Working in the cut-throat yet transformational auto business is not for the faint-hearted. While emerging regulatory regimes continue to drive innovation in lightweighting and drive-train optimization that place the auto industry at the cutting edge, automakers demand cost savings of their suppliers with increasing regularity and severity, sometimes to the point where the parts makers are driven out of business and everyone ends up a loser.
Thankfully, the top 10 PlasticsToday stories of 2016 involving the automotive industry feature more good news than bad; the chart topper, however, kicks off our list on a negative note.
The might of GM
The 115-year-old parts supplier Clark-Cutler-McDermott Co. (CCM; Franklin, MA), a maker of sound insulation and interior trim products that was dependent on GM for 80% of its revenue and sole supplier for many critical components, is no more. Rather than bleed at a rate of $30,000/day, CCM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July with accumulated losses of $12 million. This to the chagrin of GM, which exercised its contractual option to purchase equipment, machinery and inventory from CCM. Production equipment was reportedly subsequently transferred to several suppliers. So, who gained from this exercise? No one it would seem. GM endured a temporary disruption and CCM closed shop. CCM is not the only supplier over the years to feel the full force of GM’s one-sided efforts to cut costs. Read more
If GM is the villain in the piece, who best to work for?
The 15th annual North American Automotive—Tier 1 Supplier Working Relations Index Study that looks at automakers’ supplier relations and how they impact OEM profits found Toyota and Honda clearly on top and continuing to distance themselves from Ford, Nissan, FCA and GM, who are headed in the opposite direction, according to Planning Perspectives Inc. (Birmingham, MI), the company conducting the annual study. This year, 435 suppliers participated in the 2015 study.
One word can explain the difference in supplier relations between Toyota and Honda and the other four automakers, said John W. Henke, Jr., PhD, President and CEO of Planning Perspectives: “Commitment. The two top-ranked automakers take supplier relations very seriously and actively work at it throughout their respective organizations, but particularly within their purchasing organizations. This includes the vice president of purchasing down to the buyers who work with the suppliers on a daily basis. They are executing the basics better than the other four automakers.” Read more
Chinese Tier 1 auto parts suppliers are transforming into global players, with some having made acquisitions in North America or otherwise established their own local footholds in the United States. Others serving the aftermarket appear to have global ambitions, and one increasingly can come across them on American trade show floors. Shows are, in fact, one avenue available for protecting one’s intellectual property, as eight Chinese companies discovered at the recent SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas. They were served subpoenas on the trade show floor alleging multiple copyright and trademark violations of Omix-ADA products. U.S. marshals “struck quickly, stopping the eight companies from interacting with showgoers and boxing up everything in each respective booth.” A case of letting the buyer, and exhibitor, beware. Read more
More plastics, but how much more?
It’s true that today’s vehicles are increasingly turning to plastics as a means of lightweighting, with design freedom to boot. But precisely how much more can one pack into an automobile? As much as 150 kg more by 2020, according to industry watcher IHS Markit (London), representing a marked rise from the 200-kg average in 2014. A rise to 350 kg per vehicle does sound overly optimistic, but there’s no doubt the forecast is in the right direction. Read more
Electric vehicles: Designing from the road up
A highlight of the recent K show was the electric concept car at the Covestro (Leverkusen, Germany) stand. It highlighted a key issue in the future design of electric vehicles. In order to make the most of electric motive power, EVs need to be designed from the ground up. Cue extensive use of plastics and dedicated plastics-centric vehicle assembly lines. Read more
Carbon fiber 1
No auto channel top ten would be complete without a dose of lightweighting and, unsurprisingly, developments in the carbon-fiber field were to the fore. Ex Tour de France cycling champion Greg LeMond might not cut the athletic figure of his heyday, but he’s still pretty quick up hills in a racing bike. LeMond is also onto something with his investment in an eponymous low-cost carbon-fiber startup. Having licensed technology from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, LeMond plans to market carbon fiber and its composites to the transportation, renewable energy and infrastructure markets. And don’t be surprised if LeMond fabricates the odd racing bike to boot. Read more
Carbon fiber 2
Also featuring carbon composites was the Ford Shelby GT350R, in this instance in its wheels. The weight saving is huge: The carbon wheel weighs approximately 18 pounds compared with an aluminum wheel that weighs around 33 pounds, a weight saving of 60 lbs. per vehicle. Rotational inertia is reduced by 40%. Read more
Sticking with the racing theme
It doesn’t come much quicker than a NASCAR pit stop. Applying the principles of NASCAR race teams to mold changes, a common task in many custom injection molding shops, is a key factor in determining how much machine time is available, notes plastic injection consultant Garrett MacKenzie. “Poor performance in changeover times and approach can make or break a company with a lean manufacturing ideology.” Read more
Don’t forget other processes
Injection-molded structural components and blow-molded ducting often enjoy the limelight when discussing process innovations in the auto sector. But for low-volume applications in commercial and recreational vehicles, thermoforming holds great promise. As thermoforming permits greater complexity in tooling and compatibility with injection molded parts to create innovative assemblies, we're seeing larger and more complex components and assemblies. More designs are addressing auto, truck and RV interior dashboards that result in larger assemblies at reduced manufacturing costs. Read more
What better way to round out the top 10 than with a shout out to the President-elect, The Donald. PlasticsToday’s Clare Goldsberry mused about how he might help or hurt the auto industry through his anti-mercantile stance. She concluded that it would be a good idea to stick with NAFTA, one of the worst trade deals ever, according to Trump, given the level of integration between the auto industries of the United States and Mexico, in particular. In an online poll, however, our readers, agreed to disagree with Goldsberry by a margin of 49% to 38%. For the record, Goldsberry believes the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not such a good deal for the United States. Read more