However, a high-level viewpoint of economics provides a blunt rationale for dampening of wound tanks: If a technology and manufacturing method does not have a home within higher price-point markets, such as aerospace or racing cars, it will not reach mass adoption without significant improvements involving disruptive technologies. Manufacturing development is expensive and largely subsidized by such high-end markets.

This is largely a statement of the nature of automotive as a nexus point of technologies where industries overlap, market timing is critical and passenger cars are both the progenitors and adopters of technology trends. Touchscreen displays and Phillips-head screws are ubiquitous in devices sold today, and both had roots in the automotive industry long before other industries adopted these solutions. Contrary to those two examples, technology such as carbon fiber and turbochargers largely evolved outside of automotive before adoption within. Each one of these product examples has a particular pathway to economic growth and a particular foothold within the marketplace.

Aligning Materials to Needs

As we look to composites usage in automotive body structures, the similarities to other technologies reveal a landscape whereby the competition of materials can determine where best to employ a solution. Disruption occurs when you break the boundaries of these market competition conditions. Cost advantages, material performance or even formability can all take a product to the next level of opportunity, but alignment of materials to functional engineering needs is key.

Within bodies, rear closures are quickly moving toward GFRP composites for not only weight savings, but also the secondary benefits at the assembly plant level. (See Figure 2.) The aforementioned change in mentality toward a more complete evaluation means that solutions trading one metric for another without a secondary benefit are less likely to pass rigorous examination of any large engineering firm with an established background. Otherwise, as one engineering mentor stated at General Motors, “Good engineers trade performance with an ‘or’ statement. Great engineers look for an opportunity to create ‘and’ statements in designs.” Examples of “and” statements include providing value and customer benefits, losing weight and costing less overall, and reducing ergonomic strain of plant workers and improving component packaging.

Growth areas, such as rear closures and battery enclosures, appear as easy opportunities for near-term manufacturing, but the power of composites goes well beyond this short-term sprint. Innovations in reinforcement fiber types, cross-linking resins, pultrusion and higher levels of electrical insulation are great examples of mid-term rule-breaking technologies that stand to challenge the status quo of the mechanical and electrical devices currently being produced for high-volume passenger vehicles. The history of the ceramics industry during the manufacturing adoption of spark plugs is one of the historical parallels that might be used to describe the opportunities in front of the composites industry today.