2019’s Best Automotive Plastics Innovations

The 49th annual SPE Automotive Awards highlight the ongoing benefits of lightweight polymers and composites.

SPE 2019 Grand Award winner: GMC composite pickup bed. (SPE)

The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) annual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition, now in its 49th year, is considered the “Oscars” for those developing polymer and composites-intensive components, systems and vehicles. Winners of the 2019 competition topped an incredible field of entries that continue to show the benefits of lightweight, durable plastics across the spectrum of vehicle applications.

Jeep rear differential composite carrier bracket. (SPE)

While open to medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicle applications, the light-duty segment dominated this year’s awards. The nine categories, plus the Grand Award winner, were selected by a judging panel of industry experts. Once again SAE International participated in the finalists judging.

A Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) honored the General Motors team that developed the composites-intensive 2020 Corvette Stingray. The VETA award recognizes the technical achievements of entire teams—comprised of automotive designers and engineers, tier integrators, materials suppliers, toolmakers, and others—whose work in research, design, engineering, and/or manufacturing has led to significant integration of polymeric materials on a notable vehicle.

The all-new C8 Corvette’s industry-first pultruded, curved rear bumper beam won its category, and other innovations in the car were nominated for eight other categories. “It is an incredible honor for our team to win the VETA award,” said Tadge Juechter, the Corvette’s executive chief engineer. “It is a wonderful recognition of 67 years of composites advancement” on the sports car that has become a hallmark of mixed-material construction, he said. Details of the 2019 SPE Automotive category winners:

Industry-first pultruded curved rear bumper beam for 2020 Corvette. (SPE)
Hyundai Elantra glass-wool-reinforced composites improve scratch resistance. (SPE)
Ford Mustang 100% PCR carbon canister. (SPE)

BODY EXTERIOR (also Grand Award winner)

2020 GMC Sierra LD FST – Composite Pickup Box

Tier Supplier & Processor: Continental Structural Plastics

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Teijin Ltd./Paragon D&E, Model Die & Mold, Inc.; Altron Automation & Legacy Industries

Material/Process: Sereebo A235Y carbon-fiber-reinforced PA6 sheet / Compression Molding

This is the industry’s first pickup box in thermoplastic composite and carbon composite. It saved 62 lb (28 kg), provided best-in-class impact resistance/durability, the unpainted UV-stable material eliminated the need for a bedliner (saving another 40 lb/18 kg), and numerous customer features were molded in, including functional compartment dividers and motorcycle tire pockets. The ability to achieve a deeper draw during molding increased cargo capacity. Significant technical challenges were overcome due to use of novel materials, processes, coatings and joining methods. The box is fully recyclable and some scrap is reused on the vehicle.


2020 Ford Explorer & Lincoln Aviator and Corsair Integrated Button Carrier Modular Strategy

Tier Supplier & Processor: Methode Electronics, Inc.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: The Materials Group / RGM Tooling Consultants, Inc.

Material/Process: Opticarb 8085SE PC/ABS / Injection Molding

To reduce overhead console complexity, a new design was developed that integrated mechanical, lighting, electrical, and safety functions into a single modular button carrier injection molded from MIC PC/ABS. With all program variants, this reduced part count from 70 to 17/vehicle, achieved a US$7.00 cost savings/vehicle and $1.42M program savings for tooling and testing. No button binding issues have been seen, buzz/squeak/rattle was improved, and the headliner fit better. To date, two patents have been filed and one has been granted on this technology.


2020 Ford Explorer Sunglass Bin

Tier Supplier & Processor: Methode Electronics, Inc.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Celanese Corp. / RGM Tooling Consultants, Inc.

Material/Process: Celstran PP-GF20-02 LFT-PP / Injection Molding; 3D Printed H13 Steel

Additive manufacturing was used to produce a single tooling insert (lifter) that replaced two conventionally machined lifters to mold an injection-molded sunglass stowage bin. That enabled design changes to produce a deeper pocket with a heavier undercut that still could be molded without hotspots, warpage, or demolding issues and without needing to switch to a more costly resin. The new deeper bin design also better meets customer requirements while reducing cycle time, molding scrap, tooling maintenance, and improving dimensional stability in the final part.


2020 Jeep Cherokee Rear Differential Front Bracket

Tier Supplier & Processor: Boge Rubber & Plastics

Material Supplier: BASF Corp.

