received the Executive Leadership Awards. SPE members noted McCaslin's work over his career in introducing plastics in the auto industry, agricultural equipment industry and now at the Milwaukee-based motorcycle company.