Beauty won over brawn in this year’s SPE Automotive Plastics Innovation Awards. The awards, which were announced in Detroit last month, went to six plastics applications selected from 18 finalists. As one of the judges, I noticed that this year’s entries emphasized pretty skin more than “bone structure.” That was quite the reverse of last year. This time, luxurious skins on instrument panels dominated the competition. Last year, it was super-strong long-fiber thermoplastic composites.
The Grand Award Winner is a noteworthy combination of both strength and appearance qualities. The Smart Roadster roof module (photo) has a glossy, pigmented surfacing film backed up with long-fiber polyurethane composite in an innovative example of in-mold film decorating.
TP composites were back in the winners’ circle this year with a BMW underbody closure compression molded of the first glass-mat thermoplastic (GMT) material made from a blend of chopped glass and polypropylene fibers. And a VW Golf front-end carrier demonstrated the commercial viability of in-line compounding long-glass polypropylene in a twin-screw extruder piggy-backed on an injection machine. However, thermosets got their due as well: SMC accounted for two finalists and an award winner in the Materials category. Polyester BMC and glass-filled phenolic were finalists in the Powertrain category, and phenolic was the winner. Also among the finalists were a carbon-fiber Corvette hood and Nissan driveshaft.
The lower IP carrier that won the Body Interior category did nothing to improve appearance, strength, or weight. Rather, it was the fulfillment of an engineer’s dream—a material substitution cut costs 43% without any changes to product design, tooling, or assembly methods.