Tom Pilette is vice president of product and process development for Magna Exteriors and Interiors of Troy, Mich., a designer, developer and manufacturer of automotive systems. He has been with Magna for 17 years, and has 25 years of automotive composites experience. Some of his previous positions include operations group general manager, business unit director, engineering director and manager of program management.

Tom Pilette—vice president of product and process development, Magna Exteriors and Interiors

Tom Pilette—vice president of product and process development, Magna Exteriors and Interiors

How do you characterize the increased use of composites in the automotive industry?

In the beginning the increased use of composites was driven by cost (investment/volume payback) as well as design styling flexibility. However, now we see a wider acceptance due to mass reduction initiatives and volume segmentation.

What is the breakdown percentage-wise of your components made of composites?

If we define a composite as a fiber-reinforced thermoplastic and/or thermoset, the percentage would be approximately 25 percent.

What challenges do you face with composites in the automotive market?

These are common industry challenges all composite product suppliers face:

  • resin/reinforcement market pricing tied to petroleum indexes.
  • general acceptance by OEMs of the performance/correlation of certain composites; however, CAE tools are improving to increase confidence in predictability/correlation, which allows engineers to recommend alternative materials in structural applications.
  • open capacity internal to the OEMs for metal stamping and product-turnover cycle plans.

Why aren’t more manufacturers making their products out of composites?

It’s a matter of experience and confidence. If a manufacturer is currently buying sheet metal and stamping parts, they know the material and the process, and don’t require chemists and process specialists for resin/reinforcement for factors such as flow and orientation.

How is Magna approaching the growing interest in composites within automotive applications?

We have invested in developing a deeper understanding of the base materials, resins and various reinforcements, and we employ technical specialists in this area.

How can more mainstream adoption of composites occur?

As the tools we use to predict and validate performance improve, so should the use of composites. We are in a good position in the automotive market to use composites in addressing mass-reduction, carbon-emission reduction, and fuel-efficiency initiatives.

Lightweight technologies are being considered across the board, and composites have a significant advantage due to the cost/weight/performance benefit compared to other materials, and they provide a significant investment-reduction opportunity.

What more would you like to see from composites and why?