VIEWPOINT | ADVANCED POLYMERS IN AUTOMOTIVE APPLICATIONS

May 20, 2019 at 12:37 AM

The quest among automobile manufacturers to reduce vehicle weight is driving an expanding use of advanced plastics in increasingly harsh and demanding environments, says Jud Gibson, vice president, Commercial Americas at DSM Engineering Plastics Inc. in Troy, Mich.

Royal DSM is a 100-year-old Dutch company that specializes in life sciences and materials. Gibson says advanced thermoplastics, which can withstand harsh underhood conditions that include high temperatures and rough handling, are especially attractive for lightweighting because they offer the ability to integrate multiple parts into a single molded component. The challenge, Gibson notes, is to back the promise of new materials with data to support their application.

How do you “sell” a new plastic to the auto industry?

It takes more than a good material. At DSM, we recognize that customers want a solution, not just a product in search of an application. The need for new options has never been greater, and that need is not likely to disappear. Our responsibility is to translate our decades of know-how into data-based solutions.

Our portfolio of materials ranges from base polymers to thermoplastics to high-value, high-performance polyamides. Bio-based materials are becoming increasingly interesting to car companies, and that is likely to continue as the industry embraces transportation as a service and what that will mean for vehicle design and performance requirements.

This doesn’t come without unique challenges. One example is the global shortage of nylon 66, a popular engineering plastic for automotive and electronics applications. While our partners work to address the issue by increasing capacity, we’re working with customers to offer alternatives such as our Akulon PA6, Stanyl PA46 or ForTii PPA materials.

What about recycling?

Above all, carmakers want materials that meet their performance requirements. But sustainability is a growing part of the equation and becomes an important part of the decision making process these days. DSM embraces the United Nations’ sustainability goals, and we’ve added several very successful products that are carbon neutral and/or involve recycling plastics.

Our Akulon Repurposed PA6 is a great example of this commitment. In India, we’re working with local suppliers to recover nylon fishing nets that otherwise would be discarded in the ocean. Through a propriety cleaning and recycling process, these nets become the feedstock for special Akulon grades which can be used as a sustainable alternative to virgin resin pellets.

Another example is our bio-based nylon 410 material, EcoPaXX. This product uses castor beans as a raw material, resulting in a material with excellent chemical resistance and low moisture absorption. EcoPaXX also is certified 100% cradle to gate carbon neutral.

How is DSM involved in electrification?

We’re well positioned in this area, in part because of our extensive experience in the consumer electronics industry. Wherever there’s high voltage, manufacturers want robust thermoplastics and other flame-retardant materials. In the electronics sector, we supply high-performance connectors and flame-retarding materials specifically formulated to high-temperature reflow soldering, for example. Virtually every cell phone contains DSM technologies, particularly our Stanyl PA46 or ForTii PPA grades.

Thermal management is a major factor in electrified powertrains. We have specific products available that can handle prolonged exposure to glycol coolant under high and fluctuating heat conditions. We’re also working on new applications for fuel cells, where we believe innovative materials and construction techniques may be able to reduce the weight of a fuel cell system by as much as 50%.

What will be the role for plastics in self-driving vehicles?

The concept of ride-sharing raises new expectations about the durability and cleanability of materials used for interior surfaces. Vehicles designed for this heavier duty cycle will demand attractive but very different materials. Designers will probably need to get away from traditional foam seating, for example, and consider suspension seating alternatives. Our Arnitel co-polyester is an attractive choice for interiors and seating systems.

We’re also working with this material to create non-pneumatic tires that never go flat, which would be particularly important for a fleet of self-driving vehicles.

What are your local testing capabilities for materials?

We opened a 31,000-sq-ft lab in Michigan in 2016 when we relocated our Americas headquarters to Troy, and we have continued to expand it since then. The $2.4 million facility contains an application development center, which conducts environmental and impact testing along with injection molding work on prototype components.

To learn more about DSM Engineering Plastics, please visit dsm.com/plastics.