27 April 2021
Abdulrahim Haddouche By Abdulrahim Haddouche

Why the Automotive Industry Needs Plastics & Polymers.

Transport is becoming more sustainable and economical.

Plastics and polymers are playing a vital role in offering suitable solutions for the hybrid and electric vehicles market. These types of products are being designed to be lighter, sustainable and cost saving.

As a specialist recruiter within the plastics and polymers industry, I have noticed new applications of materials in the sector that are stronger and lighter than ever to replace the need for metal components and reduce overall costs for the producer and customer.

I wanted to explore what innovations are being developed within the plastics and polymers space and what significance they have towards contributing to a greener automotive industry. More specifically, I’ll be looking into how this is affecting hybrid and electric vehicles. The topics I’ll be discussing are all closely related, however for the purpose of this article and the developments involved, I’ll be separating them into different sections.

Weight Reduction

Firstly, let’s look at the work being done to reduce the overall weight of vehicles and the materials that go in them.

We know it takes less energy to accelerate a lighter object than a heavier one. So, the use of lightweight materials offers huge potential for increasing vehicle efficiency. Fuel efficiency can increase as much as 8% for every 10% in vehicle weight reduction.

Making use of lightweight materials is particularly important for hybrid and electric vehicles. The reduced weight offsets the weight of heavy items like batteries and electric further adding value in efficiency and increasing the vehicles electric driving range. With weight reduction in mind however, manufacturers need to do so without compromising on strength and quality.

Continental Structural Plastics (CSP), along with its parent company Teijin, recently revealed an innovative honeycomb Class A panel technology and an advanced, multi-material electric vehicle battery enclosure. The CSP battery enclosure comes out as 15% lighter than a steel battery box.

This development is set to reduce challenges faced with current multi-piece steel and aluminium electric vehicle battery enclosures. Besides the overall weight of these traditional designs, there’s also difficulties with the need for multiple welds, fasteners and bolts which can result in leaks. 

Announced this April, the innovation was named as a finalist in the 2021 Automotive News PACE pilot awards. The award recognises innovations from suppliers that have reached a working pilot demonstration phase but are not yet commercialized with a contracted sale.

Performance and Design Improvements

Looking more general into performance and design improvements, electric and hybrid vehicles require lightweight, durable and high-temperature-resistant plastics. There’s a clear goal shared to create options that are less expensive to manufacture, weigh less and are more sustainable than current methods.

In addition, well-designed, alternative parts can aid in reducing assembly times, repairs and replacement requirements.

Germany-based company Covestro AG has these goals in mind when developing their multifunctional, all-polycarbonate vehicle headlamp. Their new design concept cuts the number of components needed from more than 50 to five. The design is also less expensive to manufacture than current models on the market and weighs nearly four pounds less than current models too.

Covestro originally developed the new design with electric vehicles in mind due to polycarbonate being susceptible to various chemicals and oils that exist in internal combustion (IC), gas-powered engines.

Another interesting material and parts development looking to increase vehicle performance comes from Polyplastics - a supplier of engineering plastics. The developed resin products which have been successfully penetrating the electric vehicle market as an alternative to metals.

The company announced their DURANEX PBT and DURAFIDE PPS materials, designed for engine peripheral parts such power control units (PCUs), delivering mechanical strength, heat resistance, chemical resistance and fireproof properties. The PPS polymer boasts excellent toughness compared to traditional PPS due to its superior ability to withstand stretching and impacts.

Safety Improvements

The overall safety of the users of a vehicle should be a top priority for any manufacturer. So, how are plastics and polymers providing viable solutions towards this?

With this in mind, the use of parking sensors plays a big role in safety and comfort of vehicle users. BASF recently announced their Ultradur RX portfolio for high-performance radar sensors. The development uses a modified polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) offering good resistance against splash water, oils and salt, protecting sensor housings for the long-term.  

The material is intended to be used to protect radar antennas from electromagnetic noise and radiation which could affect the performance of the vehicle. It comes at a great time where increasing electromagnetic interference issues in road traffic occur. By suppressing unwanted radar radiation, the solutions allow for a better assignment of received signals.

Continuing on with the theme of safety finds us looking towards the performance and safety of batteries within hybrid and electric vehicles.

DuPont, a chemicals company, offer their ‘AHEAD’ portfolio which includes adhesives and resins that make battery modules safer, more durable and longer-range.

The portfolio offers a wide range of materials such as adhesives, fabrics, film and resins to improve electric vehicle battery reliability, performance and manufacturing. The materials offer thermal management, fire protection, vibration dampening and thermal insulation.

The Road Ahead

In today’s world, we’re constantly seeing more hybrid and electric vehicles developed and pushed onto the road as sustainability efforts continue. These new developments within the automotive are exciting, but there is also a correlation of growth within the plastic and polymers space to accommodate the needs for the industry.

I think its clear to see the potential for both the automotive and plastic and polymers industries to grow side by side as the world continues to innovate greener solutions. It’s also a good indication that we should start to see more companies looking to develop similar solutions to the ones mentioned above.

I’m excited to see this space grow as more companies enter the space with technology to help make the world a greener, more sustainable and safer place.

If you’d like to have a chat about this topic or are interested in a future collaboration with me, please get in touch. I’m always looking to grow my network and speak to interesting people within the plastics and polymers industry. My email is abdulrahim.haddouche@industrial-cm.com.

For more content like this, check out my profile page.

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Abdulrahim Haddouche

Abdulrahim is a Business Consultant specialising in recruitment within Plastics and Polymers industry. His knowledge of the market is complimented by a specialist network that allows him to deliver a thorough search process. Abdulrahim builds strong realtionships with both his clients and candidates thanks to his respectful, professional and attentive approach. He has a comprehensive understanding of his market and this can be seen through the content that he delivers. 

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