New Industry/University Alliance's Focus: A Recyclable Thermoplastic Auto Suspension System

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 15. October 2015

Mexico’s Rassini, a designer and manufacturer of suspension and brake components for the automotive industry has partnered with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to advance the development of composite materials in vehicle design, with a primary aim of developing a thermoplastic suspension systems that is fully recyclable for its entire lifecycle.


Rassini, which has set up its key technology development center in Plymouth, Mich., is the world’s largest manufacturer of suspension components for light commercial vehicles. Suspension products include leaf springs (parabolic and multi-leaf) for light and commercial trucks, coil springs and bushings. In July of this year, the company expanded its suspension offerings to include leaf springs for the North American heavy commercial truck market. The company noted that the growing forecasts for the region’s commercial truck market has allowed it to enter this arena with a strong position and it anticipates doubling its market share by 2018.


Rassini is also the largest fully-integrated brakes disc manufacturer in the Americas, with eight manufacturing sites and technical centers strategically located in Mexico, the U.S., and Brazil. The brakes business manufactures rotors, drums, brake assemblies, clutch plates and motor balancers. Its diversified customer base includes GM, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Maserati, Mercedes Benz, Daimler, and VW.


Meanwhile, UAB and Rassini previously collaborated last year in the development of a lightweight, high-performance vehicle that competed in the Grand Touring Lite classification in the Sports Car Club of America. Also in partnership with Polystrand and PPG Industries, the project tested the latest in continuous fiber thermoplastic composite technologies under extreme driving conditions, gathering data and insights into the part’s performance.


This year’s agreement provides UAB-School of Engineering students the opportunity to closely examine and study the applications for fiber-reinforced thermoplastics in a vehicle’s suspension system with access to accredited professionals. Specifically, the program focuses on designing and creating reference models, methodologies and tools for rapid product innovation and realization for leaf springs in the light truck market.


“As the demand for composite materials continued to grow across all industries, Rassini is committed to improving its work product. We want to leverage our technological expertise and help identify state-of-the-art concepts that generate significant contributions related to thermoplastics and suspension design. We are pleased to be initiating this relationship with UAB in an effort to accelerate technologies for product and process innovation,” says Bob Friedrichs, v.p. of corporate engineering, NA Suspension Group at Rassini.


UAB is one of very few universities nationwide with an established Materials Processing and Applications Development Center (MPAD) committed to the advancement of thermoplastic composites manufacturing, equipped with large-scale manufacturing facilities that provides industry with materials development to prototyping opportunities. Adds, Brian Pillay, associate professor and director of UAB’s MAPD, “Besides the productive synergy of industry ‘pull’ and the technology ‘push’ from UAB researchers, this opportunity gives our students exposure to the professionals at Rassini and affords them a unique opportunity of solving current industry-related problems in a fast-paced, real-world situation. The experience they will receive will be invaluable as they prepare for their careers in engineering.”


Three TPO Applications Awarded at SPE Auto TPO Event

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 13. October 2015


Last week I attended the 17th SPE TPO Automotive Engineered Polyolefins Conference which was chock full of interesting technology developments—and the largest event in its history, with over 70 presentations in nine technical tracks in three parallel sessions.


For the last several years, the conference has included two awards—one for the most interesting exterior automotive application and one for the most interesting interior application. This year, an environmental category was added. Here are the three winners:


• The exterior trim category award went to Asahi Kassei Plastics for a TPO tonneau cover assembly on the 2016 MY (Model Year) Toyota Tacoma pickup. Its key benefits: reduced weight, reduced cost, reduced assembly plant-complexity, improved appearance, improved fit & finish, and improved safety.


• The interior trim category award went to IAC (International Automotive Components) for the A-pillar with integrated assist grip for the 2015 MY Chrysler and Dodge Minivans. Its key benefits: reduced weight, reduced part count, reduced assembly-plant complexity, reduced cost, improved fit & finish, and improved safety.


• The environmental—green category award went to Faurecia for the door trim panel with NAFILean (renewably-sourced natural fiber) for the 2013 MY Peugeot 308. Its key benefits: reduced weight, reduced cost, and renewable source. 




DuPont Celebrates 80th Anniversary of Nylon

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 12. October 2015


Nylon, the breakthrough material invented by DuPont researcher Wallace Carothers in 1935 is credited for making many consumer goods—stockings, toothbrushes, hand-held devices—more affordable, attractive and accessible to everyone globally. The 80-year-old lightweight material is frequently used to replace metal, lowering weight and cost and inviting design freedom and parts integration.


