Interesting Finalists of 2016 SPE Auto Innovation Awards

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 27. December 2016

Take a look at these “runner-up” finalists in exterior, interior and chassis/hardware categories.


In two recent separate blogs (here and here) highlighting the award winners in nine categories of the 2016 SPE Automotive Innovation Awards, I noted that I would also highlight some of the finalists of certain categories that were particularly exceptional. Here are four such examples from the categories of body exterior, body interior, and chassis/hardware.


Exterior Body: Mold-In-Color (MIC) High-Gloss Body Color TPO Fascia. This component is featured on Ford’s 2017 Transit Connect and involved Advanced Composites’s ADX70004WFA TPO. Injection molded by Magna Exteriors, this MIC TPO fascia underwent rigorous testing to assure the material was resistant to stone pecking and road chemicals and would not change shape when exposed to high heat. Also used was a lens-grade mold with SP1 diamond polish and gating designed to minimize knitlines. The resulting fascia is a high-gloss, weather- and mar-resistant component. Moreover, it is 10% lighter, offers $800,000 annualized savings, and harmonizes with exterior painted components.



Interior Body: Thin-Wall Instrument Panel (IP) Substrate. Appearing on the Ford’s 2017 Lincoln Continental, this component is reportedly the thinnest full-size, deep-draw injection-molded IP in North America at 1.9 mm/0.07 in. A 30% glass-reinforced LFT-PPStamax 30YK270E, from SABIC was used and injection molded by Faurecia Interior Systems.


Compared to the 2.4 mm/0.009 in. microcellular foam-molded benchmark, this design is 14% lighter, saves over $1 in material cost as well as the microcellular-foaming investment, and helps optimize packaging. Moldfilling analysis with fiber orientation was used for accurate warpage predictions and to develop tooling countermeasures to facilitate part molding.



Chassis/Hardware: Rear Differential Cross-Member. This component appears on Daimler AG’s 2016 Mercedes S-Class and is said to be the first application where a nylon/glass composite has been used as a cross-member to support the rear differential and complete the rear cradle of a vehicle. BASF’s Ultramid A3WG10CR, a 50% glass-reinforced nylon 66 was used for the component which was injection molded by ContiTech North America. The material has been optimized for dynamic loads and is controlled with tighter production specs.


By replacing traditional parts in steel or aluminum, the injection-molded glass-reinforced nylon 66 design offers parts integration opportunities, is cost neutral, reduces noise transmission from the driveshaft, and reduces mass 25%, helping improve fuel economy and reduce tailpipe emissions.  


Color Trends Suggest Disappointment but Also Determination

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 22. December 2016

Clariant’s ColorForward team predicts 2018 colors to be organic tinged with grey, reflecting a “dark mood” among consumers.


Colorants are a topic on which we report on regularly—ranging from new highly-loaded masterbatches, liquid colorants, and special effects, to the important area of processing-related issues. Take a look for example at our September 2016, special supplement, “Color Done Right”. From time-to-time, we have also blogged about color trends and the ‘psychology of color’.


Typically, we’ll all be alerted to the coming year’s color trends as determined by some key suppliers of colorants & additives as well as materials, and sometimes targeted to specific end-markets—from food packaging to automotive. It is far rarer to see longer-term outlooks. One example, on which I blogged about this year, came from BASF’s Color Excellence Group and how they strived to come up with their ‘scientific predictions’ on 2020 automotive colors by global region.


The international ColorForward team of Clariant (U.S. headquarters in Charlotte, N.C.) just announced the release of ColorForward 2018, its 12th edition of the annual color forecasting guide for the plastics industry, by diving into the state of consumer attitudes and likely color preferences for the coming years. The team came up with four color predictions based on four global social trends, all of which reflect an over-arching feeling of sadness, fear and distrust of the current “conventional world”. At the same time, these trends suggest determination.


