Advanced polymers help transportation industry react change

Advanced polymers help transportation industry react to change

9:42 AM, 22nd January 2018
Advanced polymers help transportation industry react to change
Thinkstock Cars parked on street. Advanced polymers can help manufacturers keep apace of the changes in the transportation industry.

Chart this decade’s production figures from the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers, and you will need plenty of space on the Y-axis. Total output has climbed from 2.03 million vehicles in 2011, to 2.53 in 2017, a 20 percent increase.

Absolute growth is not the only change coming to India’s transportation industry. Last August the government made waves when it announced its goal of an all-electric vehicle future for India by 2030. Will it come to pass? At this point, it is difficult to predict, but it is a safe bet that change will remain constant in the industry.

Where will the changes take India’s transportation industry, and how can advanced polymers help manufacturers react to change? Consider three trends in the global automotive industry.

Transition to electric vehicles:  Whether all vehicles will transition to electric vehicles in the coming decades is debatable, but there will be many more electric vehicles sold in the coming years. “The advent of electric vehicles will create many new opportunities for polymers, in under-the-hood applications but also in vehicle interiors,” said Kelly Wessner, transportation-marketing director, Specialty Engineered Materials, at PolyOne.

Interest and demand growth is high, but consumers remain concerned about the limited driving range of electric vehicles, noted Wessner. To increase range, OEMs are considering strong, lightweight polymers to replace metal because heavier vehicles consume more power and do so at a faster rate.

“Replacing metal with durable polymer components can extend the distance driven per charge while also enabling vehicles to stand up to the normal wear-and-tear of driving,” Wessner said. “For PolyOne, that means interest is high among electric vehicle manufacturers in our advanced composites, including Gordon™ thermoset continuous fibre solutions, Polystrand™ thermoplastic continuous fibre solutions, OnForce™ LFT long fibre reinforced materials, and reSound™ NF natural fibre reinforced materials.”

Replacing metal with polymer-based solutions is not new for the transportation industry, but increasing the range of electric vehicles poses more challenges than simply reducing weight. For example, polymers used in under-the-hood applications must contend with supercharged batteries. “We are seeing increased demand for flame retardant materials in under-the-hood applications, as batteries become bigger and more power-dense,” explained Wessner.

As batteries increase in size, so too does their weight. This added weight needs to be offset elsewhere on a vehicle. Managing heat from the batteries also is a concern, and here, thermally conductive polymers may prove an effective solution, Wessner noted. “The flipside of managing heat from the batteries is managing cold temperatures, which affect battery performance and drop the driving range of vehicles. PolyOne is collaborating with carmakers interested in its Therma-Tech™ thermally conductive materials to help solve these battery-related thermal challenges at both ends of the range,” she added.

Interiors, not Engines, as a Differentiating Factor

Car-savvy consumers for a long time have bought vehicles based on a car’s engine, which defined a vehicle’s speed and fuel economy. As electric vehicles gain market share, the importance of engine technology will drop. OEMs, seeking a way to differentiate, are eyeing a vehicle’s interior as the next battleground for consumers.

Late last year, PolyOne launched its Smartbatch™ Fabric FX colour and additive concentrates for automotive interior applications. These materials help automotive manufacturers design and efficiently manufacture attractive interior parts that mimic the appearance of being covered with textile, explains Gary Fielding, global marketing director for Color & Additives at PolyOne. The technology can also support manufacturers in the consumer goods, furniture, and other industries who want to raise the perceived quality of their products.

Manufacturers applying fabric to polymer parts in a secondary processing step can transition to SmartBatch™ Fabric FX formulations and realize cost savings while increasing flexibility in the production process. Adding textile to a part adds to its consumer appeal; the textile softens the look and feels of the surface. But using textile requires multiple manufacturing steps, as well as managing the purchasing and storage of the textile. The SmartBatch™ Fabric FX solutions provide a manufacturer with the flexibility to dose the innovative concentrate directly at an injection moulding machine, with ready-to-use parts exiting the mould, explains Gary Fielding.

Smartbatch™ Fabric FX masterbatch can be incorporated into many types of polymers, including PP and PC/ABS, the two typically used in automotive interiors. The fabric graining and colour can be tailored to maximize interior colour harmony. Potential automotive applications include A-, B- and C-pillars, door panels, and other interior parts.

Without the drone of engine noise, passengers in electric vehicles will hear more ambient road noise. Thermoplastic elastomers able to dampen the vibration of a vehicle’s components, such as PolyOne’s Versaflex™ VDT materials, can play a part in reducing this noise and improving the driving experience, explained Wessner.

Reduce weight without compromising strength and safety

Whether to improve fuel economy or reduce the use of electricity, the shift to lightweight materials will continue. Lightweight solutions from PolyOne include its OnForce™ LFT long fibre reinforced solutions, which offer a high strength/weight ratio at densities well below those of metals, plus the processability of a thermoplastic. PolyOne also offers solutions such as its OnCap™ foaming agents, which are selected for applications such as instrument panels.

In one case study presented at a recent event in Gurugram, PolyOne’s Devendra Jain, business development manager India for PolyOne, noted that the company’s OnCap™ chemical foaming agents were able to reduce the weight of a 2.5 kg instrument panel (glass fiber reinforced PP) by 9 percent, while the competition—a physical foaming process- only achieved 5-6 percent weight reduction. And in contrast to physical foaming systems, the OnCap™ CFA solution required no capital investment.

These trends offer a quick look at how speciality polymers can help the transportation industry meet its challenges. “We anticipate the trends we have seen in the automotive industry over the last 3-5 years will accelerate,” added Wessner. “Lightweighting will remain a key topic, coupled with passenger comfort, safety, and more efficient manufacturing. These trends pose challenges, but our lineup of solutions for the industry is strong. It’s a great time to be developing new polymer-based solutions for the automotive industry.”

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Manufacturers Discuss Challenges, Opportunities during Seminar  

More than 60 experts from India’s transportation industry joined PolyOne for a seminar in Gurugram to discuss ways that advanced polymers could help support the development of the country’s industry.

“In India, we are seeing increased use of 2K (multi-material) moulding and increased use and interest in advanced polymer materials,” said Vikas Vij, managing director of PolyOne’s operations in India. Manufacturers interested in 2K moulding turn to PolyOne for the hard and soft materials, and also for its expertise in the design of these parts. “We are a global leader and one of the very few companies in India able to offer engineered polymers as well as thermoplastic elastomers,” noted Vij. In early 2017 PolyOne added capacity to manufacture formulations based on polyamide, polyacetal, and other engineering thermoplastics, at its facility in Pune. The new capacity enables PolyOne to support customers with specially engineered materials in addition to the colour and additive concentrates that already were produced domestically in India.

“Interest among Indian manufacturers in our speciality engineered solutions, such as Bergamid high-performance materials, Bergadur reinforced materials, and Maxxam flame retardant formulations is on the rise. Making these materials available locally highlights our commitment to collaborate more effectively with customers in India,” said Holger Kronimus, vice president Europe and general manager, Specialty Engineered Materials, at PolyOne.

The purpose-built facility in Pune was opened in 2014. Colorants and additives produced there serve multiple end-use markets, including transportation, electronics & electrical, healthcare, wire & cable, and packaging.

“India offers many growth opportunities for our customers, and this facility provides room for expansion as well. Based on the high level of interest from those who attended our seminar in Gurugram, as well as other recent events, future additions may include Therma-Tech™ thermally conductive formulations and LubriOne™ wear-resistant materials,” added Vij.

Source: PolyOne Corporation

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