Detroit--As was the case last year, cost concerns dominate the issues that confront the automotive industry. As a result, automakers continue to look to technology innovations for solutions.
That's the finding coming out of a survey of engineers and designers taken at this year's SAE International Congress & Exposition. The survey, conducted over the last four years by the Automotive Consulting Group, Ann Arbor, for DuPont Automotive, tracks challenges and issues specific to the global automotive industry.
"Our survey again points to cost as the most sought after quality in a supplier and the greatest business issue facing automakers and the supplier community," says Erik Fyrwald, director of engineering materials for DuPont Automotive. "The exciting news is that, despite these constraints, innovation has managed to grow and is expected to flourish."
Based on survey results, nearly 100% of respondents said technology content of vehicles continues to increase. "The difference now is that we have innovation with a purpose," Fyrwald adds. "Cost pressures have forced our industry to examine processes and eliminate redundancies so that the value of technology is increasingly outpacing its cost."
One key ingredient for cost control involves systems integration. And, according to the respondents, complicated systems demand more stringent engineering standards. In response, Fyrwald notes, DuPont powertrain system engineers aggressively pursue the integration of individual engineering plastic components, such as air-intake manifolds and valve covers, into multi-functional modules and systems that lower final assembly costs.
In addition, the survey revealed that 87% of engineers and designers see a need for more advanced materials. One way that DuPont has addressed this need involves the introduction of a new microcut manufacturing technology for its Vespel(reg) polyimide seal rings. The technology not only improves performance, says Fyrwald, but reduces overall costs.
Cost and technology aside, more than 80% of the respondents noted that it is consumer preference that ultimately drives the decision about whether to include a new material or component in a vehicle design. In response to this critical consideration, DuPont will introduce a new developmental plastic this year. "It will represent a step-change improvement in high-gloss, molded-in-color exterior body panels and trim," Fyrwald predicts.