The R&D team didn't pick any old part as their first to test out the new material and system. They produced a side impact beam, usually made of high-strength steel, which must withstand a lot, since its main job is to protect passengers during a crash. The prototype passed crash tests, absorbing more energy than side impact beams made out of either short glass-fiber polymer or metal. The material also weighs 40 percent less than ultra-high-strength steel, and maintained stiffness in a wide temperature range of -40C to 90C.
A combination of the design, materials, and processing is what made this possible. "This composite part is produced from organo sheet made from a continuous glass fiber and PA66 laminate," Glasscock told us. "The sheet is shaped into the beam in a heating and forming process which also crystallizes the material. Next, the steel connectors are inserted and the component is back molded with DuPont Zytel nylon."
To help improve the Fiat Punto car's mechanical performance, DuPont co-developed a jounce bumper system that integrates multiple components and also cuts cost. The job of a jounce bumper, part of the car's shock absorber system, is to reduce noise and vibration, and absorb impact from shocks. It also makes it easier for drivers to recover from and maintain control when encountering rough roads or small obstacles like potholes.
Using finite element analysis, DuPont modifed a grade of its Hytrel thermoplastic elastomer to develop a design that could be tailored to Fiat's specs, including force displacement curves. Compared to jounce bumpers made of more typical foam polyurethane or rubber, the new component built with the new material showed better durability and elastic recovery, and lower variation in stiffness due to temperature changes. Road tests showed performance similar to bumpers made with polyurethane, but with much less damage.
The company will showcase all of these technologies at the K-Show 2013 conference in Germany this fall, October 16-23.
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.
Most of the new 3D printers and 3D printing technologies in this crop are breaking some boundaries, whether it's build volume-per-dollar ratios, multimaterials printing techniques, or new materials types.
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