Eco-efficiency is the major driver for advances in automotives today. The problem: OEMs and suppliers each work on solutions in secrecy, rather than collaborating in the quest for lower emissions, a smaller carbon footprint over a car’s lifecycle and lower system cost. It’s not exactly a race either, up to 15 years can go by before a new material is commercialized. What’s pushing the ponderous automotive industry forward regardless are governmental regulations and legislations, impending eco taxes on the carbon footprint of a vehicle and shifting consumer preferences toward greener cars. Here is a look at one supplier and manufacturer’s latest solutions to cope with these pressures.
Why every future advanced-technology vehicle will hinge on composites
Weight is detrimental to high efficiency and metal is heavy. That’s why producing future cars aims at engine downsizing, but also making any auto part lighter. Apart from friction reduction and electrification of car components, the automotive industry currently focuses on weight reduction to save fuel and lower emissions, mainly through metal-to-composite conversions close to the engine or in body panels. Netherlands-based materials supplier DSM Engineering Plastics, for instance, outpaces the depressed automotive industry by offering manufacturers some of the world’s most advanced bio-based resins in conjunction with latest technologies that reduce production cost – e.g. with reduced injection molding cycle times. “Because if it doesn’t also bring a cost advantage, the automotive industry doesn’t switch from metal to plastic,” says Bert Havenith, business and innovation manager for automotive at DSM.
Downsizing the engine itself implies turbo charging. But these small powerhouses get extremely hot – a challenge, for instance, that compelled DSM to develop a high-temperature-resistant thermoplastic for under-the-bonnet (UTB) applications, where temperatures can reach up to 450 F (or 230 C.) “We’ve developed high-heat PA46 grade resins that can cope with these kinds of temperatures for more than 5000 hours,” says Havenith. “These ultra-heat-resistant thermoplastics now allow metal replacement even in turbo systems.” He expects all automotive OEMs to be working on hybrid or electric cars in the future, where “it is even more important to keep the weight down to increase the driving range.”