As the automotive industry recovers from the troubled economy of the past few years, plastics are playing a very important role in the formation of automotive hardware. In North America and globally, new technology in plastic materials is opening new doors in safety, comfort, and savings in energy efficiency.

The innovative use of plastics and plastic composites is driving a revolution in the capabilities of automotive hardware. The automotive hardware plastics industry is poised to accelerate the development of innovative products, deliver superior value to customers, and help the automotive industry set new standards in design, safety, and environmental performance. Lightweight plastics allow automotive designers and engineers the freedom to deliver innovative concepts cost effectively.

ADVANTAGE OF PLASTIC AUTOMOTIVE HARDWARE

Plastics are:

  • Durable
  • Strong
  • Lightweight
  • Resistant to chemicals and harsh environments
  • Thermally and electrically insulating
  • Thermally and electrically conductive
  • Transparent, translucent, or opaque
  • Soft, flexible, or hard in almost any shape and size
  • Heat- and corrosion-resistant
  • Recyclable
  • Extremely cost-effective

DESIGN OBJECTIVES FOR THE INDUSTRY

From a design perspective, plastics and plastic composites offer the automotive designer distinct advantages. Plastics offer lightweight economical solutions for both aesthetic and structural automotive applications. In the heyday of the automotive industry in the 1950s and 1960s, steel was the material of choice. In the last 40 years, plastics have steadily gained preeminence in automobile engineering and construction. Between 1965 and 2007, the use of plastics in automobiles grew from an average of 60 pounds per vehicles to 330 pounds.* The unique properties and design flexibility of plastics and plastic composites can help improve safety features for both drivers and passengers. Safety airbag systems and side curtain protection devices in today’s vehicles depend heavily on plastic materials to function properly. Equipment such as crash bumpers rely on the flexibility and energy absorbing properties of plastic materials. Plastic materials have long been used in the design of interior automotive hardware including dash boards, switches, electrical components, and door panels.  The interior automotive hardware adds both functional and aesthetically pleasing design features to the modern auto cockpit. Plastics have created a more comfortable and exciting driver and passenger experience.

THINK GREEN

Due to ever increasing government regulation and rising oil prices fuel millage and emission clean automobiles have become a major focus of the auto industry. Plastics offer lightweight yet structurally stable material solutions reducing the overall weight of the vehicle. Although over 50% of an automobile is made up of plastic, the plastic only accounts for 8-10% of the total weight of the vehicle.  Lighter cars have the benefit of being more fuel efficient than heavier ones.  In independent studies it has been found that a 10% reduction in vehicle weight reduces fuel consumption by 5%. Plastics are also becoming critical in the development of new automotive green technologies such as electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell powered autos. Moldable and formed plastics have given designers the ability to design aerodynamic body panels which reduce wind turbulence increasing fuel millage and enhancing passenger comfort. Automotive engineers continue to look to plastics for the automotive building materials of the future.

THE FUTURE

The future of plastics in the automotive hardware industry is secured by the need for engineers to develop cleaner, lighter, safer, and more fuel efficient cars for the future. Automotive engineers and designers are looking to plastics as the materials of the future. The plastics industry has responded by the development of many new plastics and composites to meet the increasing demand for automotive hardware.

*Statistics are taken from the Plastics Automotive Markets Technology Roadmap published by the American Chemistry Council.

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