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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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