The ColorForward advantage comes from its long-term global view of social trends whereas other forecasts are more focused on reacting to short-term trends, according to Judith van Vliet, Clariant ColorWorks designer and leader of this team. “We will present the 2018 forecast at Heimtextil in Frankfurt in January and at Stockholm Design Week in February, and we have been invited to speak at the prestigious Fuse London design event in December… It is very unusual for a company like Clariant to be consulted on trends by the design community and I think it is a very real reflection of the respect they have for our work,” she says.


Meanwhile, ColorForward 2018 has been totally repackaged. The presentation materials are simpler and cleaner. The forecast developers composed a single image for each of the four trend themes. Then, discrete facets of each image are used to represent the different elements of each trend. The trend colors are offered in a printed booklet and with molded plastic plaques that allow participants not only to see the colors but also to touch them, feel them and hold them in different lighting or against different backgrounds. Here, then, are the Clariant ColorForward 2018 colors and trends, which are best described as organic and tinged with grey:


Newmorrow color palette includes a brownish green called Primordial Soup, which has been referred by some as the ‘ugliest color in the world,” but also remind us of the verdant, rich biological goop that spawned life as we know it. The team sees this trend theme as reflecting a ying-yang mood among consumers. One one hand, they believe the “system” is rotten; on the other, there is also a conviction that change is still possible—not by government but from grass-root efforts of individuals and small groups.


LongitudeLatitudeAttitude colorants are Bohemian—ranging from a purplish fuchsia, Nomadness, a warm, almost-orange yellow named Kaleido tribe, and a grey-blue called Cirrus aviaticus after the contrails of jet planes against the otherwise cloudless sky. So, dissatisfaction with convention is also behind this trend theme—which acknowledges that a growing number of human beings are choosing to have no fixed address—the “new nomads”. These New World citizens, says the team, cherish the flexibility of a lifestyle that embraces their passion for life on the move and the immerses them in a fusion of ethnicities and interests.


Through the mirror pearl orange color palette is inspired by a yoga practice based on the Sanskrit phrase ‘trataka’—to gaze steadily at a fixed spot in order to focus the mind inward, blanking out visual perception and withdrawing from the external world. This trend theme attempts to capture a sense of ennui—of being adrift in a modern world while, at the same time, knowing that a spiritual reawakening is possible.


Nerdylicious colors, while soft and subdued like most in the other trend groups, are nevertheless the brightest and most optimistic of any in the 2018 palette. Lightning Boot, for instance, is a transparent almost-orange yellow that is reminiscent of LED lights on a control panel, while Alberting out! is a slightly dirty optical white—a tribute to the ultimate nerd, Albert Einstein. It reminds one of lab coats gone dingy after back-to-back 18-hr work days. The Nerdylicious theme comes from the validation of a group of people long stereotyped as a bunch of quirky, overly intellectual misfits—the “nerds”. The trend theme sees these brainiacs finding acceptance as innovators in a complex world, with continuous curiosity and a passion for exploring new ideas and complex puzzles.  


Six More Winners of 2016 SPE Auto Innovation Awards

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 21. December 2016

Take a look at top-rated innovations in chassis/hardware, powertrain, process/assembly, safety, environmental, and aftermarket categories.


I recently reported on the winner of the body interior category, which was also the “grand award winner”, as well as the winners of the body exterior and materials categories of the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division’s 2016 Automotive Innovation Awards.


For those of us that were part of this year’s panel of Blue Ribbon judges, I can tell you that the finalists for the other six categories were just as interesting, making it just as challenging when voting for a “winner”.  Take a look.


Chassis/Hardware: Strut Mount.  Appearing on GM’s 2016 Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan, these parts represent the first use of a glass-reinforced nylon for strut-mount housings on all four corners of a vehicle and the first application of nylon housings on the front- and rear-suspension systems.



Injection molded by Tier 1 supplier ContiTech North America, these parts integrate common components for both front and rear mounts, and employ a special thread assembly method with a locking feature.

