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Emissions, costs major challenges for automotive engineers

Emissions, costs major challenges for automotive engineers

Lewis joined DuPont in 1965 as a chemist at the Marshall Laboratory in Philadelphia. Prior to his present post Lewis held these positions at DuPont: marketing manager of Industrial Finishes; assistant plant manager of DuPont's Finishes production facility; project manager at the Troy R&D Laboratory; group manager of marketing and sales for Automotive Finishes; business manager of Specialty Resins; and director for IDAC, a former DuPont-ICI venture in Germany. Lewis attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and holds a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering.

Members of the automotive design and engineering community cite emissions regulations as the top technology challenge they face today and in the future. In a recent survey conducted by DuPont Automotive, the engineers put the emissions regulations at the top of the list (36%), followed by cost reduction (28%), and alternate fuels (27%).

The survey also identified prime qualities automakers look for in suppliers, how they perceive recyclability, and touched on the relationship between automakers and their supply base. Jack Lewis, director of engineering materials for DuPont Automotive, provides a closer look at the meaning behind these survey results.

Design News: How are automotive suppliers, such as DuPont Automotive, responding to customer demands?

Lewis: Mainly through advanced technology that meets stringent emission requirements, enhances recyclability, and helps control vehicle costs. Many of these advances go unnoticed by the average car buyer, but play a pivotal role in overall customer satisfaction.

Q: Material suppliers will play a big part in solving many of these concerns. How is DuPont addressing this problem?

A: DuPont materials, such as fluoropolymer resins and Viton(R) fluoroelastomer help automakers reduce evaporative fuel emission, as they resist the corrosive nature of certain alternate fuels in hoses and tubing. A new product, DuPont's Advanta(TM) specialty elastomer, offers cost-competitive, high-performance sealing.

Teflon or Tefzel, used for the inner layer of vapor tubes, fuel lines, and fuel-filler necks in fuel systems, blocks the escape of fuel vapors. Advanta, used for oil seals, O-rings, gaskets, and hoses, helps extend vehicle life by protecting today's hotter-running engines.

Q: Then there's the question of recyclability. How did the engineers respond to this major concern in the survey?

A: The survey indicated that engineers believe the recyclability of a vehicle will increase dramatically. In fact, 28% pointed out that at least 40% of a vehicle is recycled today.

Q: Certainly major vehicle body parts in metals and plastics lend themselves to recycling. Tires and seats do not, according to survey respondents. Does DuPont Automotive have any plans on tap to tackle this issue?

A: Given enough energy and cost input, most materials can be called "recyclable." The question is whether they can be economically recycled. Vehicle seats pose a tremendous challenge. They are composed of many materials that have to be separated before they can even be considered for recycling. And the cushion material is so voluminous it occupies a great deal of land-fill space. The challenge, one that DuPont already has taken, is to develop a seating system that can be easily recycled without increasing cost or sacrificing comfort.

Q: Could you provide us with more details about the seat?

A: We refer to this concept as the "green seat." It consists of just one material-polyester-for cushions, upholstery, seat structures, and frames. Not only does the seat expand the range of recycling options, but it may eliminate time-consuming and costly disassembly.

Q: What other challenges did the engineers, automakers, and suppliers perceive in responding to the survey?

A: Foreign competition was identified as a top challenge facing the automotive design and engineering community by 12% of those surveyed. Quality, cost, timely delivery, and engineering support are the top qualities automakers look for in suppliers. And, appropriately, cost, quality, trust, and timely delivery were named as the top concerns between automakers and suppliers.

Q: How would you sum up today's automotive concerns in the eyes of buyers and how they will be addressed?

A: Quality and value are paramount in pleasing car buyers today. Automakers and suppliers are making a concerted effort to bring technology to market that meets these needs at a lower final systems' cost versus analyses of initial materials or part costs. You will see some of these efforts, such as an all-plastic radiator under development at DuPont, in future vehicles.

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