The auto industry is focusing on lightweighting, and this is igniting a race to find new materials that can meet ever-changing performance needs of the OEMs.
A materials innovation panel discussed the topic during Plastics News' 2015 Plastics in Automotive Conference, held Jan. 14 at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit.
The panel, moderated by Sandra McClelland, vice chairman of the American Chemistry Council's Automotive Division, included:
• Brian Baleno, global automotive business manager, Solvay Specialty Polymers.
• Dan McNary, vice president of sales, DLH Industries.
• Shawn Mealey, senior AETS specialist, Dow Corning.
• Brice Mulholland, global color technology manager, Celanese Corp.
Baleno led off the discussion, focusing on high performance polymers and reducing CO2 emissions by improving powertrain efficiency. He noted that there are two key areas where new materials can help plastics make inroads in vehicles — in air management systems and turbo exhaust hoses.
The auto industry's gravitation toward smaller, more fuel-efficient engines also is creating new opportunities.
“As you downsize the engine, you increase the thermal performance,” Baleno pointed out.
To that end, materials suppliers are investing money in research and development to create materials that can withstand higher temperatures.
Other changes are coming in transmissions, where Baleno noted a metal needle bearing replacement was replaced by a polymeric bearing by one manufacturer.
“The biggest advantage is space savings when you switch to the plastic,” Baleno said. “You can downsize the casting of the transmission, which results in additional weight savings. This translates to less energy used.”
Solvay continues to work on thermoplastic composites that can be used in a number of under-hood applications and in areas where temperatures can exceed 220° C.
“We are researching it,” he said. “We don't have anything that we are ready to talk about publicly.”