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Plastic Positivity - Automotive Focus

For the second part of our #PlasticPositivity campaign we’re taking a look at the benefits of using plastics within the Automotive industry.

Plastics within the automotive industry are not a new development, they have been used within cars for the last 5 decades, but it is the latest innovations that are really changing the industry for the better. Engineered plastics are continuing to replace aluminium and other metals for a whole host of automotive components. This article highlights some of the different benefits that plastic has within the industry.

Weight Reduction

Weight reduction within the automotive industry became a critical factor when the European Union announced that per-car CO2 emission thresholds need to be reduced. This had a huge impact on the industry to increase use of plastics in cars to comply with environmental requirements and to meet the regulation aimed at reducing emissions from 130 to 95 g/km by 2020.

To meet this target, manufacturers had no option but to invest in creating lighter vehicles by replacing metal with plastic materials. Between 200 – 300 kg of traditional metal materials can be replaced with just 100kg of plastics, making vast weight reductions.

This weight reduction also has a positive effect on fuel efficiency and reducing emissions. Over the average lifespan of a vehicle, every 100kg of plastics that have replace metal materials will reduce fuel consumption of the vehicle by 750 litres.

Needless to say, plastics are the ideal option for delivering lightweight components that ultimately, make vehicles cleaner.

Properties of plastics

Plastic has a vast range of amazing properties, below we’ve highlighted a few that we think offer huge advantages to the automotive industry:

Fibre reinforced plastics are typically 25-35 percent lighter than steel parts of equal strength. The fibre technology within the polymers, whether it be glass or carbon, make them the ideal replacement for structural parts that would normally be manufactured from metals.

Resistant to corrosion – unlike metal, plastic does not corrode over time, meaning the lifecycle of plastic components is much longer.

Thermal stability – this is critical for under bonnet components that are subject to ongoing high temperatures. One of the most popular high-performance polymers, PEEK, combines thermal properties with excellent mechanical properties and can withstand a constant operating temperature of 250°C.

Chemical resistance for plastic automotive components is essential to ensure parts withstand the influence of aggressive fluids such as fuels, biofuels, cleaners, cooling liquids and lubricants, often in combination with high temperature fluctuations. A wide range of specifications are taken into consideration by manufacturers before choosing a suitable polymer, even the impact of cleaners or cosmetics on your car interior or exterior is considered to ensure no damage is caused.

Safety – Another huge positive of using plastic within automotive applications is the beneficial effect it has on safety.

Flame retardant plastics prevent or delay the spread of fire. Flame-retardant grades of polymer are critical for battery enclosures and carriers and under the bonnet assemblies where components are exposed to high temperatures for long periods of time.

RP Technologies Technical Diagram Car

The ability that plastic has to absorb and distribute energy in a crash via crumple zones is a major factor in protecting passengers. Crumple zones featuring reinforced plastic can absorb six to 12 times the energy of steel. These safety features, amongst many more make plastic the perfect material choice for automotive components.

And finally, the Electrification of vehicles –

There are many electric and hybrid cars already on the market with automotive companies set to launch new models in the coming years, including Tesla starting production of their Semi, the all-electric battery powered class 8 semi-truck in 2021.

With EV’s set to be mainstream by 2030 automotive manufacturers are upping their game to ensure they can produce the most efficient vehicles on the market, and plastic plays a huge part in the future of the industry

To make electric vehicles more efficient in terms of range, the demand for making electric vehicles lighter is continually rising, which will impact the demand for improved high performance lightweight plastics.

Plastics also have a whole range of characteristics which are perfect for electrification of vehicles. Strong thermal stability properties to overcome the heat of the batteries is very important, as is having excellent heat resistance to ensure batteries stay cool and don’t overheat.

When developing injection moulded components and utilising the latest engineering polymers it’s extremely important to choose a supplier who has knowledge within this industry, and exposure to processing the materials correctly. At RP Technologies we have vast experience within the automotive industry, around 60% of our customers are within the industry and the parts that we’ve manufactured are either prototype components for testing and development or pre-production components for the first release of their new vehicles. We’re highly skilled within processing complex engineering polymers and we have strong relationships with the material manufacturers.

When it comes to the automotive industry, plastic really is fantastic, and we are intrigued to see how the use of plastic within motor vehicles will continue to develop in the future. #ukmfg #plasticindustry #automotive #plasticmoulding #engineering

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