Thursday, November 11, 2010

SPE Auto Awards: 40 years of automotive innovation

Through highs and lows, the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE; Brookfield, CT) Automotive Innovation Awards have motored on, and on Nov. 9, the venerable event named its 40th class of honorees in Livonia, MI. The evening's biggest winner, taking home the powertrain category and grand award prizes, was the diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system from Ford Motor Co. for its 2011 model-year SuperDuty pickup truck. The entire system, which includes a clampless fillerpipe assembly, supply module with integrated pump, reverting valve, pressure sensor, heater, and filtration unit, was supplied by Robert Bosch LLC and Kautex Textron GmbH & Co. KG, with plastic content of 90%.

The first high-volume pickup application to use an all-plastic system to fill, store, and deliver diesel-exhaust fluid (DEF) to the exhaust system, the technology helped Ford satisfy diesel-emissions requirements. Presenters noted that the only other material that could have withstood the DEF fluid would be stainless steel at 7 times the weight of the plastic solution and 40% higher cost.

Other technology highlights included Röchling Automotive AG's dual-material sealing for the Ford C-Max, which won the body exterior category. The cowl grille combines a polypropylene (PP) and a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) in one co-molded part, with a channel running the length of the TPE seal section. Instead of extruding the TPE seal separately and attaching it to the molded PP section, or using gas or water assist to hollow out the channel, Röchling's technology shoots a plastic projectile through the TPE within the mold. This hollows out the part, resulting in a smooth inner channel with consistent walls, while collecting the displaced melt within the tool for use in another shot.

In the chassis/hardware category, Hyundai Sonata and its supplier, Pyeong HWA/Arvin Meritor, used plastics to cut twenty-one components and five assembly steps to one apiece for the rear-door module of the 2011 Hyundai Sonata. Key to the design is the integrated window carrier, which helped the design trim 500g from the system's weight.

As to be expected, resin suppliers played an integral role in several of the developments. BMW and Continental ContiTech turned to BASF for a specialized grade of its Ultramid polyamide (A3WG10CR) for the first-ever use of an injection molded PA for a chassis cross member. Replacing an aluminum cross member, the Ultramid material is paired with PA hydraulic engine mounts for what BMW calls a high-duty light-weight engine mount. The resulting subassembly reduces weight by 50%, cuts the supply chain to one, and offers better damping than the aluminum predecessor.

DuPont received the top award in the materials category for its Zytel Plus polyamide. Used by GM for the turbocharged engine2010 SPE Automotive Innovation Awardscover of the Cadillac CTS, the part applies DuPont's so-called Shield technology, which is designed to increase resistance to high temperatures, hot oils, automotive coolants, and road salts. The company says components that apply the technology retain mechanical properties for twice as long as current materials. For this part, molded by Camoplast, GM required continuous service operation at 180°C, with a peak of 200°C. The Zytel Plus material delivered a continuous service operation temperature of 210°C, with a peak of 230°C.

Ford was also the Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) 2010 winner for its 2011 model-year Explorer, marking the third year the OEM has won the prize. Seven components from the Explorer SUV were entered into the parts portion of the awards competition, with four nominations becoming finalists.

The 2010 Hall of Fame winner was the 1985 model-year Chevrolet Cavalier sedan, notable for being the first vehicle to use front and rear thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) bumper fascias. LyondellBasell predecessor Himont supplied its Hifax ETA3041 TPO reactor resin for the parts, replacing reaction-injection-molded (RIM) polyurethane. Buckeye Plastics-Worthington was the original molder for the application.

The awards nine categories drew 62 nominations from 10 OEMs, with Ford leading the way with 18 entries. Other OEMs represented included Chrysler (four entries), General Motors (two entries), BMW (two entries), and Citröen, Hyundai, Ferrari, Kia, Subaru, and Retro USA with an entry for the Bullit Mustang, with one apiece. —Tony Deligio