SPE announces finalists, winners for annual automotive innovations awards competition

SPE announced its finalists and winners for its 2007 SPE Automotive Innovations Awards competition on Nov. 7. The grand award winner was a color-converting plastic material used in an instrument panel backlighting application.

The Automotive Div. of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE, Troy, Mich.) International announced this year’s finalists and winners in the 37th annual SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition, the oldest and largest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industry. Category, Hall of Fame, and the Grand Award winners were announced the evening of Nov. 7 during the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala.

The Grand Award winner – the most prestigious award of the evening – went to the winner of the Materials category, an application called backlighting using color-converting plastic used on 2007 model year General Motors Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs. This patented system for producing custom-colored interior backlighting via LEDs (fed through light distribution pipes) relies on patented fluorescing dyes and proprietary light-scattering additives in translucent resins used to mold buttons, knobs, and backlit plates rather than far more costly custom-colored LED bulbs. Moving color control from the LED to the plastic button not only results in more uniform, controllable emitted color, but also makes backlighting in low-volume, niche colors economically feasible.

In the category of Body Exterior, the category winner was:

COMPOSITE ASSIST STEP – '07 MY General Motors Trailblazer/Envoy SUVs. Description: Innovation in rib design and use of weatherable material enabled this one-piece running board to withstand higher loads with lower deflections than the five-piece steel and plastic assembly it replaced. It is produced in a two-stage injection molding process and provides a 50 percent mass reduction and a direct cost savings in excess of $19 per vehicle, while also reducing assembly complexity, improving aerodynamics, eliminating corrosion, and quieting buzz/squeak/rattle noise. o System Supplier: Magna Decoma – Mytox Div. o Material Processor: Magna Decoma – Mytox Div. o Material Supplier: Magna Decoma – Mytox Div. o Resin: Myplas 40 long-glass polypropylene o Tooling Supplier: not provided

For Body Interior, the category winner was:

Category Winner: DOOR TRIM & HARDWARE MODULE – '06 MY Chrysler Caliber/Compass/Patriot SUVs from Chrysler LLC. Description: This unique assembly combines all door hardware components plus trim panel in a single module produced via injection molding and the two-shot bolster process. It is directly sequenced into the plant, arriving fully tested to reduce door dress-up at the vehicle assembly plant, and offers 10 percent weight and $10-$17 cost savings per vehicle. o System Supplier: Grupo Antolin o Material Processor: IAC o Material Supplier: Dow Chemical o Resin: 702-20 polypropylene o Tooling Supplier: HiTech

This year's Chassis/Hardware category winner was:

EXTRUDED SEAL FOR HIM DOOR MODULES – '07 MY Dodge Nitro/'08 MY Jeep Liberty SUVs from Chrysler LLC. Description: This is the first time a TPE has been extruded directly onto a door module carrier, providing a 360° seal that acts as a water barrier between wet/dry sides, an acoustic barrier, and keeps out dirt and dust. The seal is fully recyclable, simplifies assembly, is more robust than previous technology, and reduces material costs 53 percent, capital expenses 15 percent, seal mass 48 percent, and tack/cure time 90 percent. o System Supplier: Faurecia Interior Systems o Material Processor: Faurecia Interior Systems o Material Supplier: ExxonMobil o Resin: Santoprene TPE o Tooling Supplier: Reiss Robotics/Gepoc

In the Materials category, the category winner was:

BACKLIGHTING USING COLOR-CONVERTING PLASTIC – '07 MY General Motors Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. Description: This innovative, patented system for producing custom-colored interior backlighting via LEDs (fed through light distribution pipes) relies on patented fluorescing dyes and proprietary light-scattering additives in translucent resins used to mold buttons, knobs, and backlit plates rather than far more costly custom-colored LED bulbs. Moving color control from the LED to the plastic button not only results in more uniform, controllable emitted color, but also makes backlighting in low-volume, niche colors economically feasible. o System Supplier: Delphi Electronics & Safety o Material Processor: Delphi Electronics & Safety o Material Supplier: RTP, BASF, and Bayer MaterialScience o Resin: Makrolon 2405 polycarbonate (Bayer) o Tooling Supplier: Kno-Mar Tool

The winner in the Performance & Customization (Automotive Aftermarket) category was:

