NPE ’09: SABIC plastic, PC make inroads in auto sector

23 June 2009 22:50  [Source: ICIS news]

Qarmaq concept carCHICAGO (ICIS news)--A brand of polycarbonate (PC) used in the windshield of a Hyundai concept car shows the huge potential market for the polymer, SABIC Innovative Plastics executives said on Tuesday.

SABIC displayed the Qarmaq concept car during the NPE plastics exposition in Chicago.

Plastic producers are eager to present their materials as reasonable, light-weight alternatives to the heavier metals and glasses common in automobiles.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), in turn, are under more pressure to cut the weight of automobiles to conserve gasoline and reduce emissions.

SABIC’s polycarbonate, Lexan, is one of several polymers that are just now replacing glass and other materials in automobiles. If adoption becomes widespread, it could open up huge markets for SABIC and other plastics producers.

Weight for weight, Lexan is more expensive than glass, said Stephen Shuler, chief technology officer for Exatec, SABIC’s glazing subsidiary.

However, the polymer gives engineers the freedom to develop shapes that would be nearly impossible to make with glass, making their vehicles stand out among the competition, Shuler said.

Plus, a PC windshield can include other parts that engineers would normally have to design separately, Shuler said.

In the case of QarmaQ, the back windshield and adjoining panelling were made from the same injection-moulding process with two shots of Lexan - one clear and one black, Shuler said.

Basically, car designers can incorporate several different auto parts into one mould, simplifying the manufacturing process and cutting overall costs, said Dominic McMahon, general manager of automotive product marketing for SABIC Innovative Plastics.

QarmaQ’s plastic fender - made of SABIC’s Noryl GTX - includes brackets and other parts that car makers would normally have to make separately. The Noryl GTX fender saves costs by simplifying the manufacturing process.

“Simplification for OEMs is a huge advantage,” McMahon said.

At the same time, the Noryl fender withstands damage better than those made with metal, McMahon said.

Regardless of cost savings or design freedom, auto makers will increasingly rely on plastic parts to reduce the weight of their vehicles, McMahon said.

As it is, Lexan has about 80% the density of glass, Shuler said. “Weight reduction is going to be a huge part.”

Even smaller auto parts - such as the core of a steering wheel - can be replaced with plastic, McMahon said. Gradually, the weight savings accumulate.

Qarmaq’s weight savings add up 132 lb (60 kg), according to SABIC.

Electric vehicles could also increase plastics demand, since auto makers want to reduce any power demands on batteries, Shuler said.

For more on PC visit ICIS chemical intelligence
For more on SABIC visit ICIS company intelligence
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By: Al Greenwood
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