Looks like the movement toward lighter materials in the automotive sector is paying off. In Chuck's slideshlow today on deisel-powered cars, he gave an example of thew VW XL1, which weights in at less than 1800 pounds.
Rob, I just interviewed Ford's manager of product sustainability and got a lot more info about what they're doing with bio-based and recycled materials. It's much more extensive, especially the R&D, than I realized. Stay tuned.
It's amazing to see how pany parts are changing over to plastics, Ann, even in applications involving heat. I can remember interviewing GM engineers many years ago about a plastic air induction system. It seemed so shocking back then.
Chuck, even though I should be used to heat-tolerant plastic by now, such as in underhood applications, I'm not. Like you, I find it startling and counter-intuitive. There are even heat-tolerant thermoplastics, which makes that term really seem like a misnomer.
For me one of the most interesting parts of the process is how the design has to be adjusted for alternative products. Sometimes it's fins for strength, attachment points or any other number of reasons that before the part couldn't be made from plastic. Now with a little innovation and asking the right questions, the design can be totally improved. Definitely cool.
Ann, that's interesting that some automakers are more likely to adopt cutting edge technology than others. Care to name names? I'm under the impression that Ford and VW are ahead, but I'm out of my depth here. I may just be responding to press releases.
Rob, I'm no car expert. But the one farthest in front, as far as I can tell, in using new non-battery materials and assembly technologies is Ford. A few others I'm aware of are Daimler Benz, Audi, Lamborghini, BMW and various EWV makers. Regarding batteries and their materials, Chuck would be your best source.
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.
This article made me think about some of my past designs and how critical material selection was up front. Sometimes we know it's going to be metal and other times plastic may be the way to go. Either way, you need to know what you're doing before you spend too much time designing all the connections and geometry for the part.
In my opinion the auto industry has been the leader in stepping out and trying to create something new. I think it helps that everyone needs a car and we as Americans buy so many. There are dollars all around to support this innovation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
jmiller, thanks for your comments. I've been surprised at what a difference the materials can make between metal and plastic in so many details of the part design. And I agree about a materials company working with engineers to figure out better designs, and therefore, more appropriate materials. I think that's growing.
notarboca, I think one reason why plastics have beat out aluminum--once they can meet the specs--is because all polymers are custom, by the nature of their manufacture. That means that, within certain spec parameters, you're more likely to find the right combination of properties for a specific app. Another reason may be price. Aluminum is still very expensive, at least compared to steel.
What I am wondeing about is how much heat is rejected through that plastic oil pan, versus how much heat was rejected through the aluminum pan. So probably oil cooling capacity had to be added someplace else, which may not be a problem, but must certainly be a consideration. And my guess is that the bottom surface with all of those close-spaced fins, will pick up and hold a lot of dirt. So what will be very interesting and educational for all of us is to see the reports on these oil pans in two or three years.
As a "motorhead", I'll always remember the "plastic" timing gears that Cheverolet used in their small black V8's in the 1970s. Ugh! They had a tendency to wear and break, and we always replaced them with real metal gears.
At this year's MD&M West show, lots of material suppliers are talking about new formulations for wearables and things that stick to the skin, whether it's adhesives, wound dressings, skin patches and other drug delivery devices, or medical electronics.
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