DETROIT — With aggressive federal automobile mileage standards now just a decade away, Jeffrey Sternberg is convinced that plastics can play an important role in helping automakers achieve the mandate.
But he said there needs to be changes in how automakers, designers and material suppliers interact with each other to achieve all that lighter weight materials have to offer.
Sternberg is global automotive technology director at DuPont Performance Polymers in Wilmington, Del., and spoke during the Plastics in Automotive conference organized by Plastics News in Detroit.
And he is calling for earlier collaboration between those at the design table with those in the materials supply chain, companies like his own.
“Plastics can play a critical role to enabling and helping automakers meet the 2025 standards. Lightweighting is clearly one major strategy where we can contribute. One important element, though, is engaging the material supplier earlier in the design process,” he said.
“By engaging us early, we can consider new designs that maximize performance, cost and manufacturability,” he said.
Designing a part, and then coming to materials suppliers, can limit what materials are applicable to that design, he said.
Having an earlier view of a project during the design phase can allow for input from the materials side that can lead to further advances.
Material suppliers, he said, also need to be willing to bring more materials knowledge to the table as projects are being discussed.
“Technical data sheets are a great source of historical information. But to get a good idea of what's possible with the existing material set, it's best to engage the experts. And that's the materials suppliers, the people who make them,” Sternberg said.
Use of plastics in lightweighting vehicles has proven to be a cost-effective way to help boost vehicle mileage for decades. And that approach isn't going to change.
It's a bit of hand-to-hand combat, in a sense, as materials change on different parts over time, allowing designers to shave off grams, maybe more, here and there. It's these collective changes over time that have added up to help make a difference.
While getting together and sharing ideas early in the process is great, there's still more that needs to be done.
“There still are going to be gaps in the existing materials portfolio and new materials development is still going to be required. Multi-material solutions are going to become increasingly important. But they are complex. And, so, by bringing a variety of different sciences together and getting an integrated approach to developing these solutions will be important. And collaboration is clearly a big part of that as well,” he said.
The federal government is requiring a fleet-wide average of 54.5 miles per gallon in 2025.
“This is quite a challenge,” Sternberg said. “I'm highly confident that working together we can increase the impact that plastics materials can have.”