Keynotes Among Highlights of Upcoming Automotive TPO Conference

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 1. September 2015



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.”



Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastics Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.



The Power of Color in Brand Identity

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 1. September 2015


Like other respected industry specialists in plastics color development, Plastics Color Corp., Calumet City, Ill., concedes that the task of finding the perfect color to ensure your plastic product or packaging stands out, while also presenting the image you desire, is not an easy one.  At the same time, color development teams like those at PCC are a valuable resource that you can opt to use.


According to PCC, a color development team can take your product from a simple idea to a finished piece, starting with your answering some key questions on your desired end result. Included are: What is the application for your product? In what lighting conditions and environment will it be used? What is the part thickness?


A good color development team, says PCC, will be able to merge the artistic aspect of color with the science of color development. With a team of pros analyzing where the current trends meet your desired specifications, you can achieve the ideal end result needed to help penetrate your desired market.


Paying attention to the psychology of color is key to PCC. The company notes that there are many reasons why an individual reacts to a specific color, much of which is a result of personal experience. As such, there is simply no exact equation that will trigger the same response in every single person. Yes, there are general attributes that have a universal interpretation, but context and culture matter. Yellow could mean happiness when paired with a smiley face. Or, it could mean caution when paired with a traffic light or sign.


That said, finding the correct color for your product or packaging is key. PCC cites Cardiff Business School professors Dr. Paul A. Bottomley and Dr. John R. Doyle, who penned their discovery that consumers question whether or not a given color is appropriate for a product. In their article, The Interactive Effects of Colors and Products on Perceptions of Brand Logo Appropriateness, customers  often go through an internal dialog—breaking down a product’s color, logo, and packaging before a purchase. Choose the wrong color for your brand, and you could possibly isolate potential customers.


According to author Satyendra Singh, Department of Administrative Studies, University of Winnipeg, “Up to 90% of snap judgements made about products are based on color alone.” In sum, not only does the color of your product or packaging matter, but it can have an immediate impact on whether or not a customer purchases the product.



Stabilized HDPE 'Shade Balls' Help Reduce Water Evaporation from L.A. Reservoir

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. August 2015


To help combat California’s devastating draught, a three-year collaboration among custom color and additives masterbatch supplier Techmer PM, Clinton, Tenn., blow molder Artisan Screen Printing, Azusa, Calif.,  and engineers from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), culminated to what are reportedly improved "shade balls." 


Designed to protect water quality, prevent algae growth, and slow evaporation, the four-inch plastic balls were recently placed in the L.A. Reservoir. This team resulted in solving problems associated with leaking and cracking at the seam lines and the creation of shade balls with a longer life expectancy than previous versions. The new balls are made of HDPE certified for drinking water, and a UV stabilizer and FDA-grade carbon black masterbatch from Techmer PM.


The project is estimated to protect the 3.3 billion gal of water in the reservoir for approximately ten years and annually save 300 million gal of water from evaporating. According to Techmer PM, of the 96 million shade balls used on the project, more than 89 million balls were produced by Artisan Screen Printing and include Techmer PM’s stabilized masterbatches.


Two other manufacturers of the black HDPE shade balls are Orange Products Inc., Allentown, Penn. and Glendora, California-based XavierC LLC. The idea of shade balls is said to have come from retired LADWP biologist Brian White, who was inspired by the “bird balls” used to deter birds in ponds along runways.


The black HDPE hollow shade balls are filled with water and hermetically sealed so they don’t blow away. The U.S. EPA has encouraged the country’s water managers in recent years to find ways to cover or contain their resources to prevent sunlight from reacting with chlorine and possibly creating carcinogens.


While the color of the balls may seem odd, it turns out that carbon black colorants have superior longevity over white TiO2 colorants. Reportedly, for example, there is a significant tensile strength deterioration of white shade balls within eight months versus the 10-year life expectancy of the black shade balls.

Custom Molder Partners with Another School Program

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 25. August 2015


An innovative custom molder for a variety of industries such as plastic packaging, beauty and cosmetics, amenities, household consumables, electronic connectors and medical measuring devices since 1982, Currier Plastics, Auburn, N.Y., is big on education partnerships.


