Ford and Its Suppliers Take Top Honors at the 48th SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition

The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Innovation Awards recognize automotive OEMs and their supply chains for novel materials developments and applications.


Ford Motor Co. took home top honors at this year's 48th SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition, winning the Grand Award for its Powertrain nomination, and claiming four other categories along with its suppliers. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) topped three categories and Hyundai Motor Co. nabbed the Materials prize at the largest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industries, held annually by the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE).

Automotive Engineering was again honored to participate on the Blue Ribbon Judges panel that reviews the finalists in nine major materials-technology categories and votes on the winners in each.

Grand Award and Powertrain Award – 2017 Ford F-150 vacuum generation system for brake assist

Tier Supplier / Processor: Dayco Products / MacLean-Fogg, Engineered Plastics Co.

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: DuPont Automotive / Kaid Tool & Die

Material / Process: Delrin 73M30 POM+PTFE, Minion 520MP PA6 / injection molding

Airtight to 200 psi (13.8 bar) and leakproof following infrared welding, the all-plastic vacuum generation system (VGS, photo above) consists of 10 components that work together to provide 20% better performance at higher elevations. The open/close valve actuation is accomplished via two complementary resin systems acting in concert to allow no “stick-slip” and no measurable wear after 2.5 million hot/cold test cycles. Injection molding allows for very close tolerances of critical details necessary for total system performance. The design achieved a 40% weight savings and a 25% cost savings compared to current pump systems. Tunable to various engine requirements, the VGS is already employed on four other Ford programs including the Taurus and Explorer, according to a program engineer.

Additive Manufacturing Award – 2017 Ford Mustang Convertible window alignment fixture

Tier Supplier / Processor: Stratasys / Stratasys

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Stratasys / Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

Material / Process: PA 12 35% short carbon fiber / fused deposition modeling (FDM)

The 3D-printed fixture (above) for the production floor is 30% lighter and cheaper to produce compared to a traditional welded fixture. It took only 50 hours to build the integrated fixture with handles and mounting brackets. Line of sight and ergonomics were improved significantly with the design, which allows for easier handling and precludes the need for a lift assist. The printed fixture also integrates pneumatic control, eyelets for a stowage rack, trigger switch housing, gage protector deflector and pneumatic tubing retainers and switch mounts. “Complexity doesn’t cost you anything” in 3D printing, said George Russell, Automotive Segment Leader at Stratasys.

Body Exterior Award – 2019 Jeep Cherokee thermoplastic liftgate

Tier Supplier / Processor: Magna International Inc. / Magna Exteriors Belvidere

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Trinseo & LyondellBasell / Tycos Tool & Die

Material / Process: DLGF 9411 & Hifax TYC TPO / injection molding

By replacing a steel liftgate with a new thermoplastic design (above), the engineering team enabled a 28% mass reduction and a 50% tooling and capital investment savings through part integration and manufacturing efficiency. The accelerated 18-month program, from sourcing to Job 1, also resulted in NVH levels that exceeded target. A claimed industry-first use of conformal infrared welding behind the molded-in-color grain class A surface increased structural and dimensional performance and enabled quicker processing. Bonded in brackets enabled patent-pending tethering attachments without fasteners, improved metal reinforcement efficiency and maintained styling surface wrap in D-pillars without sacrificing daylight opening.

Body Interior Award – 2018 Lincoln Navigator integrated modular pelvic bolster

Tier Supplier / Processor: Faurecia Interior Systems / Faurecia Interior Systems

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: LyondellBassell / Roush Tooling

Material / Process: Profax SG702 PP / injection molding

This application combines two unique side-impact bolster designs to meet the requirements for 5th and 50th percentile occupants while achieving an approximate 10% weight savings. Integrating them into the door-trim map pocket resulted in tooling cost savings estimated at $100K. There was an additional $100K indirect savings in testing time and $8-per-vehicle cost avoidance if add-on bolsters were used. The modular mold-in design’s energy-absorbing characteristic can be tuned to accommodate vehicle-specific loading distribution and stiffness requirements. The Lincoln Aviator and Ford Explorer and Escape all incorporate this design now, according to the nomination presenter.

