SPE Names 2023’s Best Automotive Plastics Innovations

The 2023 Automotive Innovation Awards Gala named the year’s most advanced applications of polymers and composites in the auto industry.

The 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray was the Vehicle Engineering Team Award winner in the Society of Plastics Engineers’ 2023 Automotive Innovation Awards (IAG) competition. (GM)

The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) in early November, 2023 announced the winners of the 52nd annual Automotive Innovation Awards Gala (IAG). The annual competition highlights innovations from developers of polymer and composites-intensive components, systems and vehicles and is cited by the SPE as the oldest and largest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industries.

One of two EV “frunks” to win 2023 IAG awards, this one used in Ford’s 2024 F-150 Lightning, reduced mass by 48% compared to compression-molded SMC and is fully recyclable. The component won the Grand Award and was Body Interior category winner. (SPE)

The 2023 competition encompassed eight distinct categories that included a Grand Award winner selected from the winners of each category, as well as the Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) winner, which the organization said in a release “was created by SPE in 2004 to recognize 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 manufacturing has led to significant integration of polymeric materials on notable vehicles.”

GM’s hybrid-battery interconnect board for the 2024 Corvette E-Ray won the Aftermarket and Limited Edition/Specialty Vehicles category. (SPE)
Rivian’s thermoplastic rear split gate rear closure won the 2023 IAG competition’s Body Exterior category. (SPE)

The SPE’s Grand Award winner for 2023 was the “mega bin” or front trunk — now commonly referred to as a “frunk” — for the 2024 Ford F-150 Lightning. The mega bin also was the winner of the competition’s Body Interior category. Meanwhile, the VETA winner was General Motors’ 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray for no less than five plastics and composites applications nominated in other competition categories and are specific to the E-Ray model.

Details of each of the SPE 2023 automotive IAG winners by category:

Grand Award (also Body Interior category winner) Mega bin/frunk
  • 2024 Ford Motor Co.: Ford F-150 Lightning
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Cascade Engineering
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Celanese Corp./Commercial Tool Group
  • Material /Process: Celstran PP-GF40 AD3004 (PP-LFT 40% GF) / Injection Molding

By converting from compression-molded painted SMC to injection-molded MIC LFT-PP to produce this large Class A composite frunk — said to currently be the industry’s largest — mass was reduced 48%, productivity was increased owing to a 37% cycle time reduction, the cost and environmental burden of paint were eliminated, seal interfaces were improved, secondary routering of holes no longer is needed and the frunk is fully recyclable at end of life. A 4,000-ton injection press and a tool equipped with a 16-drop hot runner system are used to mold parts.

Aftermarket and Limited Edition/Specialty Vehicles

Hybrid Battery Interconnect Board
  • 2024 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Sun Microstamping Technologies
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: BASF Corp./Sun Microstamping Technologies
  • Material /Process: Ultramid B3UG4 PA 6 / Vertical Clamp Parting Line Injection Rotary Molded – Insert Overmolding
GM’s battery-disconnect unit, the 2023 IAG competition’s Electric & Autonomous Vehicle Systems category winner. (SPE)

This patented hybrid battery interconnect board features small and delicate metal current-collectors, bus bars, and sensing lines in a very compact design to fit in limited packaging space. The 20% GF/PA6 grade was selected for its ability to offer high levels of functional integration in limited space plus be compatible with snapfits, heat staking, ultrasonic welding, and adhesive bonding. The material also is heat stabilized and flame retardant. Laminated core-block inserts are used in rotary injection tooling for venting and to control stampings during overmolding.

Body Exterior

Thermoplastic Splitgate
  • 2023 Rivian R1S
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Magna International
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Advanced Composites, Inc./Tycos Tool & Die Co.
  • Material /Process: LGF-PP & TPO/Injection Molding
Toyota’s 2024 Grand Highlander seat module won the IAG competition’s Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies category. (SPE)
The battery-module sideplates used on GM’s 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray replaced metal and significantly reduced mass and cost. (SPE)

This is the world’s first all-thermoplastic split-gate rear-closure system, which is delivered to the assembly line as a ready-to-install module. The complex, deep draw (>80 mm) design offers improved perceived quality at lower mass, NVH and cost compared to metals and is offered in a 2-tone execution. By commonizing grades between the liftgate and the benchgate and focusing on sustainability, parts were reduced from nine to three — and just two materials are used (injection-molded LFT-PP and TPO). The CHMSL and taillamps were carried over from Rivian’s pickup model.

