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At the recent Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive held in Novi, MI, in conjunction with amerimold, Mike Shinedling, advanced engineering manager for Street Racing Technology (SRT) and program manager for Chrysler's Viper, noted that vehicle was "born to be a rival of the Shelby Cobra." The Viper has a carbon fiber and aluminum body, and also has applications for composites and thermoplastics.

Clare Goldsberry

June 23, 2014

5 Min Read
Chrysler: The 'decision driver' for material selection is volume

At the recent Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive held in Novi, MI, in conjunction with amerimold, Mike Shinedling, advanced engineering manager for Street Racing Technology (SRT) and program manager for Chrysler's Viper, noted that vehicle was "born to be a rival of the Shelby Cobra." The Viper has a carbon fiber and aluminum body, and also has applications for composites and thermoplastics.

images_4.jpeg"The decision driver for material selection is volume," Shinedling said. "Investment cost is a big deal as we don't have hundreds of thousands of parts to spread it over. We need suppliers to help us to do a business case thought process. As you're looking for solutions, it must be cost versus investment."

Shinedling also noted that there is "feasibility risk" involved. "One of the missions of the program is for SRT to become a test bed for other vehicles," he explained. "Several materials including composites have migrated up to the mainstream."

When looking at materials to accommodate lightweighting of vehicles, Shinedling commented on a number of factors that are key such as thermal performance in small engine compartments and effect on vehicle mass. Additionally, Chrysler looks at how much weight is saved vs. tooling cost and performance achieved. The dichotomy for Chrysler is, noted Shinedling, "we always set out to reduce the weight of the vehicle but government regulations add weight."

Shinedling also pointed out the various materials that make up the Viper such as glass-filled nylong for the "gill grille," and an injection molded ABS "widows peak" that houses the antenna without being obvious. Other materials he mentioned include carbon fiber and Kevlar seats; carbon aero package for the rear spoiler and the front splitters; a windshield frame of SMC polyester glass and carbon fiber reinforced composite; a trunk pan compression molded from SMC; the front and rear bumper is Xenoy in which they consolidated multiple functions; intake manifold molded in glass-filled nylon that Shinedling said is 13 pounds lighter than the aluminum manifold. Additionally, "it doesn't conduct heat so we achieved thermal efficiency - it keeps the air cold longer and lowers costs."

While there are always new materials, as well as new tooling and processing technologies, Shinedling pointed out that manufacturing costs remain critical. "We have to be careful about using new technologies that would drive up the price point," he concluded.

Demand for lightweight automotive materials  

The lightweighting of vehicles to meet new CAFÉ or fuel economy standards is creating new demand for automotive materials that help automakers meet those goals, according to The Freedonia Group, a Cleveland-based market research firm, demand for lightweight automotive materials in the North American light vehicle market is anticipated to rise 5.2% annually to 22.3 billion pounds in 2018. Freedonia Group analyst Bridget McMurtrie said that regulatory pressure will be the major force propelling growth.

The best growth prospects are forecast for exterior and structural components, propelled by the ongoing development of lightweight materials suitable for use in structural applications and the substantial weight savings such materials can provide, said The Freedonia Group's latest study, Lightweight Automotive Materials in North America. In fact, this segment will account for nearly three-fourths of total average vehicle weight reduction through 2023, with body and frame applications alone accounting for about half.

Interior applications are relatively mature and will see only limited growth going forward, as plastics have long been used in interior components, thus restricting opportunities for further weight reduction.

The Freedonia Group noted that aluminum and high-strength steel represent the primary lightweight materials employed in the automotive market, with aluminum enjoying rapid growth in exterior and structural applications, as automakers explore the adoption of this material in place of steel for body components such as closures and panels.

Engineering plastics will remain the leading polymer type through the forecast period, having successfully supplanted metals in a number of applications based on advantages such as their ability to enhance design freedom, said the study. However, demand for high-performance composites will rise rapidly from a small base due to the materials' substantial vehicle weight savings potential, although their cost will remain an obstacle to more widespread adoption.

Thermoplastic composites

If engineering thermoplastics has replaced metals in a wide range of vehicle components including interior, exterior, under-the-hood and fuel systems, the latest trend is to offer thermoplastic composites as an alternative material to thermosetting materials typically used in high-heat and chemical environments. Thermoplastic composites typically use carbon fiber or glass fiber to provide strength, chemical and heat resistance, yet capturing some of the benefits of thermoplastics.

Thermosetting materials are unforgiving and once molded cannot be reground and reused, which can be costly. While 

Sabic_Wheel_low_res_0.jpeg

Thermoplastic composite wheel technology  

meeting fuel saving goals, the automotive industry also needs to watch its manufacturing costs.

Last fall, Royal DSM launched a custom-made solution for structural and semi-structural applications, incorporating continuous fiber reinforcements embedded in its advanced polyamides. Together with several industry partners, DSM developed advanced thermoplastic composites, which are initially aimed at the automotive industry.

Last October, Solvay Specialty Polymers agreed to acquire a financial interest in Aonix Advanced Materials, an Ottawa, ON, Canada-based developer of advanced composite materials and manufacturing systems. Solvay's partnership with Aonix will accelerate the development and commercialization of mass-produced, thermoplastic composites made of Solvay's high-performance polymers for end-use markets such as automotive.

Resin producer Sabic, Kringlan Composites and other industry partners recently announced joint efforts to further advance the development of the world's first thermoplastic composite wheel for the automotive industry.

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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