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The Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) has announced the winners of its 51st annual Automotive Innovation Awards. The announcement was made on Nov. 2, 2022, during the 51st SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala at the Burton Manor in Livonia, MI. The Chassis/Hardware category winner, pictured above, was also this year’s Grand Award winner. The recipient of the Grand Award is selected from the winners of each of the 10 categories by a judging panel of industry experts.
The spoiler closeout seal covered in an earlier report was the winner of the Additive Manufacturing award.
Other winners included the following.
Grand Award and Category Winner: Chassis/Hardware
The first all-composite leaf spring for light truck programs, pictured above, reduces mass up to 75% vs. all-steel and 58% vs. hybrid steel-composite solutions while doubling durability, eliminating corrosion, improving ride comfort, lowering NVH, and increasing payload. Fiberglass-reinforced epoxy prepreg is used to form a single leaf with a progressive spring rate that eliminates the shackle, shackle bushing, and helper leaves yet passes all OEM test requirements.
Category Winner: Aftermarket and Limited Edition/Specialty Vehicles
This customer-visible, Class A C-brace was designed to meet offroad desert durability requirements for convertible versions of the vehicle while boosting torsional stiffness by 40% to improve handling and NVH. Weight was reduced 55% vs. aluminum and 85% vs. steel by adopting a sandwich composite approach. Upper and lower shells were injection-molded in 35% glass fiber (GF) reinforced polymide (PA) 6 while a core was injection molded in 20% CF-PA6. The components were then bonded with a newly formulated methacrylate adhesive.
Several novel technologies contributed to this large injection molded long-fiber thermoplastic (LFT) PA 6 panoramic sunroof frame. First, flat rather than round glass fibers provided higher dimensional stability and reduced warpage. Second, twist pultrusion was used to produce LFT pellets whose fiber length exceeds the length of the pellets, again contributing to mechanical improvements. Weight was reduced 51% and part count dropped from 33% to 4 vs. a steel frame.
Second-Row Seat Backs and Cushions
This composite seat structure combines a pultruded continuous fiberglass-reinforced polyurethane (PUR) reinforcement beam that is injection-overmolded with short-glass/PA 6 to form the seat frame geometry. By replacing a 60-piece high-strength steel frame structure with a four-piece molded composite structure, significant crash performance improvements were achieved while both cost and mass targets of 20% reduction were met. Additionally, more than 100 welds at 16 weld stations were eliminated, significantly improving quality control. Under-seat storage that wasn’t possible with the previous solution was added.
Category Winner: Electric and Autonomous Vehicle Systems
High Voltage Power Distribution System
This customizable, shielded, high-voltage power distribution system permits seven sets of subassemblies and up to 64 possible configurations from a single tool, providing both flexibility and scalability for future programs. Three different materials are used — a flame retardant 25% GR-polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) forms the internal assembly and terminal blocks and a silicone seal is overmolded directly onto a 30% GR-PBT cover. A unique shielding system uses stamped connection interfaces that reduce mass by two-thirds vs. cast products while maintaining electromagnetic shielding.
Thermoplastic BEV Thermal Management Solution
Two developments provide a lightweight, thermoplastic solution for battery electric vehicle (BEV) thermal management systems. PlastiCool 2000 multilayer tubing for glycol applications to 120°C provides excellent chemical resistance, 25% better permeation resistance, and 60% lower weight than ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), and is available in smooth, convoluted, round, and non-round configurations. Ergo-Lock+ modular VDA connectors are flexible, offer visual and scannable latch verification, and reduce insertion forces by more than 30%. The system’s modularity permits hundreds of connector configurations from a standard set of molded subcomponents at lower total cost.
High-Pressure Oil Cooler Gasket Seal
Oil cooler gaskets are small parts with important sealing functions between oil coolers and oil pumps in demanding engine environments. To eliminate leaks seen with fluorocarbon seals during temperature cycling, a new ethylene acrylic thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV) was developed. It offers superior low-temperature sealing and maintains good compression set and controlled oil swelling from -40° to 150°C and 14 bars oil pressure. Gasket height also was increased to provide higher contact pressure and better sealing. Costs were reduced 66% and sustainability was increased since the thermoplastic material is recyclable.
Category Winner: Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies
Hot-plate welding was replaced with a new process called direct epoxure laser welding to meet customer styling requirements for the light guides. Scanning lasers replace heated tools and can weld opaque lens borders without need for more costly laser-transparent materials. Additionally, clearance between internal components and weld ribs was reduced and ribs can be heated very precisely. The current design’s complex geometries would not have been possible with traditional welding proecsses. Further, scrap was reduced 40 to 50% and energy usage by 85 to 95%.
Thanks to a patented recycling process, post industrial recycled (PIR) bilaminate scrap comprised of thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) skins attached to cross-linked olefin foam is given new life in the same interior trim applications without sacrificing quality or performance. An additive package eliminates/binds/deactivates reactive residuals and trapped gases from foam. This program reclaimed over 680 tonnes of TPO resin, reducing landfilled scrap by 93%, replacing 50% of prime TPO, and lowering CO2 emissions and energy usage 48%.
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