Material/Process: Ultramid A3WG10CR 50% GR-PA 6/6 Injection Molding

A critical diecast and machined aluminum bracket was replaced by an injection-molded bracket in 50% GR-PA 6/6 in this demanding rear differential module. The composite material was not only 30% lighter and saved US$1.00/car direct costs vs. the benchmark aluminum, but its matrix provided 10x higher damping, improving NVH performance, and it fit current packaging space for this running change. The part passed all performance and durability requirements, eliminated corrosion issues, and will significantly reduce tooling costs over the life of the program.


2020 Corvette Stingray Rear Bumper

Tier Supplier & Processor: Shape Corp.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: SGL Carbon SE, VectorPly Corp., Scott Bader Co. Ltd. / Thomas GmbH + Co. Technik + Innovation KG

Material/Process: Crestapol 1250 PUR-acrylate reinforced with CF / Radius-Pultrusion

The auto industry’s first pultruded curved bumper beam uses the unique radius-pultrusion process and equipment to achieve a hollow beam with central web in carbon fiber fabric-reinforced polyurethane/acrylate resin. The curved geometry was desired to better match rear styling and vehicle package space. The beam features an integral tow hook mounting and is assembled to the body-in-white, requiring excellent mechanicals at elevated temperature. The beam meets low-speed crash requirements while cutting mass by 4.9 lb (2.2 kg) vs. a MIG-welded aluminum extrusion. 3D printing was used to produce mandrels to maintain the hollow interior.


2017 Hyundai Elantra Glass Wool-Reinforced Composites for Improved Scratch Resistance

Tier Supplier & Processor: Seoyon E-Wha

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Daehacom Co., Ltd. / Seoyon E-Wha

Material/Process: SW920 SA glass wool-reinforced PP / Injection Molding

To improve both long-term scratch resistance and dimensional stability in injection-molded PP interior trim panels, glass wool (crushed glass + sand produced from reclaimed/PIR building insulation) was used to replace talc, whiskers, and fiberglass. Because glass wool boosts mechanical properties vs. talc, filler content was reduced 5%, leading to lighter, less costly parts. Since it helps maintain surface finish longer, it should lower warranty claims. A unique process was developed to incorporate glass wool into the resin compound. Glass wool is difficult to dispose of, so this application gives it another use life.


2019 Ford Mustang 100% PCR Carbon Canister Housing

Tier Supplier/Processor: Delphi Technologies PLC / MGS Mfg. Group

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Wellman Advanced Materials / MGS Mfg. Group

Material/Process: EcoLene PP8004-BK1 20% GR-PP / Melt Compounding & Injection Molding

The PP backing from PCR carpeting is given another use life by being recycled back into the injection-molded carbon canister housing for passenger cars. This is the first 100% PCR PP-based carbon cannister. By replacing virgin PP, the recycled resin reduces cost by 25% with no sacrifice to processing or molded-part performance, but increases sustainability. It is currently being rolled out on more than 20 Ford programs globally.


2017 Ford F-150 Transmission Gear Shroud

Tier Supplier/Processor: Stackpole Int'l / MacLean-Fogg Co., Engineered Plastics Components Inc.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: DuPont de Nemours, Inc. / Gibson Automation

Material/Process: Hytrel 8238 TPC-ET / Injection Molding

A new transmission gear shroud cover and base protect the drive gear so it rotates freely without needing to push through transmission fluid, lowering effort, improving pump efficiency, and increasing vehicle mpg and the effective life of the transmission fluid. Injection-molded TPC-ET replaced earlier steel covers with rubber seals that were heavier, more complex and costly, and suffered from more variation. Very aggressive snap fits permanently join cover to base once the assembly is completed. The same material molded very thin provides a ductile seal. Costs were reduced 22%, weight lowered 65%, and NVH was improved.


2020 JaguarLandRover Project 8 supercar

Tier Supplier/Processor: HP Inc. / Jaguar Land Rover Ltd.

Material Supplier/Toolmaker: HP Inc., DyeMansion GmbH

Material/Process: HP High-reusability PA 12 / HP Multi Jet Fusion

Additive manufacturing proved the most efficient and cost-effective method for producing 19 parts on this high-performance sedan whose total build volume will be limited to 300 cars. Both development and production parts were produced on the same printer platform, which eliminated significant tooling investment (est. US$123,000), as well as storage and maintenance costs. All 19 parts print at one time in a kit, and multiple kits can be produced at the same time. Additionally, parts offer better bonding adhesion than conventionally produced parts and passed paint adhesion tests.