The Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) has announced the category winners for its 46th annual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition.

The Grand Award winner was composite suspensions for upper and lower backs on the 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan from Ford Motor Co. The application featured Ultramid B3ZG7 OSI PA; Ultramid B3EG3 PA; ADX 5017 TPO; and Delrin 100 polyoxymethylene (POM) and was produced via multiple molding processes. Due to integrated composite designs, this ‘perfect position seat’ suspension system delivers tuned suspension to optimize occupant comfort by cradling the upper back and providing side-torso support, which flexes to accommodate various occupant sizes. Special attachment features facilitate assembly and service time. The design also creates a robust dynamic crash-energy management system for rear-impact protection. Molded-in-color is used for A surfaces and craftsmanship. The system, for which 83 patents have been filed, reduces total seat weight by 8% and cost by 15% despite adding more features. This part also topped the Body Interior category.

In the Aftermarket category, the winner was a carbon fiber composite spoiler on the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette sports cars from General Motors Co. The application featured Solvay MTM5790 epoxy. This one-piece aftermarket epoxy/carbon fiber spoiler provides a carbon composite appearance and enables the same aerodynamic performance as production 3-piece spoilers with different aero variants while also reducing mass by 40%. The spoiler's design and proprietary tooling combines solid wickerbills and an open cavity blade plus integral threaded inserts to facilitate manufacturing and assembly. The one-piece construction offers a cleaner appearance due to reduction of fasteners. The spoiler is offered in both clear coat with exposed weave and painted in carbon flash metallic paint.

In the Body Exterior category, the winner was a structural front end module with active grille shutter on the 2016 Ford Super Duty pickups from Ford Motor Co. The application featured Celstran 40-20 Black long-fiber thermoplastic (LFT) polypropylene (PP) and was produced via the injection molding process. This all-composite design without metallic reinforcement is reportedly the first active grille shutter (AGS)-capable, injection-molded LFT-PP front-end module (FEM) bolster used on a heavy-duty pickup platform. Replacing steel and plastic/metal hybrids at a 3 lb/1.4 kg and US$3 USD savings/vehicle, the design offers parts consolidation with locating features that aid fit & finish, improves airflow, while meeting structural requirements for part deflections of <1mm on this 8,500 lb/3,856 kg class vehicle.

The Grand Award winner was composite suspensions for upper and lower backs on the 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan from Ford Motor Co.
The Grand Award winner was composite suspensions for upper and lower backs on the 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan from Ford Motor Co.

In the Chassis/Hardware category, the winner was a strut mount on the 2016 Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan from General Motors Co. The application featured Ultramid A3WG10CR 50% glass-reinforced (GR) PA 6/6 and was produced via the injection molding process. This is the first use of a glass-reinforced PA material for strut-mount housings on all 4 corners of a vehicle and the first application of polyamide housings on the front and rear suspension systems. The injection molded parts integrate common components for both front and rear mounts, and employ a special thread assembly method with a locking feature. They reduce mass 30% vs. typical steel and aluminum parts and reduce noise transmission through the suspension system. Due to modular assembly, the design also offers greater tuning flexibility.

In the Environmental category, the winner was closed-loop recycling of bottles on the 2016 The application featured nonwoven fleece from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and was used in multiple processes. This innovative, multi-stakeholder, cost-neutral recycling project reportedly helps protect the environment, grow local economies, create jobs, and help people in a sustainable manner. Water bottles collected at GM operations and from the Flint, Mich, USA area are directed into a supply chain that recycles the material into nonwoven fleece for specific applications including engine manifold cover insulation, insulation for coats that convert to sleeping bags for the homeless that are made by formerly homeless women as part of a jobs program, and air filters that purify the air at numerous GM and other manufacturing operations. Already 3.5-million water bottles have been repurposed.

In the Materials category, the winner was vacuum brake tubes on the 2016 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups from General Motors Co. The application featured Arnitel CM622 thermoplastic polyester elastomer (TPC-ET). A high-performance thermoplastic was needed for vacuum brake tubing to replace reinforced rubber. It needed broad temperature performance (-40-150°C), chemical resistance, burst strength to 60 bar minimum and flexural strength to 50 N minimum. It also had to resist vacuum collapse after 2 hr at 150°C and provide impact retention after 336 hr at 150°C. The design was changed to use a smaller diameter, thinner wall to simplify engine/undercarriage routing and eliminate heat shields plus allow quick connects. A TPC-ET elastomer with high thermal oxidative stability was developed. It is 30% lighter, less costly, and eliminates brackets.

In the Powertrain category, the winner was the Air-Intake Manifold on the 2015 EA21 1.6L engines from Volkswagen AG. The application featured SABIC G3135X PP and was produced via the injection molding process. This is the first air-intake manifold launched in China using 35% GR-PP to replace PA 6/6. The application provides 25-30% cost reduction and 15-20% molded-part weight reduction while retaining properties at high temperatures and improving weld strength, plus NVH levels by 5 dB. Unique technology involving finer glass fibers and special sizing helps meet performance requirements. Parts are vibration welded.

In the Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies category, the winner was the Robotic Laser Cutting and Welding of TPO Fascia on the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 sports car from General Motors Co. The application featured Hifax TYC1168X TPO and was produced via the injection molding process. Hydraulic punch and sonic welding operations were replaced by robotic laser cutting and welding of a Class A exterior fascia. Unlike other welding processes, it is not necessary to thicken wallstock in weld areas to prevent readthrough with robotic laser welding of brackets on the backside of the part, and that reduces weight slightly. It also eliminates the need for contoured horns and punches. Clean cuts can be made in 1 sec on the painted side of the part. The dual-function process provides greater flexibility between programs and reduces floor space and tooling costs.

In the Safety category, the winner was a seat cushion frame and storage door on the 2016 Ford Super Duty pickups from Ford Motor Co. The application featured Celstran GF40-20 LFT-PP and was produced via the injection molding process. For the first time, a polymer composite has replaced magnesium in a structural seat-cushion frame and under-seat storage lid for a front center 20% seat with integrated restraint system. The application is weight neutral and lower cost (≈$4 USD/unit), and satisfies all safety and crashworthiness requirements. Its flexible architecture allows for updates with future enhancements. Injection molded 40% LFT-PP is used to mold the frame, which also features an expanded polypropylene (EPP) antisubmarine foam block and a lockable ergo-latch. The assembly represents a significant reduction in carbon footprint vs. magnesium and has yielded 2 awarded and 2 pending patents.

This story is reprinted from material from the SPE with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.