Automotive Thermoplastics: 5 Current Challenges & How to Solve Them

Automotive Thermoplastics: 5 Current Challenges & How to Solve Them

Plastics have significantly gained importance in automotive engineering. From being a metallic colossus in the 1950s, cars have been transformed to modern, lightweight versions of their former selves. The material does not only act as a design component. More importantly, thermoplastics are a booster for fuel efficiency due to its low weight. This evolution brings about severe challenges for suppliers and OEMs. They have to tackle five challenges to remain part of the future automotive ecosystem.

Plastics have significantly gained in importance in automotive engineering. From being a metallic colossus in the 1950s, cars have been transformed to modern and more lightweight versions of their former selves. The trend to substitute metal with thermoplastics started in the 1900s. Today’s car contains around 160 kg of plastics. In 1960, merely 10 kg were incorporated in a typical automobile. The material does not only act as a design component to make cars look sleeker. More importantly, thermoplastics are a booster for fuel efficiency due to their low weight. The evolution of the automotive industry brings about severe challenges for suppliers and OEMs. To remain part of the future automotive ecosystem, they proactively have to tackle five central challenges.

Challenge #1:

Cost pressure

The incorporation of more and more thermoplastic parts in automobiles forces suppliers to adapt their manufacturing methods. Moreover, OEMs cut prices as low as possible while simultaneously expecting consistently high quality of products. Balancing appropriate material, polymer manufacturing process and tooling have become challenging tasks in order to meet the strict requirements and still siphon off tiny margins. Prior analyses of material properties significantly reduces the risk of defect and scrap production.

Challenge #2:

Lack of precise material data

Raw material deliveries generally include certificates of analysis. However, the documents only show basic parameters in tolerances that are often insufficient to correctly process the material. Obtaining more specific data of the material is attached to additional charges. Suppliers need to be able to independently determine material characteristics to circumvent the strain of purchase supplementary services from raw material manufacturers.

Challenge #3:

Severe consequences of product liability

Defective thermoplastic parts in automobiles pose serious dangers to customers. Once a part fails, millions of cars need to be recalled and the search for the cause begins. It is therefore essential to get meaningful insights into the history of materials. Failure analysis of thermoplastic parts requires comprehensive material knowledge and sophisticated analytical instrumentation in order to fend off any product liability charges.

Challenge #4:

Disruptive mobility concepts

Autonomous driving. E-mobility. Connected car. Daily news are riddled with these and more buzzwords. What does that mean for the materials used in automobiles? Materials and thermoplastic parts need to be adapted to deliver integrated functionalities. Qualifying and designing intelligent materials and parts poses a key challenge to suppliers and OEMs in the automotive industry. Analyses of material properties is the first step to excel in this endeavor.

Challenge #5:

Upcoming legal requirements

Environmental awareness has gained the attention of the public. As a result, legislation has started to issue new requirements in many industries. Automotive suppliers and manufacturers need to adapt their products to strict fuel consumption and weight reduction targets. Different materials and optimizations of design and production process are required. Thermal analysis helps in reengineering and qualifying thermoplastics in order to efficiently react and adapt to changes in the legal environment.

 

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4 thoughts on “Automotive Thermoplastics: 5 Current Challenges & How to Solve Them”

  1. Challenges 1 and 2 are real in all sectors and not only limited to automotive. The problem is many converters are not well versed in Polymers and Plastics. There is a big gap between purchasing managers buying materials, operators making and finishing parts, and engineers. Many QC operators do tests precisely but do not understand a word of what they are doing and for what purpose. They are just interested in making “good looking” parts. Many converters I meet have no incoming raw material QC and they totally rely on COAs which often do not reflect the application process convertor use. When they bring part or material for failure analysis, it is too late. Damage is done. Litigation is in process and they have no clue. Many do not even have retained lots or proper records. A lot of small converters are family owned and when a lot fails, they are doomed.

    • Thank you for your comment and feedback! You explain a very common problem in the manfacturing industry that I also perceived during the research for this article. Therefore, my next blog posts will be focused more on the importance of incoming raw material QC and COAs.
      Best regards,
      Milena Riedl

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