Day by day automotive industry is facing with new demands increasingly. While the drivers ask for higher performance, superior reliability and safety, more comfort, better fuel – efficiency, more pleasant styles and lower prices for their automobiles; public pressure on preservation of the environment is increasing.

Potentially, these demands are opposite of each other. However, plastics are accepted as the only material that would meet these two opposite demands optimally and shape the automobiles of the future. The features of the plastics that are expected in vehicles and optimize the incompatible demands:

Lighter, stronger. Reliable and provides safety. Plastic pieces preserve the balance between the safety and lightness. As we all know, if any other material would be used instead of the plastics, automobiles would weigh at least 200 kilograms and consequently, fuel consumption would increase.

It is expected from an automobile to operate in high performance and to reduce the driving cost, provide possibilities for technological innovations and design freedoms with its multi – purpose and flexible utilization, and to be compatible with high comfort demands. Automotive should meet the engineering demands such as sophisticated aesthetic, safety, comfort and fuel-efficiency. Along with its compatibility to electronic performance by decreasing the cost, it is a material that can be easily recycled and affects the environment positively.

Major Areas in Automotive Manufacturing for Plastic Usage

Plastics visibly dominate passenger areas in every automobile. This is the place which plastics are used in a more traditional way. Yet, apart from control panels, interior decorations, and furnishings; plastics are also used in lighting, bumper systems, fuel tanks and supply systems, wells, mud flaps, body outer panels and increasingly in engine compartment or for the other pieces under the hood.

Recently, plastics have widely occupied the sub – hood area and are widely used for air manifolds with great molds. These are not beneficial for half the weight of the metal resistances, but they also help engineers to make the engine more efficient thanks to the best arrangement of the air flow to the engine; this way they also play an important role in reducing the noise. These pieces that are molded with nylon with fiberglass support are quite sophisticated and they are the best examples to show the beginning of an age in which plastics are commonly used as engineering materials.

Plastic usage in engine compartment has not ended yet. Plastics and automobile engineers are now in cooperation to optimize the systems, integrate the injection and pneumatic – molded pieces and to restrain plastics and elastomers which provide better products without intense effort during the molding stage of manufacturing in which they can be molded either at the same time or in sequence regardless of their rigidity.

Furthermore, plastics are also crucial to contribute to the structural characteristics of the vehicles. The intensive development of thermoplastics enables to manufacture the heat – resisting painting ovens that are used in automobile industry by using injection molding method on single – body panels and to produce electrically conductive materials to be used for electrostatic painting.

Structural parts, such as integrated front – side modules, are also produced from plastic, and particularly from its combinations with metals. This latest innovation demonstrates the future path to achieve the best performance of each by combining these materials.

Other important innovations are made in fuel systems. For this issue, the main focus is to provide fuel – efficiency and to reduce the emissions to the lowest level. More than a decade, by pneumatic – molding the ultra – high molecular weight, high dense polyethylene, fuel tanks are produced made hundred percent of plastics. Comparing to metal counterparts, these one – piece tanks without any additional divisions are much lighter, moreover because they can be molded in the best way possible, they provide design freedom to place the tanks even the most troublesome places.

It is estimated that 90% of the new automobiles have plastic fuel tanks. Development of the fuel tanks is an important hint about the potential of the plastics. Previously, inner surface of the tanks were processed to reduce the conductivity of polyethylene; today, especially in USA, to meet the emission standards, a polymer layer with high barrier and to connect it with the inner and outer layers, multi – layer tanks with connection layers are produced by pneumatic – molding.

An extra sixth layer is included to reuse the wastes generated during manufacturing. To provide electrical conductivity, multi – layer extrusion technology is increasingly preferred in fuel lines that require reducing the conductivity almost as little as to zero in some areas. The next step would be the integration of the whole fuel system which will be designed as a whole unit.

Reinforced resins that get harder with the heat, have important roles. Although there is almost fifty years of experience in the use of fiberglass reinforced resins in the bodywork is available, the usage of this material has been limited (sports cars and exclusive productions) due to the nature of this material which requires low volume manufacturing.
Yet recently, important improvements are seen in the development of processes for molding the fiber reinforced polyesters and polyurethanes at practical mass production levels. Consequently, outer body panels and buffer systems manufactured from these hot-curing materials are increasing.

Computer-aided design and manufacturing systems enable all participants of a project to design simultaneously. Even right now, driver and passenger cockpit modules, complete doors, air control systems and fuel systems are currently being developed by the biggest and most competitive companies.

Thanks to the versatility of plastics and developments in plastic technology, it is possible to use advanced shapes and forms without compromising the safety, comfort or safety of the automobile. This is why plastics are becoming very attractive materials for designers. The strength and durability of these materials also prolongs the average life of the automobile for more than 12 years, providing better protection against corrosion.

Due to their strengths and impulse resistance properties, from shock absorption to airbags, and side impact protection to seat belts, plastics provide basic safety features for bumpers. Plastics replacing windows and headlamp lenses assure 250 times more strength than glass.

Plastics began to replace conventional materials in the throttle bodies, moreover some companies are now pioneering the development of 40% less costly polyetherimide throttles, which are 40 percent lighter than the aluminum equivalent.