The material used is BASF’s 50% glass-filled Ultramid A3WG10CR nylon 66. These housings reduce mass by 30% versus typical steel and aluminum parts and help to reduce noise transmission through the suspension system. Thanks to modular assembly, this design also offers greater tuning flexibility.


Powertrain: Air-Intake Manifold. Featured in VW’s 2015 EA21 1.6L engines, this is said to be the first air-intake manifold launched in China using 35% glass-reinforced PPSABIC’s G3135X PP, to replace nylon 66. Injection molded by Tier 1 supplier Hua Tao Ltd., this part provides a 25-30% cost reduction and 15-20% molded-part weight reduction while retaining properties at high temperatures and improving weld strength, plus NVH levels by five decibels. Unique technology that involved finer glass fibers and special sizing reportedly helped meet performance requirements.



Process Assembly/Enabling Technologies: Robotic Laser Cutting and Welding of TPO Fascia. This application is featured on GM’s Chevy Camaro ZL1 sports car. The Tier I supplier was Magna Exteriors Inc./Magna Exterior-DexSys and the material is injection molding grade Hifax TYC1168X TPO from LyondellBasell, The application entailed the replacement of hydraulic punch and sonic welding with robotic laser cutting and welding of a Class A exterior fascia. Unlike other welding processes, it is not necessary to thicken wallstock in weld areas to prevent readthrough with robotic laser welding of brackets on the backside of the part, and that reduces weight slightly. It also eliminates the need for contoured horns and punches. Clean cuts can be made in one second on the part’s painted side. The dual-function process provides greater flexibility between programs and reduces floor space and tooling costs.



Safety: Seat Cushion Frame and Storage Door. This application,  featured on Ford’s 2016 Ford SuperDuty pickup, is reportedly the first time a polymer composite has replaced magnesium in a structural seat-cushion frame and under-seat storage lid for a front center 20% seat with integrated restraint system. Injection molded 40% LFT-PP—Celanese’s Celstran GF40-20 LFT PP—is used by Tier I Royal Technologies Corp. to mold the frame, which also features and expanded PP (EPP) antisubmarine foam block and a lockable cargo-latch.



The assembly represents a significant reduction in carbon footprint versus magnesium and has yielded two awarded and two pending patents. This application reportedly is weight neutral and lower cost ($4/unit), and satisfies all safety and crashworthiness requirements. Its flexible architecture allows for updates with further enhancements.


Environmental: Closed-Loop Recycling of Bottles. Recycled post-consumer PET nonwoven fleece is used for multiple applications and featured on GM’s 2016 Chevy Equinox & GMC Terrain cross-over utility vehicles. The Tier supplier is Exo-s/Rogers Foam Co. and the material supplier is William T. Burnett & Co.



Water bottles collected at GM operations and from the Flint, Mich., area are directed into a supply chain that recycles the material into nonwoven fleece for specific applications including engine manifold cover insulation. They are also used as insulation for coats that convert to sleeping bags for the homeless that are actually made by formerly homeless women as part of a jobs program. Finally, they are used for air filters that purify the air at numerous GM and other manufacturing operations. This innovative, multi-stakeholder, cost-neutral recycling project protects the environment, grows local economies, creates jobs, and helps people ins a sustainable manner. Already 3.5-million water bottles had been repurposed by mid-2016.


Aftermarket: Carbon-Fiber Composite Spoiler.  This sole thermoset winner, featured on GM’s 2016 Chevy Corvette sports car and produced by Tier 1 deBotech, Inc., is a one-piece aftermarket epoxy/carbon fiber spoiler—Solvay’s MTM5790 epoxy. It is said to provide a premium carbon composite appearance and to enable the same aerodynamic performance as production three-piece spoilers with different aero variants while also reducing mass by 40%. The spoiler’s unique design and proprietary tooling combines solid wickerbills and an open cavity blade plus integral threaded inserts to facilitate manufacturing and assembly. The one-piece construction offers a cleaner appearance due to reduction of fasteners. The spoiler is offered in both clear coat with exposed weave and painted in carbon flash metallic paint.



