Price and market trends: LANXESS expects nylon use in automotive to increase

22 March 2013 09:20  [Source: ICB]

Nylon compounds, which have already replaced metal in several automobile parts, still have much room to grow as the raw material for vehicle components, an executive at German specialty chemical producer LANXESS said.


LANXESS's Durethan polyamides can withstand high pressure


Nylon compounds are resistant to both heat and grease, making them an ideal material for components under the car's hood, said Brendan Dooley on the sidelines of the Plastimagen 2013 plastics conference in Mexico City.

Dooley is the director of sales and OEM (original equipment manufacturers) development as well as manager for the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) region for LANXESS's high-performance materials in Mexico.

Nylon is a popular raw material because it performs well, lowers a vehicle's weight and is less expensive than metal, Dooley said. Auto producers can save money, because it is much easier to fabricate parts using nylon compounds instead of metal, he added.

For example, metal threading requires special and expensive machining. For nylon, those threads can be moulded, Dooley said.

Because nylon parts are easier to fabricate, they can be made at a greater degree of precision than metal parts, Dooley said. This improves the alignment of parts such as headlights throughout the automobile.

Nylon parts can also absorb more energy than metal during crashes, making automobiles safer, Dooley said. Nylon absorbs vibrations as well, making automobiles ride smoother and quieter, he added.

Meanwhile, nylon compounds can significantly reduce the weight of a vehicle, especially if they replace the parts made with steel, Dooley said.

Automobile makers are eager to lower the weight of their vehicles, so they can comply with stricter emission regulations as lighter vehicles consume less fuel, he added.

This trend towards lighter vehicles could lead to nylon substituting more parts in an automobile, Dooley said. "We see quite a bit of opportunity in the auto industry, particularly in the body or the space frame of the vehicle."

In addition, companies are designing automobiles with smaller engines, Dooley said. To get more power out of a smaller engine, automakers are putting turbo chargers on the engines. That, in turn, is increasing demand for high-temperature turbo ducts.

Normally, those ducts would be made from metal, Dooley said. However, LANXESS is replacing them with plastic.

LANXESS is also researching more applications for nylon compounds. Such applications, however, will not come from simply replacing metal with nylon.

Instead, such innovation will come from knowing how nylon compounds will behave in a particular application, Dooley said, regardless of whether the compound is a blend of nylon 6 and nylon 6,6 or whether it is reinforced with glass fibres or carbon fibres. LANXESS's Durethan A polymer is based on nylon 6,6, while its Durethan B is based on nylon 6.

Because of its knowledge of the compounds' performance, LANXESS can model the part through computer engineering, Dooley said. That will give the OEM industry the confidence to switch from metal to plastic.

Mexico's large automobile industry will continue growing quickly in the upcoming years, increasing the demand for plastics, said Dooley.

The industry has already been seen to have recovered from the recession. In 2012, automobile production reached its highest level since at least 2008, according to the Asociacion Mexicana de la Industria Automotriz (AMIA), a trade group that represents automobile producers.

Many of the vehicles produced in Mexico are exported. Meanwhile, Mexico's light vehicle sales reached 987,747 in 2012, up 9% year on year, according to the Asociacion Mexicana de Distribuidores de Automotores (AMDA), a trade group representing auto distributors in Mexico.

2012 was the third best and strongest year since 2008, according to AMDA.

Automobiles are a major consumer of chemicals. The American Chemistry Council (ACC) estimates that each vehicle contains an average of $3,297 worth of chemicals, such as acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), nylon and polycarbonate (PC).

LANXESS expects demand for its products from the Mexican automobile industry to grow by double digits in the next 3-5 years, Dooley said. "The trend will continue. We are seeing more and more investment in Mexico."

By: Al Greenwood
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