Chassis/Hardware Award – 2016 Chrysler Pacifica self-tapping composite nut

Tier Supplier / Processor: ITW Deltar Fasteners / ITW Deltar Fasteners

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Asahi Kasei Plastics / Maple Mold

Material / Process: Leona 90G55 PA66 / injection molding

The high-strength composite nut has “self-healing” properties enabling it to maintain sufficient torque and clamp load even after it’s been stripped, unlike the conventional metal nut that it replaces. A mass reduction of 8 g per joint location, times 121 joints on the Pacifica, results in a total vehicle mass savings of 2.1 lb (0.95 kg). The estimated cost savings per vehicle is $3.25. Install drive time was reduced by 400%, with no MAT point or proprietary thread forms required for drawn arc stud. The composite nut can be translated across all OEMs and in many additional applications.

Environmental Award – 2018 Lincoln Continental sustainable hybrid composites

Tier Supplier / Processor: Summit Polymers / Summit Polymers

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Celanese & International Paper / Summit Polymers

Material / Process: THRIVE & Celstran PP+HC (CF/LGF) PP/RPP / melt compounding followed by injection molding

Claiming an industry-first application of composites combining tree (cellulose) fiber with long glass fiber (LGF) in a polypropylene (PP) matrix, which replaces 35% short glass-mineral filled PP for the console retainer, the program realized a 24% weight savings and 13% cost savings. A total $2 million cost savings resulted by reducing weight and reducing cycle times by 20 to 40%. A lifecycle assessment improvement was also attained. The material is being tested for other “near future” interior and underhood applications such as instrument-panel substrate, door panels, battery trays and fan shrouds.

Materials Award – 2019 Hyundai Nexo EMI shielding compounds for high-voltage cover

Tier Supplier / Processor: Yura Corp. / Yura Corp.

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Hanwha Compound / Hyundai Motor Co.

Material / Process: Hanwha Compound ESM-204B PA6 / injection molding

New conductive plastic compound materials for EMI (electromagnetic interference) shielding were developed for high-voltage junction box upper covers (above). The material replaces conventional die-cast aluminum covers for reduced weight and manufacturing costs, and it satisfies the 40-dB EMI shielding effectiveness. The materials are polyamide 6/PPO compounds with hybrid conductive carbon filler (carbon fiber, carbon nanotubes, carbon black) not containing metal powder or metal-coated fiber. Weight savings is estimated at 30% (0.3 kg) and the estimated cost savings is 70%, or $50 per vehicle, compared to aluminum.

Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies Award – 2018 Jeep Wrangler integrated tire carrier, rear camera & brake light assembly

Tier Supplier / Processor: TMD-Grammer AG Group / Leggera Technologies

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: DuPont / Leggera Technologies

Material / Process: Zytel ST 801 AW PA66 / injection molding

The tire carrier assembly utilizes magnesium injection molding for higher structural strength with reduced weight and polymer over-molding for improved impact and corrosion resistance. A 60% weight savings is achieved compared to metal stamping and a 20% weight savings compared to die-casting processing methods. A cost savings of 20% is realized with an improved load rating from 85 lb to 115 lb (38 kg to 52 kg). The Thixo-molded Mg inner carrier with 1.9-mm over-mold eliminates the need for a steel bracket for an indirect cost savings.

Safety Award – 2019 Ford Transit Connect interlocking mechanism for side impact

Tier Supplier / Processor: Faurecia Interior Systems / Thermolympic SL

Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Trinseo / Meymol SL

Material / Process: Magnum 3325MT ABS / injection molding

The interlocking mechanism improves door-trim performance during side impacts by preventing fracture or separation of components that could cause sharp edges. This patent-pending design provides strong attachment, force absorption and high impact resistance between two components during side impact. It replaces the need for metal bracket reinforcement solutions, saving 3.70 kg (8.16 lb) in weight per vehicle. The component enables a cost-avoidance savings of $30.60 per vehicle and a tooling investment saving of $9.88 million.

For more on the annual SPE Automotive Awards program, see here .