In subsequent blog posts I will highlight some of the other finalists in each of those categories that I’m certain you’ll find merit attention.


SPE Auto Innovation Awards Winners Span Nine Categories

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 20. December 2016

The 2016 interior category winner was also the grand award winner.


The winners of the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division’s 2016 Automotive Innovation Awards spanned nine categories, including the winner of the interior category, which also garnered the “grand award”.


A panel of Blue Ribbon judges, which I again had the fortune to be on, voted for this year’s most innovative uses of plastics in automotive parts.


As in previous years, these nine winners as well as several of the other final nominees presented applications that were unique and often times represented a “first”, either as a metal replacement or as an improved plastic replacement.


It is interesting to see that this year, thermoplastics weighed-in in eight of the awards, with thermosets featured in one, with ‘composites’ popping up often.


Let’s take a look at the 2016 “grand award winner”, the second consecutive year in which the body interior category received that honor, as well as the winners of the body exterior and materials categories. I will follow up with a blog on the winners of the other six categories, and in subsequent blog posts, I’ll highlight some of the other finalists in each of those categories that I’m certain you’ll find merit attention for their innovations.


Body Interior & Grand Award Winner: Composite Suspensions for Upper and Lower Backs. Characterized as a “perfect position seat” suspension system, thanks to integrated composite designs, they are featured in Ford’s 2017 Lincoln Continental luxury sedan. This system, for which 83 patents have been filed, is said to deliver tuned suspension to optimize occupant comfort by cradling the upper back and providing side-torso support, which flexes to accommodate various occupant sizes.

Special attachment features facilitate assembly and service time. This design is also said to create a robust dynamic crash-energy management system for rear-impact protection. Molded-in color is used for Class A surfaces and craftsmanship. Moreover, this system reduced seat weight by 8% and cost by 15% despite adding more features.


Materials used include BASF’s Ultramid B3ZG7 OSI and  B3EG3 nylons, Advanced Composites’ ADX 5017 TPO; and DuPont Automotive’s Delrin 100 POM. Tier I suppliers/processors were Leggett & Platt Inc. and Magna International/Summit Plastics Molding & Century Plastics.


Body Exterior: Structural Front-End Module with Active Grille Shutter. This part, featured in Ford’s 2016 Ford SuperDuty pickup, is an all-composite design without metallic reinforcement that is reportedly the first active grille shutter (AGS)-capable, injection-molded LFT-PP front-end module bolster used on a heavy-duty platform.

Replacing steel and plastic/metal hybrids at a 3 lb and $3 savings per vehicle, this design offers part consolidation with locating features that aid fit and finish, improve air flow, and meet structural requirements for part deflections of <1mm on this 8500-lb class vehicle. Shape Corp. is the Tier I supplier and Celanese’s Celstran 40-20 long-fiber thermoplastics (LFT) PP are the material.


Materials: Vacuum Brake Tubes. Featured in GM’s 2016 Chevy Silverado & Sierra pickups, this required a high-performance thermoplastic for vacuum brake tubing that could replace reinforced rubber. The OEM and Tier I supplier Cooper Standard looked for a material that had a broad temperature performance (-40 to 150 C), chemical resistance, burst strength to 60 bar minimum and flexural strength to 50 N minimum.

The material also had to resist vacuum collapse after 2 hr @ 150 C and provide retention after 336 hr @ 150 C. The design was changed to use a smaller diameter and thinner wall to simplify engine/undercarriage routing and eliminate heat shields plus allow quick connects. DSM Engineering Plastics developed Arnitel CM622, a thermoplastics polyester elastomer (TPC-ET) with high thermal oxidative stability. It is 30% lighter, less costly, and eliminates brackets. 