By using plastic, vehicle manufacturers can reduce the vehicle installation times and costs. Bumpers, fenders and control panels made of conventional materials that require the manufacture and assembly of many parts previously, can now be shaped with a single piece thanks to plastic use. Technological innovations mean that in modern vehicles plastics that are lighter, thinner but stronger are increasingly used.

Use of plastics which require less to do more work (by minimizing resource disposal) in vehicle design, help minimize environmental impact and save resources in. The actual challenge for both the automotive industry and the plastics suppliers is to work together not only to meet the cost/performance requirements, but also to develop new equipment that allows easier disassembly and recovery.

Today, the vehicles are already occupying the first part of the list of durable consumer products that can be reprocessed. More than 75 percent of the weight of an average car can be reprocessed, this ratio is more than any other product. Laws and regulations may have a positive impact on promoting even higher levels of reprocessing. But still, the excessive emphasis on reprocessing, reduces the optimal environmental recovery due to declination of utilizing all other available recovery paths.

Additionally, the proposal of reprocessing objectives and the dates to overcome these challenges should be carefully considered. Considering even further recycling, new cars are designed with even more detailed information on potential recovery techniques.

It is proven that thermoplastics in plastic industry can be easily recycled by conventional melting processes and that their heat-setting compounds can also be ground into powder to be used in new components. For both the thermoplastics and the compounds, the industry is rapidly developing chemical technologies. Many automotive groups, along with suppliers of plastic materials and automotive molders, have developed closed-circuit approaches where some parts are designated for recovery in order to manufacture other parts. Many automotive groups, along with plastic material suppliers and automotive molders, have developed closed-circuit approaches for some pieces to be manufactured via recycling of other pieces.

The collection and disassemble of the complex sub – equipments of an automobile may be difficult, but not impossible for certain. At the same time, it has been shown that only the plastics lead to more effective reprocessing paths than mechanical materials do. Technologies that enable mixed plastic parts to be chemically separated for the reformulation of the new plastics are being developed.

Despite being widely used, the natural resources that are required to manufacture automotive plastics represent only 0.3 percent of global petrol consumption. At the same time, by using the plastics, weight savings in significant amounts are achieved. In a modern automobile, about 100 kg of plastic replaces 200 to 300 kg of the traditional material. When all other factors are equal, this reduces the fuel consumption of an average automobile by 750 liters per 150,000 kilometers. The calculations show that this decreases petrol consumption in Western Europe by 12 million tons per year and consequently decreases CO2 release by 30 million tons per year.

In addition to preferring plastics for the benefits they supply to automotive design and performance, manufacturers are increasingly choosing these materials for their environmental benefits and their contribution to sustainable development. This way, resources can be used for future generations without restricting economic, social and environmental options.

Despite automobiles are now more durable, it is estimated that the number of automobiles that expire will be 12 million by the end of 2015. Since plastics find more and more solutions to automotive design and safety problems and create new technological opportunities, their presence in the automotive waste stream is growing. Plastic industry understands the need to improve the recycling of plastic parts in automotivs in order to get the most benefit from such a valuable resource. The goal of the industry is to achieve the best combination of recycling options to ensure maximum environmental gain at the lowest cost for the community.

In the future, plastics will begin playing an increasingly indispensable role in the manufacture and use of fuel cell. This is a new development that is designed to generate the power to drive electric cars. The versatility and flexibility of plastics will support the trend of manufacturing a wide range of automobiles on the same chassis frame and core set in the automotive industry, and consequently reducing the retail price and research and development time.

By using lightweight plastics, it will soon be possible to drive 50 kilometers with a liter of fuel and commercialization of electric cars, which require only 40 kW instead of the 120 kW as needed by traditional-sized automobiles, will be available in just a few years. As we move towards the next century, hybrid engines that provides energy from various sources such as fuel, plastic – based solar panels, batteries, and cells that generate electricity catalytically from hydrogen will be entrained to automobiles, and this will reduce CO2 emissions.

Soon, automobiles can even drive themselves using satellite-based Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to safely drive their passengers to the nearest hotel on a trip throughout the country. As we know, Tesla vehicles are currently doing a large part of this. New plastics are constantly being adapted to meet the needs of future electronic cars.

Plastics in automotive manufacturing will continue to make significant contributions to the desire to produce better, safer and cleaner cars. Plastic industry will continue to cooperate closely with the automotive industry in order to overcome this challenge by developing technologies and products which will make the transportation dreams come true.

Thanks to the plastics, today, the automobiles that we dream of are developed rapidly, offering high performance, optimized driving experience, advanced safety and comfort. Diversity will become the rule of thumb when products are increasingly adapted to individual requirements. The versatility and flexibility of plastics will support the trend of manufacturing a wide range of automobiles on the same chassis frame and core set in the automotive industry, and consequently reducing the retail price and research and development time.

Plastics in automotive manufacturing will continue to make significant contributions to the desire to produce better, safer and cleaner cars. Plastic industry will continue to cooperate closely with the automotive industry in order to overcome this challenge by developing technologies and products which will make the transportation dreams come true.