An injection-molded oil pan design for Mercedes-Benz large, heavy-duty truck engines is made of polyamide resin. It weighs half as much as the aluminum version, reduces sound, resists damage, and integrates more components. (Source: DuPont)
I agree with the concept of using polymers will decrease emissions and will certainly help with fuel efficiency but what happens to safety standards when more and more parts are being manufactured using these types of plastic?
I think until 2009, the auto industry could sell tons of cars without much innovation. That changed with the near-death expierence the auto industry experinced in 2009. Add to that the impending CAFE standards and you get forced innovation.
As I understand it, these engineering materials had often been developed for other applications but could be adapted without much hassle to the needs of cars, starting with the interiors and non-structural apps. I think it was, and is like we discuss in this article, more a matter of marrying the material with the app. Some of these materials have already been used in other vehicle apps like heavy trucks or airplanes.
It's also true that materials suppliers, especially plastics companies, have had products that were at least potentially applicable to automobiles for several years before car companies began even considering the possibility of implementing them. But that's at least partly because trying to insert any new material or process into the incredibly complex, high-speed auto manufacturing line requires a lot of time and effort. It can't be done quickly.
One thing I'm seeing in the auto industry is the role of the suppliers in technology development. Lear, for one, is developing entire drive chains for the hybrids and EVs of their customers. I asked a Lear engineer who owns the IP on this and he said it was Lear. That means a good percentage of the IP on some vehicles is not even owned by the carmaker.
Jmiller, I agree that car companies are stepping out with innovation now. But I don't think they were being particularly innovative 10 or 15 years ago. Also, let's give a great deal of credit to the suppliers. In many cases, the car companies asked suppliers to come up with innovative solutions.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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