I’m looking forward to attending the 17th-annual SPE TPO Automotive Engineered Polyolefins Conference being held at the Marriott Hotel in Troy, Mich., Oct. 4-7. This conference typically draws more than 700 attendees from 20 countries who are interested in learning about the latest in rigid and elastomeric TPO as well as TPE and TPV technologies.
Not only will this year’s event be the most session-packed conference to date, but there’s an impressive lineup of keynote speakers. They will discuss important issues facing the automotive-plastics market including future automotive trends and the global outlook for automotive polyolefins. Keynotes from both Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. are among the highlights. Here’s a closer look, and in the words of the speakers.
• TPO: A Customer’s Perspective, by Michael Whitens, director of Ford’s Vehicle & Enterprise Sciences (shown above). “We automakers live in a rapidly changing world where we’re under relentless pressure to lower CO2 emissions, reduce vehicle weight, increase safety and fuel efficiency, and of course continually add new technology while maintaining or lowering the cost of our vehicles. That’s a very challenging set of deliverables for this whole industry. In my talk, I’ll discuss what a customer, namely Ford Motor Co., wants and needs with regard to thermoplastic polyolefins. I’ll cover some key improvements that have boosted performance and lowered cost over the past few decades, then describe areas where we’d like to see these materials improve as we move forward. If the TPO community can do this, it’ll create the window of opportunity for TPOs to displace more costly materials.”
• The Evolution of TPO Material Performance, by Matt Carroll, GM’s engineering group manager (shown below). “The performance of thermoplastic polyolefins for interior and exterior components has been scrutinized and steadily improved over the past 20 years. Besides the all-important dimensional stability of parts, material properties like UV stability, oxidative stability, impact resistance, scratch and mar resistance, stiffness for handling, and paintability are all keys to producing successful parts. In several cases, the property needs are in conflict and a ‘balancing act’ is required to optimize part performance. In this talk, I’ll review improvements in performance of TPO over time and provide some personal thoughts about future usage and growth of this class of polymers in the automotive industry.”
• The Auto Future: Fast, Furious and Exciting, by Dr. David Cole, chair of Auto Harvest Foundation. “The auto industry has gone through an amazing transformation in the past few years. Through capacity reduction, restructured labor contracts, financial restructuring, staff reductions, new technological tools, global scale, and more, the U.S. auto industry’s break-even has been significantly reduced. The domestic manufacturers, in particular, have become more competitive as they have moved from a cost disadvantage to cost parity with many of their international competitors. This is evident with their surprising level of profitability. There are a number of concerns, however: there is still excess capacity at the global level; with re-expansion of the domestic market there is a growing shortage of appropriately educated future employees and that’s exacerbated by accelerated retirement of ‘Boomers’. Furthermore, there are tough new regulations to meet, economic uncertainty across many of the world’s economies, and much more. Because of all this, we’re at the edge of a revolution in both product and process technologies. New production facilities are both lean and agile with advanced software control everywhere. In the product area, the powertrain is moving to at least partial electrification, but advanced internal combustion engines assure a lively competition for some time to come. New material systems are being developed that feature significant advances is both materials and their manufacturing processes. And the connected vehicle is becoming a reality that will yield enormous benefits, particularly is safety. All, in all, the modern auto industry is on the move and the process of change is accelerating.”
• Global Outlook for the Polyolefin and Automotive Businesses, by Brian K. Welder, president-Sumika Polymers North America, Inc. “I’ll start by discussing long-term trends affecting polypropylene, polyethylene, and the elastomers supply base. Then, I’ll look at current trends in the automotive industry for TPOs and TPEs. Finally, I’ll discuss some future trends we anticipate that will affect the entire global automotive resin market.”
• Oil, Shale Gas, Fuel Efficiency, Lightweighting & Other Funny Things that Happened on the Way to the TPO Forum, by John Moyer, president & CEO, Asahi Kasei Plastics North America. “My talk will begin with a discussion of all the changes in the world of energy costs and I expect that there will be more changes between now and October. I will also talk about compounders—both how we fit into this world of plastics and how we can change rapidly to meet the ever-changing world.”
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