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January 1, 2001

5 Min Read
Bumping up innovation for automotive design

If not for the concerted efforts of resin suppliers in developing automotive applications for plastics, vehicles today would surely contain significantly less injection molded content. Instead, in the resin industry's quest to tap into the huge automotive market, we see a growing list of these types of parts.Several cases in point emerged recently at the GE Plastics Automotive Application Development Center, where the company unveiled recent successes - its newly designed energy absorber for bumpers, a partnership with Defiance Testing & Engineering, and advances in instrument panel styling.Figure 1. Pendulum tests conducted on a Xenoy energy absorber developed by GE Plastics show that most impact intrusions to the vehicle were reduced by 30 percent compared to EPP foam. Average impact absorption efficiency for the injection molded absorber ranged from 20 to 30 percent higher than the traditional foam version.Better Bumpers
Traditional bumper systems contain a reinforcing beam made of steel, aluminum, or a composite material. Attached to the beam is an expanded polypropylene (EPP) energy absorber. Designers at GE began to investigate ways to replace the EPP absorber with an injection molded version in PChttps://www.plasticstoday.com/PBT (Xenoy). The resulting prototype, being tested at GM s Small Car Div., uses a W-shaped cross section to enhance stiffness and improve energy absorption during collisions (see Figure 1). John Madej, director of front end systems for GE, explains that the energy absorber and other projects are intended to help automakers design vehicles globally.  The OEMs would like to design one system that works across the globe, he adds,  so the new energy absorber is also being evaluated as a solution for European requirements. Pending EU safety regulations, for example, would require bumpers that minimize pedestrian injury. For its part, the absorber solves several challenges facing designers. Compared to the EPP foam version, it's 20 percent shorter and has no overhang, allowing fascia to take on greater sweeps with a reduced overall package space for the bumper system. It also improves energy absorption by 20 percent, and costs 20 percent less to manufacture. Figure 2. The Impact Safety Testing lab, co-owned by GE and Defiance Testing & Engineering Services, contains a high-speed test cart for barrier impact testing. Data will be used as a basis for computer crash simulations during product evaluation and development.Expanded Testing
To support its efforts in developing bumper systems, GE has partnered with Defiance Testing & Engineering Services (a subsidiary of GenTek) in Troy, MI to create the Impact Safety Testing Lab (Figure 2). The lab, co-owned by GE and Defiance, has several capabilities, including a barrier impact test for test cart crashes up to 16 mph; a pendulum impact test for bumper and side impacts up to 12 mph; and a custom impact test for exterior components up to 5 mph.According to Madej, the facility has a dual purpose. The lab will help customers to validate that their products meet safety standards, but it will also provide our application developers with meaningful data for computer crash simulations. This will lead to more accurate predictions of early design performance for bumper systems. Carrying the cost of running the testing center will also reduce customers' capital investments. The new lab complements current bumper pendulum testing being done at a Part Performance-Bumper Validation facility within GE's Polymer Processing Development Center in Pittsfield, MA. Video and data collaboration between this site and the Application Development Center in Southfield, MI supported design of the Xenoy energy absorber. Figure 3. A concept instrument panel molded from a special effect PC (Light Diffusion Lexan) illustrates the design flexibility inherent in plastics. Auto stylists currently want to create cockpits aimed at niche markets, making this type of freedom a critical feature.Concept Cockpits
Vehicle interiors are undergoing major changes as consumer tastes and choices evolve. According to GE's John Clifford, marketing manager, IP systems, the instrument panel is no longer a dashboard, it is a key styling element for the cockpit.  We are working together with auto stylists to design future cockpits that will use new materials, designs, and processing techniques, he adds.Key goals for IP designs include weight reduction, safety, material optimization, and design flexibility.  Each of these concerns is being addressed, says Clifford. For weight reduction, GE has developed grades that will meet targets while also withstanding the increased loads at elevated temperatures that proposed communication and entertainment systems will add. Higher performance resins that improve energy management along with design help to improve safety. Thin-wall technology is also being explored in IP design.Special effects resins marketed under the Visualfx trade name are aimed at increasing design freedom (Figure 3). "As mass customization takes hold," Clifford adds,  "stylists are looking for ways to customize the cockpit for niche markets. Using special effects resins is one answer." Custom Colors ServiceUnder one roof, GE Plastics has assembled resources to help designers and OEM marketers create new products with distinguishing colors and signature special effects. GE Colorxpress Services' new 4000-sq-ft Customer Innovation Center in Selkirk, NY adds brick-and-mortar support to its online suite of color selection, matching, and management programs. Here are some of the available services:
m Development consulting. Help with part design, quality, color, special effects, and tooling. GE Plastics' use of DFSS (Design for Six Sigma) is standard.Color library. Nicknamed the "chip room," the library is home to more than 20,000 color standards and colorhttps://www.plasticstoday.com/effects combinations.           Color blending and matching lab. Pigments and base resins are formulated to create the customer's desired look. Batches of pellets can run in one of the center's nine FN Series Nissei molding machines.           Manufacturing. Once approved, custom-colored resins are pelletized on any one of six onsite extruders. If customers bring tooling, custom-colored parts are run for final evaluations, modifications, and approvals. Carl KirklandFor more information on these services, contact Greg Quinn at GE Plastics, Selkirk, NY, (518) 475-3510; fax (518) 575-5657. Contact Information
GE Plastics
Pittsfield, MA
John Madej
Phone: (800) 845-0600
Web: www.geplastics.com

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