The future of automotive rides on engineering plastics

Blending “design and materials, advanced plastics and composites” will shape the car of the future, said Brian Krull, Global Director Innovation – Exteriors for Magna International (Aurora, ON, Canada), during his keynote presentation at the Plastics-In-Motion event, which ran from June 4 to 7 in Troy, MI. “Innovation is critical,” Krull stressed. “The undefined future and how we provide solutions is our greatest canvas. So where do we look to help us define the future?”

RN30 concept car
The RN30 concept car, jointly developed by BASF and Hyundai, is lightweighted through extensive use of  rigid integral foams and semi-structural sandwich solutions.

The car of the future is expected to include active safety systems, connectivity and autonomous driving capabilities, while offering comfort and convenience. And all of it needs to be affordable, Krull said. “We need to balance needs and expectations, and achieve mass reduction of the vehicle, as automotive OEMs continue to develop lightweight solutions,” he added.

Krull noted that vehicles are expected to include 350 kg of plastics by 2020, a 75% increase. Ways to achieve that will be displacing more metal components with plastics and improving on their function. “Plastics and composites enable styling that includes complex shapes and deep draws,” he said. “All exterior panels have the potential to be plastic. For example, a hood converted from metal to plastic offers a 72% mass reduction. High-volume compression molding processes are well-suited for the future.”

Companies are looking to offset mass in the power-train area, particularly in the rear, which Krull noted is a “key area” of the vehicle. “Advancements in high-flow materials, advanced manufacturing processing like laser welding, ease of maintenance, strength and reduction of mass all contribute to lightweighting achievements,” he said. “Advanced composites are the reinforcement of the future when looking at full thermoplastic solutions.”

In collaboration with Ford Motor Co., Magna is working on high-volume manufacturing using composite chopped carbon fiber and performing compression over-molding on metal. “We’re looking at a plastics solution to replace metal, including co-molding SMC while maintaining directionality of the fibers,” said Krull. “We’re looking at all of this for high-volume manufacturing.”

Other manufacturing technologies Krull called out are integration of parts to reduce the number of components as well as weight, such as in-mold assembly. Active “shape-shifting” surfaces and active aerodynamic surfaces versus active components will create function as well as performance. “Styling freedom through advances in plastics [and] maintaining or improving performance and structural strength, such as easily replaceable body panels using advanced plastics and composites, are key,” added Krull.  

“Without engineering plastics all this wouldn’t be possible,” Krull emphasized. “Appearance—radical styling—is moving faster than I ever thought it would. Advanced plastics and composites create endless opportunities—they are the future. Plastics and composites make the unimaginable possible."

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