FOLDING PICKUP BED EXTENDER – '06 MY Ford F250 pickups by Ford Motor Co. Description: This is the first blowmolded pickup bed extender, replacing roll-formed steel or aluminum profiles, while reducing part count, weight, cost, assembly, and quality costs. The high-strength, fully-recyclable composite solution features in-mold-color and grained texture to meet OEM Class A specs, retaining excellent grain quality in such a large blow-molded part. The system's unique design provides three methods of use: cargo, storage, and stowaway to increase usable bed space on pickups. o System Supplier: ABC Group o Material Processor: ABC Group o Material Supplier: Salflex Polymers (ABC Group) o Resin: Salflex S 815 glass-reinforced polypropylene o Tooling Supplier: Supreme Tooling (ABC Group)

In the Powertrain category, this year's winner was:

ELECTRONIC THROTTLE CONTROL MODULE – '07 MY Chrysler Pacifica cross-over vehicle from Chrysler LLC. Description: This is the first plastic ETC housing, which replaces machined cast aluminum at mass savings of 28 percent and cost savings of 18 percent, while also reducing warranty costs and potential for ice freeze-up and potential throttle blade stick. A special zero-shrink BMC grade was used and the unit’s tight concentricity better controls air flow at idle. o System Supplier: Bosch o Material Processor: Christophery o Material Supplier: BMC Inc. o Resin: Tetradur BMC TD 455 glass-reinforced thermoset polyester o Tooling Supplier: Christophery

In the Process/Assembly/Enabling Technology category, the winners was:

FRONT-END CARRIER – '07 MY Volkswagen Golf/Bora/ Jetta passenger cars. Description: This is the first direct-long fiber thermoplastic (D-LFT) composite front-end carrier compounded with a twin-screw instead of single-screw extruder during the inline compounding (ILC) portion of the process. ILC provides cost and weight savings vs. conventional injection and GMT composites, while also eliminating many secondary operations. o System Supplier: Aksys de Mexico o Material Processor: Aksys de Mexico o Material Supplier: Basell Polyolefins (resin) & OwensCorning (glass) o Resin: inline compounded long-glass-reinforced polypropylene o Tooling Supplier: not provided

The winner in Hall of Fame category – for applications in continuous use for at least 15 years – was:

GLASS-REINFORCED NYLON RADIATOR END TANK – '82 MY Ford Escort/Mercury Lynx compact cars from Ford Motor Co. Description: As one of the first major underhood applications for engineering plastics, the radiator end cap broke ground for many future engine-compartment applications. The objectives for converting the application from aluminum to nylon were parts integration and cost reduction, weight reduction, and equal or better performance. It was particularly challenging to develop and test materials in hot ethylene glycol (antifreeze) solutions. DuPont developed new grades of its glass-reinforced nylon resin and tested prototypes in a “jungle room” with hot antifreeze running through the parts 24 hours a day. Mold design with movable cores, design for low part warpage, and multifunctional design were all partnered in this application among Ford PPD, Hoover Universal, and DuPont. The success of this application was later expanded by recycling strategies that included a novel chemical recycle method for radiator end caps that was honored with the 2004 Environmental Award for New Technology in Materials and Processes given by the Environmental Division of SPE at the Global Plastics Environmental Conference. Innovations in processing, materials, and design used in this application were later translated to charge-air coolers, thermostat housings, and many other powertrain applications that continue to this day. o System Supplier: Ford Plastics Product Division /Hoover Universal (ultimately became Carlisle) o Material Processor: Hoover Universal o Material Suppliers: DuPont Automotive o Resin: Zytel glass-reinforced nylon 6/6 o Tooling Supplier: not provided

According to Kevin Pageau, account manager, Tegrant Corp. and also SPE Automotive Innovation Awards past-chair and current Innovation Awards nominations chair, "While this year's pool of accepted nominations wasn't the largest we've seen in the last decade, the quality of the technology represented was really high. This made it difficult for judges in both the first and second rounds of presentations to pick a few finalists and a single winner in each category.”

Brian Grosser, automotive business manager for Samsung Chemical USA, and the '06 and '07 SPE Automotive Innovation Awards program chair as well as SPE Automotive Division chair, added, "The competition in each category was especially intense this year because there were so many interesting applications this year representing novel uses of technology. What you will see represented in this nomination pool is a true global gathering of the most innovative automotive plastics applications of the year.

SPE's Automotive Innovation Awards program is the largest competition of its kind in the world and the oldest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industries. Dozens of teams made up of OEMs, tier suppliers, and polymer producers submit nominations describing their part, system, or complete vehicle module and why it merits the claim as Year's Most Innovative Use of Plastics. This annual event typically draws over 600-800 OEM engineers, automotive and plastics industry executives, and media. As is customary, funds raised from the event are used for SPE educational efforts and technical seminars, which help to secure the role of plastics in the advancement of the automobile.