Auto Service World
News   August 6, 2002   by Auto Service World

Will Plastics Help Cars Fix Themselves?

Are self-repairing bumpers in our future? A report from the American Plastics Council says so.
Among the technologies in the "Roadmap to Automotive Future" report, which is being released at the 2002 Management Briefing Seminars are plastic crash cages, plastic body panels that make it possible to maintain a showroom-floor shine for years and make painting obsolete, and lighter, more fuel-efficient and safer cars.
“Benefits such as these, as well as others that we haven’t yet imagined, will someday be possible because of the material advantages of plastics,” stated Don Little, chair of the plastics industry’s automotive work group.
Plastics producers are building partnerships with the automotive OEMs, tier suppliers, government agencies and universities with the goals of producing safer, more affordable, energy-efficient vehicles.
Working through the American Plastics Council (APC) — plastics makers are communicating these goals by making public a roadmap and technology vision for automotive plastics over the next 20 years. This important document (developed as a result of a workshop that was co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy) will be released at the 2002 Management Briefing Seminars from August 5-9.
“Plastics can help the automotive OEMs and suppliers lower their design, tooling and production costs. We can help build a truly sustainable transportation infrastructure with cars that meet challenging safety or environmental mandates,” said Little. “Plastics will help make it easier to build cars consumers are excited to buy and drive.”
Today, an entire new class of “smart” plastics already exists that will enable even greater revolutionary changes in production and product performance. For instance, “smart” plastics have been developed that can self-repair, actuate and transduce (photoelectric energy), providing the flexibility and performance needed to make plastics more functional and cost-effective than traditional automotive materials.
Plastics innovations also are resulting in other technological advances. Some racing car design teams are using plastics in certain structural applications because they offer sufficient strength and crash energy absorption at a dramatically lower weight. And as the racetrack has served as a laboratory for automotive innovation, it is likely that similar technology will be found in the chassis and body of consumer vehicles.
Coatings and films are now available that make windows stronger, reduce abrasion and wear, prevent heat absorption and demonstrate many other unique properties. As an example of the plastic industry’s foresight, resin producers are working on plastics with paint-like finishes that virtually will eliminate the need to paint vehicles. The production efficiencies offered by this innovation alone have the potential for tremendous savings for the auto industry and consumers.
A key benefit of adopting plastics as a material of choice will be improved speed to market, reducing design, development and engineering cycles that will rapidly take new polymer-based applications from initial concept to commercial product. In order to make this possible, plastics producers are committed to making available more reliable methods and tools to predict material performance over the entire life of the vehicle.
“We are fully aware of the challenges the auto and plastics industries face over the next decades. Still, we are confident that we offer the best portfolio of solutions for the automotive industry. We need to think about ways we invest in new technology. Plastics are too important to the future of the automotive industry not to have a seat at the automakers’ future concept development table. The plastics industry will be here over the long haul to partner with automotive leaders and continue this good work,” said Little.

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