Plastics vs Automobile Industry

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Plastics vs Automobile Industry



Plastics’ use reaches record levels in automotive sector


A report published today shows a steady increase in the use of plastics by Europe’s car manufacturing industry since the 1970s, rising to nearly two million tonnes today.

By volume, plastics are now the most widely specified material. However, plastics’ low weight means they account for about 10 per cent of the total weight of a modern car.

The study, carried out by Mavel on behalf of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe (APME), examines the use of plastics in cars over the last three decades in Europe with specific reference to France, Germany and Italy.

The report shows that this increase in the use of plastics is particularly dramatic in certain types of cars. For example, some of the cars surveyed registered a four-fold increase in their use of plastics between the 1970s and 1990s.

It is estimated that, on average, 100 kilograms of plastics replaces 200-300 kilograms of conventional material, reducing fuel consumption by 750 litres over a life span of 150 000 kilometres.

Additional calculations across all cars suggest that this cuts oil consumption by 12 million tonnes and reduces CO2 emissions by 30 million tonnes per year in Western Europe alone. Twelve million tonnes of oil equates to approximately 10 per cent of passenger fuel consumption in Western Europe in 1996.



Plastics to build lighter cars


There are many examples in a modern car of weight savings made possible by plastics: plastics-made bumpers are up to 10.4 kilograms lighter, engine covers 4.2 kilograms lighter and plastics fuel tanks five kilograms lighter than those made of conventional materials. In turn, chassis, drive trains and transmission parts can all be made lighter as a result of having to support a lower overall car weight.

These figures show the vital contribution plastics will make to help the automotive industry meet environmental challenges. They confirm what was already highlighted in a study, ‘The car of the future, the future of the car’, carried out by IPTS and published by the European Parliament, European Commission DGXII and the STOA Panel in 1996. The authors report: "The automotive industry is approaching an era that may revolutionise its use of materials. The major aim of the industry is to decrease the weight of the automobile in order to reduce fuel consumption, and consequently emissions."

The industry’s move toward lighter vehicles means plastics consumption in the automotive sector will increase dramatically. For example, a study carried out in Japan by MITI predicted that beyond 2000, use of plastics in the average car could increase by 17 per cent from 115 kilograms (nine per cent of average car weight) in 1989 to 220 kilograms (26 per cent).



Plastics: reducing pollution and saving fossil fuels


Relatively little oil is needed to produce plastics. Western Europe consumed over 26 million tonnes of plastics in 1996, of which 7 per cent - nearly 2 million tonnes - were used in the manufacture of new cars during that year . These plastics represent just 0.3 per cent of oil consumption - just one hundredth of the oil used as fuel by the transport sector as a whole over the same period. Yet they are constantly helping to reduce the amount of fossil fuel and resources consumed. These savings will rise as plastics’ consumption in the automotive industry increases.

Commenting on the results of the study, Patrick Peuch, director at APME’s Technical and Environmental Centre, said: "In today’s average car, there are already more than 1000 plastics parts of all sizes and shapes all providing fine examples of the many benefits of plastics’ light weight, durability and versatility. With plastics consumption set to rise steadily, cars in the next Millennium will be lighter, safer and even better designed for people and the environment through their whole life cycle."

To obtain a free copy of the report, please contact APME’s communications Director (see below).

To obtain a free copy of the report, please contact APME’s communications Director (see below).

Plastics in Automotible Manufacture

Plastics in Automobile Manufacture - Environmentally Friendly and Economical.

High-grade plastics are indispensable in the automobile industry today. Their use reduces the weight of vehicles - and that saves fuel. And with greater stability, driving becomes safer. It is therefore essential to be able to process plastics efficiently.

At BMW, they recognise the advantages of plastics. In their Landshut works in Germany, the cars are fitted with components made of polyurethane. The components are manufactured on-site: Four compact tanks made by H&S Anlagentechnik GmbH/Sulingen, Germany take care of storage, conditioning and transport of the plastic components. The result is that production is always environmentally friendly; it is economical, and the products are of a consistently high quality.

Additional advantages of polymers working in BMW's favour: plastics can be installed quickly and easily - saving in commissioning time, more than 30% for plant start-up, and makes for a much tidier plant, clarifying system design throughout the field. That's why BMW is sticking with Siemens in Germany.

The rubber and plastics industry, initially focused on automotive sub-contracting, has successfully diversified its activities in other industries such as electronics, home-appliances, bottle extrusion for perfumes and cosmetics, plastic furnishings and food packaging.

A full-fledged plastics technology sector has thus emerged in Sarthe, with some 90 companies employing 4,150 persons, accounting for 7% of the industrial workforce and achieving US$ 300 million sales.

These companies cover the full range of plastics technologies: injection, extrusion, thermoforming, calendering, rotational moulding, compression, expansion... Leading national and international groups are present in Sarthe: Demo Tableaux de Commande, ELF-Alphacan, Hutchinson, Framatome Connectors, Freudenberg, Inovac, ARIES Industries, Raclet, Teleplastics Industries, AMS Europe...

Plastics technology industries benefit from the presence of some twenty local sub-contractors producing moulds, patterns or prototypes. Education and training in the plastics industry runs from vocational high school diplomas up to top-level engineering diplomas.

Car interiors

Plastics suppliers step up to the design table

It’s logical, it’s useful – and it may eventually spell doom to a whole range of plastic parts currently needed for interior wiring.The development exemplifies a noteworthy trend in interior plastics, and it spells bad news for any plastics supplier with a buggy-whip mindset. In the early 20th century, whip-makers, faced by the emerging automobile industry, refused to recognize that technology was about to bypass them, and instead railed against change and demanded protective legislation. Any plastics supplier finding itself in this position must adapt or face extinction.Foam-in-place wiring could render some significant tooling and production methods obsolete. It may also reduce the amount of manual labor associated with wiring harness manufacture. In addition, it may reduce or eliminate several different kinds of automotive plastic products, including tape, tubes, straps, troughs and grommets.Today’s interior systems integrators and their material suppliers can’t afford to be fearful of that kind of change. They’ve learned that ignoring progress, or even just standing still waiting for orders to come in, can turn them into road-kill.UT’s harness concept is just one of many that shows how plastics suppliers, Tier One suppliers and the OEM customer are having to work collaboratively from the earliest stages of product design. In UT’s case, it was the Tier One that brought together existing foam and a new application, but Tim O’Brien, UT Automotive advanced engineering manager for instrument panels, says if the idea had come from a materials supplier, it probably would have received the same fast-track treatment.

"I think we would have developed it just as aggressively with them, assuming they were willing to do a joint-disclosure kind of thing, so we could gain a leg up on our competitors," O’Brien says.

In fact, UT is currently evaluating polyurethane foams from Bayer, BASF and Dow for the application. But today, plastics suppliers are expected to lead in the materials selection process, even helping automakers specify for cast metal or hydroformed steel interior systems where the economics don’t favor an all-plastic solution.

Today, many molders are facing market trends that demand them to lower part costs, consider recyclability in part design and reduce part weight. At the same time, they must also improve the soft look and feel of IP trim, work in tandem with Design For Assembly (DFA) driven productivity strategies and increase product quality to reduce buzz, squeak and rattle.

The resins help reduce part costs with no-paint, low-gloss, molded-in color surfaces. High-quality aesthetics and UV stable parts provide consistent build quality.

In some applications, low-gloss resin savings can run upwards of 30% per part. 


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