Engineering Polymers for a Faster-Paced Industry

DuPont aims its engineered-materials expertise toward the EV newcomers and their different way of working.

Rivian is one of the emergent vehicle OEMs who “work fast,” said DuPont’s Kara Grasso. Mating of a Rivian R1T skateboard chassis and body “top hat” at the company’s Normal, Illinois, plant is shown. (Rivian)

Engineered polymers are the primary focus of Kara Grasso and her team at DuPont Specialty Products – especially as they apply to introducing the materials to the new wave of start-up OEMs that are developing and producing EVs.

“If one-third the price of an EV is the cost of the battery, where can we contribute [elsewhere on the vehicle] to reduce costs?” said Grasso, DuPont’s global strategic director, Advanced Mobility. Grasso was interviewed by SAE Media at the 2022 Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. “Many times that’s achieved by reducing the number of parts” – polymers providing the means for part consolidation in ways that aren’t readily achieved with metals – “and by reducing weight.”

Kara Grasso of DuPont Advanced Mobility finds that the new EV entrants to the industry have different expectations regarding how things get done. (Steve Macaulay)

While DuPont has been a longtime supplier to OEMs with materials for powertrain applications, the transition to electrification is something that provides an array of new opportunities. Grasso noted that the underhood ICE applications were limited by the extreme temperatures that are characteristic of “heat engines.” That is not a limiting factor for EVs. DuPont could provide materials for 15% of the tubing used for an ICE; there are greater opportunities on an EV, Grasso said, because there isn’t the same level of heat under the hood (or behind the frunk).

The new OEMs’ fast pace

Grasso notes, “I think it is a new game” – not only a matter of new players, but new ways of developing products. “We have business with Rivian,” she noted as an example, “and they work fast.” And the emerging EV makers as a group “have no patience for a slow, procedural way. The auto industry has always had lots of processes before a final PPAP [production part approval process]. Some of the EV makers will launch a vehicle without things being PPAPed,” she asserted.

There are three things that Grasso says are characteristic of the new EV companies – as well as portions of traditional OEMs that are tasked with bringing EVs to market: speed, creativity and privacy. As for speed, she said historically there would be two or three years between a purchase order and start of production – or maybe longer. The new OEMs reportedly have sliced at least a year off that schedule.

Regarding creativity, Grasso noted the new EV companies “come in with an open mind as to how to do things differently than has been done by the traditional OEMs.” This can open the door to some new engineering solutions that might not otherwise have been used due to longstanding procedures.

The IP issue

On privacy, Grasso points out that because the new EV companies are developing new elements such as batteries and motors, there is a concern with their intellectual property. That IP is a differentiator and is vigorously protected. This can have the consequence of a supplier only getting access to a partitioned part of a larger system. Were there visibility to the whole system, she argues, then there could potentially be a larger benefit.

While DuPont has been around for some 200 years, Grasso makes two points that seem nearly inconceivable. First, there are people, particularly new entrants to the industry, who are not familiar with the company. Second, “Most of our customers have problems that we’ve probably never seen before, but we have application developers who are constantly working on how to solve those problems. Now we have to work much faster with these new companies.”