Electric & Autonomous Vehicle Systems Battery Disconnect Unit
  • 2023 General Motors GMC Hummer EV
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Lear Corporation
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: BASF Corp./Lear Corporation
  • Material /Process: Ultramid 66 H2 G25 V0KB1 and Ultradur B4450G5 HR / Injection Molding

Two BDUs have been integrated into a single system supporting two 400V systems, which enable fast and safe recharging of EVs and disconnects power in an over-current situation to protect passengers. The meter-long parts feature a complex design that offers improved thermal management and reduced component mass. Two UL94 V0 halogen-free materials — one with very-high CTI — replaced die-cast aluminum while maintaining superior physical properties and ease of processing. Complex simulation and process optimization also were key to success.

These Intumescent terminal covers developed by GM and its Tier partner and processor, won the 2023 IAG competition’s Safety category. (SPE)


Battery Module Sideplates
  • 2024 General Motors Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Novares Group
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: RTP Co./Liberty Molds, Inc.
  • Material /Process: RTP-299 K X 138337 E BLACK / Injection Molding

By replacing metals with RTP 299 K X 138337 E BLACK PARA material to injection-mold the side plates for this battery module, extremely flat parts with high dimensional accuracy, stiffness and strength were achieved in a complex geometry. The high-modulus, creep-resistant FR polymer eliminated the need for compression limiters and electrical isolation films, yet withstands extreme pressures from cell expansion and met all mechanical requirements. Additionally, four components were reduced to one and many functional features were incorporated in the patented side plates that would not have been possible in metals. Mass was reduced by 37% and cost reduced by 55%.

Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies Seat Module
  • 2024 Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota Grand Highlander
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Hi-Lex Corp.
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: NA/Hi-Lex Corp.
  • Material /Process: NA/Injection Molding

This patented injection-molded module for seats incorporates both temporary and permanent holding features to control cables and dramatically reduce both components and labor at the seat manufacturer. Cables are delivered to the Tier 1 pre-routed on the module plate, eliminating the brackets, cable ties and clips typically used to control seat cables and greatly reducing labor for an assembly operator. The module also reduces rework and scrap due to cable misalignments. Additionally, lever pull effort for consumers is reduced, as direct cable routing enables use of shorter cables.

Safety Intumescent Terminal Covers
  • 2023 General Motors Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Auto-Kabel Group/ Molded Precision Components
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Pyrophobic Systems Ltd./NA
  • Material /Process: Lithium Prevent 200 PVC/Injection Molding

A specially formulated flexible and intumescent PVC is designed to prevent arcing during thermal runaway events in high-voltage EV batteries. The high-temperature, high-voltage insulator is used to injection mold various terminal caps and barriers. Safety is increased during thermal runaway since the material maintains high dielectric strength, reducing arcing risk and ignition of gases and forms a structured char barrier, helping reduce spread of fire from one module to another.

Sustainability One-Piece Frunk
  • 2024 Ford Motor Co. Ford Mustang Mach E
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: IAC Group
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Advanced Composites, Inc./HS Inc.
  • Material /Process: ADX8327 20% PCR TPO/Injection Molding

This is the first time a 20% PCR recycled material has been used in a color-matched, MIC, Class A structural frunk application. Versus virgin TPO, the more sustainable grade lowered density slightly and offered better impact at -15°C. Concurrent redesign reduced component count from six to one, including eliminating two metal brackets, saving 3 kg (6.6 lb) of mass, increasing cargo volume and functionality, improving water management, reducing cost and labor and saving an estimated 1,125 tons of CO2 annually. PCR content is sourced from yogurt cups and packaging materials.

Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray

The vehicle features numerous plastic and composite innovations, many of which were nominated in other categories of SPE’s Automotive Innovation Awards Competition, including:

  • Carbon Fiber Wheel
  • Hybrid Battery Interconnect Board (ICB)
  • Plastic Oil Cooling Lines
  • Battery Module Side Plates
  • Battery Module Structure

In addition, the Corvette E-Ray also features a number of carryover composites parts from the 2020 MY Corvette Stingray VETA winner:

  • Rear Bulkhead Window Frame, Rear Fascia Assembly; and Rear Surround Frame
  • Precision Wheel-Bal/ance System and Underbody Tunnel Structural Closeout
  • SMC/LMC Front & Rear Trunk Components
  • Powertrain: Rear Induction Duct
  • Pultruded Rear Bumper and Rear Service Doors.

Also, Kevin N. Pageau, owner and president of International Marketing Alliance and a major contributor to the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Program, was named SPE’s 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award winner. “For over 40 years,” the organization said, “Pageau has led key advancements in the automotive plastics industry, including being an early pioneer in the application of CAE technologies.”

And SPE named the first production acrylic rear lens its 2023 Hall of Fame award winner, presented to a component that “must have been in continuous service in some form for at least 15 years and broadly adopted in the automotive industry,” SPE said. “The acrylic (also known as PMMA) rear lens, made possible with the invention of the polymer called polymethylmethacrylate by Dr. Otto Röhm in 1932,” the association explained, “was a gamechanger replacing ground glass and enabling a renaissance of new lighting designs for all OEMs.”