Will Oil Price Fluctuations Continue to Be a Key Driver In PE Pricing?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 13. December 2016

Oil prices just rallied above the $50/bbl mark; this, while PE prices continued to decline this month.


Within the last four to five years, crude oil prices have been one of the key drivers influencing PE pricing. Plunging oil prices this year helped keep PE prices relatively stable until September when suppliers successfully implemented a 5ȼ/lb increase; this owing to tightened supply at the time.


In fact, the September PE price was the highest since January 2015, when crude oil first dropped to $45/bbl from $90/bbl. Also that month, domestic commodity PE film processors followed suit by announcing price hikes of 6%.


At that time, I spoke with Mike Burns, Resin Technology, Inc.'s (RTi) v.p. of client services for PE, and he cautioned on likely competition from imported finished PE goods that could emerge following this action. Burns emphasized the influence of the plastic bag market on overall PE pricing by noting these key factors:           


Nearly 40% of PE sold is used for film applications: retail bags, garbage bags, food packaging, construction, medical supplies, etc.


Cost to produce a retail bag, grocery bag or can liner in China/Southeast Asia and deliver to a North American city is 25ȼ/lb over the cost of resin.


Cost to produce a retail bag, grocery bag or can liner in North America and deliver to a North American city is also 25ȼ/lb over the cost of resin.


Note: In 2015 and 2016, the average cost to produce and deliver PE pellet derived from oil/naphtha was near 45ȼ/lb; for that same time frame North America’s average cost to produce and deliver PE pellet from shale gas was 30ȼ/lb).


North American PE suppliers need to keep film production in North America.


When the price delta exceeds 10%, retailers call China/Southeast Asia.


Although Burns, and other industry pros, initially thought PE suppliers would aim to hold on to that 5ȼ/lb margin gain through year’s end, by the October-November time frame, things were looking quite different. Industry dynamics, including suppliers’ growing inventories, sluggish export demand, some softness in domestic demand, and lower prices abroad hampered that aim.


Burns had noted that “something had to give”.  He pointed out that PE contract prices were now 5ȼ above what they should be. At the same time, spot prices were as much as 10ȼ/lb lower vs. a more typical 5-7ȼ less than contract prices. Ditto for export prices which were 15ȼ lower vs. a more typical 7-10ȼ less than contract prices.


By early November, PE suppliers offered price concessions of 3 cents/lb, and some signaled further drops for December on the order of 2-5ȼ/lb, with 2-3ȼ, a more realistic expectation, ventured Burns. Speaking with Burns on December 1, regarding what might happen in January, he noted that if crude oil prices moved up to an expected $50/bbl, that may stop any further PE decreases, but will not result in increases. Only if oil prices rise beyond $55/bbl, will shale gas prices also move up, as will PE prices, he ventured.


Which bring us to Monday, Dec. 12, when nearly a dozen non-OPEC producers agreed to reduce their crude oil output in support of OPEC’s efforts to prop up prices. Prices jumped to $53.95/bbl, with some analysts talking about a $60/bbl or more emerging.


However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook stated that the resurgence of U.S. shale will undermine the OPEC-fueled price rally, putting a cap on oil prices at about $50/bbl through 2017. The EIA also is doubtful on how much OPEC will actually follow through on its deal.


“The extent to which the announced plans will be carried out and actually reduce supply below levels that would have occurred in their absence remains uncertain.” The agency ventures that an above $50/bbl rally will simply serve to revive U.S. shale drilling, which will “encourage a return to supply growth in U.S. tight oil more quickly than expected.”


Back to RTI’s Burns, whose 2017 forecast is based on RTi’s naphtha resin cost model; namely, naphtha has a close10:1 ratio with oil—it moves very close to oil price movements. Every $2/bbl change in oil prices equals approximately 1ȼ/lb in the cost to make a pellet from naphtha. As such, every $10/bbl price movement above or below $50/bbl will increase or decrease the PE price 4-5ȼ/lb.


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