Nylon is known to have revolutionized the textile/fashion industry. But the material’s versatility and strength, backed by science to coax out added performance and a global development network to support customers, proved to be the formula that earned nylon its reputation and its place as one of DuPont’s most successful products. “If the performance launched the polymer, then design freedom helped it grow and adaptability keeps it young. As long as designers can dream it, we can help them manufacture it,” says DuPont Performance Polymers president Patrick Lindner. Here are some key nylon milestones:


1935—Dr. Wallace Carothers discovered nylon, the world’s first true synthetic fiber, and one of DuPont’s most successful products. Carothers was lured from Harvard to DuPont in 1927 with the promise that he could pursue basic research, specifically looking at polymers—molecules with long, repeating chain structures. During his nine years with DuPont, Carothers filed for more than 50 patents.


1939—Nylon was commercialized remarkably quick. After determining that low-cost production was possible and settling on a target market (women’s hosiery), DuPont built a full-scale nylon plant in Seaford, Del., and began commercial production in 1939. From the time it went on sale to the general public in May 1940, nylon hosiery was a huge success: women lined up at stores across the country to obtain the precious goods.


1941—Era of metals replacement began with the development of nylon into an engineering polymer. During World War II, the U.S. government advised replacing metals with plastics whenever possible and DuPont began large-scale production of its new nylon resin for use in gears, cams, valves and ball bearings.


1954—DuPont trademarked the resin Zytel nylon and marketed it as a lightweight, heavy-duty industrial and engineering plastic resistant to hear and corrosive chemicals. DuPont’s research into high-performance polymers extended beyond nylons to include acetals and polyesters.


 1968—DuPont introduced glass-reinforced nylon, improving its already impressive list of properties. The coming decades would see growing adoptions of nylon to replace metal in radiator end tanks, engine cooling fans, wire harnesses, emission-control devices and power-steering reservoirs.


1973—DuPont researcher Bennet Epstein blended nylon with small amounts of other resins to make “Super Tough” DuPont Zytel ST. Its introduction during the 1973-74 oil shortage proved timely as automobile manufacturers used it in gas tanks, interior panels and engine components to reduce vehicle weight and increase gas mileage. The success of Zytel ST in automobiles soon led to new applications in appliances, wire insulation, sporting gear and home furnishings.


1992—After years of development and testing, General Motors adopted Zytel nylon for one of its most popular and reliable engines—the 3800. This marked the first high-volume commercial adoption of nylon in an air-intake manifold and paved the way for a wholesale global shift from metal to plastic in manifolds over the next decade. By the time the venerable GM3800 engine retired in 2008, the 65% reduction in mass vs. aluminum eliminated the need for more than 2.6-million barrels of oil.


1994—DuPont introduced Zytel HTN to cost-effectively bridge the performance gap between conventional engineering resins and high-end specialty polymers. Zytel HTN PPA grades retain stiffness, strength and mechanical properties despite exposure to high temperatures, chemicals and moisture, making them ideal for automotive underhood components and systems, connectors and bushings. Structural grades of Zytel HTN help provide larger display areas when used in backbones for cell phones, PDAs and other hand-held devices.


2009—A four-year collaboration between DENSO and DuPont Performance Polymers resulted in a plant-derived DuPont Zytel RS 610 nylon resin that debuted on a Toyota Camry radiator end tank. The development earned the development team a “Most Innovative Use of Plastics” award from the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Division. The renewable sourced polyamide family, which also includes Zytel RS nylon 1010, is made of 20% to 100% by weight of renewable content derived from sebacic acid, a non-food crop.


2010—DuPont Performance Polymers launched Zytel PLUS nylon, which delivers excellent performance levels and importantly maintains those excellent performance levels much longer than traditional nylons despite exposure to hot oil, hot air, calcium chloride and other aggressive automotive chemicals.


2015 and Beyond:


Automotive—DuPont continues to expand the portfolio of Zytel, Zytel HTN, Zytel PLUS and specialty resins to help automakers reduce weight and improve efficiency to cost-effectively lower emissions and improve fuel economy.


Consumer Electronics—New Zytel HTN grades provide hand-held device designers with greater freedom so they can continue to refresh the look, feel and upgrade performance, while delivering a better environmental footprint with renewably sourced grades.


Design Freedom—DuPont’s science continues to adapt the material’s functionality combined with the material’s ease of processing and DuPont global design expertise can help design engineers shape their ideas for components and products used in most every industrial and consumer product.



Will SABIC Invest in Production of Polyolefins in North America?