This week, for instance, the company hosted a group of Auburn High School 9th graders that will be participating in this year’s P-Tech Auburn Pathways in Technology Program. This is a six-year program that encompasses more hands-on learning than a traditional school environment.


This P-Tech program blends academia with real-world experience and prepares the students for careers in the electrical and mechanical technology industries. Each student will be matched with a business mentor and gain professional experience during their high-school years and after six years, graduate with a New York State Regents diploma and an Associate’s Degree from Cayuga Community College.


Currier Plastics’ Diane Pisciotti, who holds the interesting title of director of talent, says, “We would love to pull candidates from this program and have already begun the process of selecting mentors…P-Tech is new and this is the first year of the grant. We will have tour guides to escort the students around our facility so they can see firsthand what opportunities lie ahead for them.”


Meanwhile, the company has also partnered with Cayuga Community College Plastics Technology program and provided engineering and molding expertise. This, in addition to donating an injection molding machine and negotiating the donation of additional equipment from some of the company’s vendors. 


Progress Continues on Novel Truck Fairing Concept Design

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. August 2015


Tightening fuel efficiency standards for larger trucks both in the U.S. and elsewhere, along with seeking a more environmentally responsible alternative to thermosets without sacrificing performance, has further prompted SABIC Innovative Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass., to come up with a novel thermoplastic roof fairing design concept that can potentially reduce fuel consumption of a heavy-duty truck by at least 3%.


Additionally, automotive general manager Scott Fallon says that the new design concept is aerodynamically optimized to deflect air by accelerating airflow through and across the top and sides of the roof fairing. This lead up to 5.9% drop in drag, which significantly improves the aerodynamic performance and fuel efficiency of the truck.


The new design concept incorporates air ducts to reduce front-end pressure and accelerate airflow both over the surface and through the fairing itself. In contrast, conventional roof fairings achieve aerodynamic efficiencies simply by maximizing airflow over smooth, closed surfaces. Fallon believes that through the improved aerodynamic performance of this one application alone, fleet operators stand to save millions of dollars in fuel costs each year and over the lifetime of the entire vehicle fleet.


A large, blue 3D printed version of the company’s aerodynamically-optimized roof fairing was displayed at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Kentucky this past March. The timing is crucial as the more stringent fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emission standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks beyond model year 2018 are expected to be in place by March 2016.


Just three years ago, the company played a key role in the development of the industry’s first injection-molded thermoplastic roof fairing, which is installed on heavy-duty trucks on the road today. SABIC worked with provider of engineered plastic systems CK Technologies, Montpelier, Ohio, and Volvo Trucks North America. This large component, molded with SABIC’s tough Cycoloy PC/ABS resin and CK Technologies’ proprietary in-mold coating technology, weighs 20-30% less than a comparable thermoset (e.g. SMC).


SABIC recognizes that a range of strategies are needed to meet new tougher efficiency targets. Says, Fallon, “Our lightweight materials can help reduce the overall weight of a truck, but those savings can be easily offset by increased payload capacity so we are finding other ways to help the industry realize fuel economy improvements. This is where thermoplastic-based solutions can be game-changing, thanks to the design freedom they deliver to create unique and intricate aerodynamic surfaces and structures like those found on our roof fairing concept.”


The company used Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulation technology to evaluate and quantify the aerodynamic performance of its roof fairing concept. Specifically, CFD modeling was applied to compare a baseline day cab with dimensions and geometry representative of top aerodynamically-optimized roof fairing. The CFD data helped reveal opportunities to alter the design for improved airflow and reduced drag.


In a recent update, SABIC sources confirm that further collaboration with the industry on the performance and styling requirements of truck OEMs has led them to pursue additional enhancements to the roof fairing design concept. This includes material selection—with Cycoloy PC/ABS and Noryl GTX PPO included in the running, as well as processing and tooling options.


A preliminary 1;8 scale wind tunnel test has already taken place, with a 30% model scale test scheduled within this year. On-road testing with the EPA—in support of its rule-making initiative for Phase 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Fuel Efficiency Standards for Medium- and Heavy-Duty Vehicles, will take place before year’s end at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas.


Want to find or compare materials data for different resins, grades, or suppliers? Check out Plastics Technology’s Plaspec Global materials database.


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