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 9. October 2015


Quickly sweeping across the industry this week was the news that SABIC Innovative Plastics, Pittsfield, Mass., will no longer be in existence next year as the company sets up its new regional headquarters for all of its Americas-based business in the Greater Houston, Texas area.


This is part of a global restructuring, expected to be in place by January 1, 2016, that is aimed at creating a more agile, cost-efficient, and customer-focused organization whose needs are more effectively met, according to the company. SABIC’s Innovative Plastics Strategic Business Unit (SBU) will be split--with commodity products to be part of the Chemicals and Polymers SBUs, and the remaining Innovative Plastics products to be part of the newly created Specialties SBU.


Officials have not made it entirely clear what constitutes the commodity products, but I would venture it would include polyolefins and possibly Cycolac ABS and associated LNP-brand compounds, as well as Lexan PC, with the Specialties SBU containing the Ultem PEI and Noryl PPE. “This reorganization will focus resources more intensively on the needs of each line, enhancing customer intimacy with more focused solutions provision and helping move SABIC to the next level of portfolio product management,” said Yousef Abdullah Al-Benyan, Acting Vice Chairman and CEO of SABIC.


In one of two press releases, the company noted that a key driver of this change is the differing technology priorities of commodity and specialty businesses. The future of the commodity line will depend heavily on innovations around advancing feedstock technology. Specialty products face separate technology challenges, including the need to seek out technology acquisitions and partnerships or joint ventures that can enrich SABIC’s existing portfolio.


Based on that latter statement and the fact that SABIC officials within the near past have said there is an interest in exploring investment opportunities that would capitalize on new natural gas supplies, it would not be entirely surprising to hear that the company would start production of polyolefins and their feedstocks, whether through a joint venture or otherwise. My two cents at this early stage is that they might opt first for PP production—where supply is tight, and we have yet to hear firm new capacity announcements from any of the key domestic PP suppliers. Oh, and let us not forget—demand growth for PP of nearly 6% through third quarter of this year.


SABIC has said that in building this new regional headquarters, several American functional teams will be led from the Houston area, including a “number of roles”, out of the 300 employees, that are currently based in Pittsfield. The company has also not made a decision on the future of the Pittsfield Polymer Processing Development Center which has been known for over 25 years for the latest in plastics processing technology with SABIC’s engineering resins.

Global Fiberglass Market Study Projects Continued Growth

By: Lilli Manolis Sherman 5. October 2015


A comprehensive examination of the global fiberglass market—where it’s at and where it’s headed, is the topic of the latest report from India-based market research firm MarketsandMarkets (M&M). Fiberglass Market by Type (Roving, Yarns), by Application (Composites, Insulations) & by Region—Trends & Forecasts to 2020 defines and segments the fiberglass market with analysis and forecast of the market size. The report projects the global fiberglass market value to reach $15.57 billion by 2020.


M&M says the current market is largely dominated by the developed markets. Asia-Pacific and North America collectively held 78.1% of the global market share in 2015. Asia-Pacific is the dominant market globally. The growth is due to the increasing applicability of fiberglass in various industries such as building & construction. The industrial development of the region is driving upwards the demand of various composite materials used in this market sector.


Meanwhile, North America is one of the fastest-growing consumers of fiberglass—a trend that is expected to continue in the near future, Asia-Pacific is the biggest market for fiberglass, accounting for a share of about 55% of the total market size. In terms of volume, China is the highest revenue-generating market for fiberglass in Asia-Pacific. And, it appears to be the faster-growing market for fiberglass in that region. Continuous product development by the participant companies are boosting the market applications base for fiberglass, thus increasing volume consumption. Among some of the prominent players are China’s Jushi Group, U.S.’s Owens Corning, and France’s Saint-Gobain Vetrotex.


Asia-Pacific and North America are at the forefront of the global fiberglass market, with China and Japan the key markets in Asia-Pacific. China consumed more than half of the demand for fiberglass in that region followed by Japan where consumption is growing at a steady rate. Despite some production capacities present in developing countries, such as China and India, these capacities have proven to be more export-oriented than in the favor of promoting domestic growth for fiber glass. China has developed significant market share in the global fiberglass market, however the competition from carbon fiber and rock wool restricts this market growth.


The report categorizes the global fiberglass market on the basis of application—composites, insulation and others with each application  further described in detail with forecasted volumes and revenues; , type—roving and yarns; and geography—North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and RoW. It forecasts volumes, revenues, and analyzes trends in each of the submarkets. 

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