SPE names finalists for Automotive Innovation Awards

The oldest and largest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industries will recognize its Automotive Innovation Awards winners on Nov. 6 in Detroit.

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The Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE, Troy, Mich., USA) announced on Oct. 12 the finalists for its 43rd-annual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition, the oldest and largest recognition event in the automotive and plastics industries.  Nominations were first subjected to a pre-qualification review, and then were presented before a panel of industry experts on September 26-27, 2013.  Nominations that were deemed innovative enough to advance to the next round of judging and qualify as finalists follow (listed by category and submission order).

CATEGORY: Body Exterior

  • Integrated Semi-Convertible Sunroof System, 2014 PSA Citroën DS 3 Cabrio supermini, injection molding. This is the first all-thermoplastic, one-piece glass-reinforced, styrene maleic anhydride (SMA)/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) composite sunroof frame that is 2m by 1m. Large sunroof frames such as this are typically formed from aluminum extrusions or steel stampings, while smaller frames have been produced in sheet molding compound (SMC) or hybrid polybutylene terephthalate (PBT)/acrylic-styrene-acrylonitrile (ASA) and metal. The integrated system combines seven parts into oe while incorporating both structural and customer-visible surfaces with an integrated textile canopy plus kinematics. 
  • Window Glazing System, 2013 Volkswagen AG XL1* plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), injection/compression molding. This application is the first use of fully homologated polycarbonate (PC) glazing for series production, the first use of 2-component injection-molded PC glazing for roll-down and fixed windows with rail integration, and the largest 2-component injection/compression molded PC glazing for side windows.
  • Fully Retractable Panoramic Roof System, 2014 Ford Motor Co. Lincoln MKZ luxury sedan, extrusion and lamination. A stronger, tear-resistant polyethylene terephthalate (PET) film was developed to enable this retractable glass roof to meet all strength, noise/vibration/harshness (NVH), and performance requirement with thinner, lighter, high-strength fully tempered glass, achieving a 20 percent weight reduction. 
  • All-Olefinic Liftgate, 2014 Nissan Motor Co. Nissan Rogue cross-over utility vehicle (CUV), injection molding. This liftgate is unique in that all materials are fully olefinic (hence, fully recyclable at end of vehicle life) and it features North America's first TPO outer panel. 

CATEGORY: Body Interior

  • Optimized Instrument Panel for Mass Reduction, 2014 Chrysler Group LLC Jeep Cherokee sport-utility vehicle (SUV), thinwall injection molding. This application represents North America's first instrument-panel (IP) retainer molded at 2.0-mm walls in LFT-PP composite. Typical wallstock on conventional injection molded olefin resin is 2.5 mm to 4.0 mm, meaning parts are heavier and have longer molding cycles. The 30 percent glass-reinforced (GR) LFT-PP resin provides required stiffness, strength, and impact performance to meet interior safety requirements at a great value. Advanced fiber-orientation modeling was used to reduce warpage during mold design.
  • Door Trim Smart Foil Technology, 2014 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Corvette Stingray sports car, injection molding. This innovative door-trim technology offers improved performance at lower cost than conventional in-mold grained, interior-trim components while reducing weight 5 percent, direct costs 7 percent, and indirect costs 3 percent.
  • Living Hinge in a Steering-Column Cover, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Fusion mid-size sedan, injection molding. By molding a living hinge into a steering-column cover, parts are reduced (2 to 1) and greater functionality and increased visual appeal are achieved while reducing tooling costs $70,000 USD and piece price costs $1.10 USD/vehicle. 
  • Decklid Trim with Self-Locking Feature, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Fusion mid-size sedan, multiple processes. The initial design featured a straight slit on the decklid trim to allow a pass-through for installation over the trunk-lid hinges. However, this led to issues like visible sheet metal, poor retention, and poor appearance. Use of hook & loop fasteners to join the trim worked, but added cost and labor, was challenging to install, and potentially contributed to squeak & rattle. Use of button or clip attachments also worked, but again added cost, labor, and tooling, plus was visible and had potential fit issues. The patent-pending solution was to cut a puzzle-shape feature via water jet to make the trim cover self-locking.

CATEGORY: Chassis/Hardware

  • Hidden Handle-Release Mechanism, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Ecosport SUV, injection molding. This is the first time that an outside handle as been incorporated into a lamp (in this case, a hidden mechanical handle that articulates about the z-axis to release the rear swing gate). The patent-pending, multi-material system meets packaging and aesthetic objectives by integrating previously separate components. 
  • Low-Cost Bumper Energy Absorber,  2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Fusion and Mondeo sedans, injection molding. Globally, this is the first single-piece front bumper energy absorber (EA) that simultaneously meets the conflicting requirements of both Part 581 bumper damageability (which tends to require a stiff EA) and Pedestrian Protection GTR lower-leg impact (which tends to require a soft EA).  By developing a common EA that meets both sets of requirements and is tunable, the need for different EAs, bumper beams, and bumper fascias in different geographies with different impact requirements is eliminated.

CATEGORY: Electrical Systems (new category for 2013)

  • Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 2013 Nissan Motor Co. LEAF battery-electric vehicle (BEV), injection molding. The innovative design of this electric vehicle (EV) battery-pack system allowed for maximum energy density through a structural thinwall design and use of a space-saving passive air-cooling approach. This leads to greater battery-module package density by increasing battery cell count/pack, which in turn provides greater EV battery capacity and electric driving range.
  • Electric Vehicle-Battery Enclosure, 2014 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Spark EV, compression molding. This composite EV battery enclosure was required to meet a number of severe performance requirements, including 30° offset-barrier, side-impact, and rear-barrier crash; 50 G impulse shock (x, y, z); post-crash package integrity; fire-resistance testing; 3m drop testing (bottom/end); 1m water-submersion test; and vibration/shock testing. To satisfy all criteria, new material, production process, post-mold finishing, and non-destructive test methods were needed. The result is industry's first application of a VOC-free thermoset vinyl ester resin reinforced with a coarse basket-weave glass rove cloth to form a complex-shaped enclosure that protects the EV's battery components in the event of a catastrophic event.  The tough compression-molded composite is 40 percent lighter than metallic solutions, helping the vehicle achieve extended range and enhanced performance.

CATEGORY: Materials

  • Engine Cylinder-Block Acoustic Shield, 2013 Hyundai Motor Co. Hyundai Elantra compact car, press forming. This cylinder-block acoustic shield is non-flammable, lightweight, overcomes previous issues with other composites for durability at high temperatures, and can be molded into any desired shape, permitting parts to be positioned close to the engine or exhaust system to maximize noise shielding vs. metal shields. A new epoxy binder system was developed to enable press-formed parts to maintain a three-dimensional (3-D) shape. Further work was done to develop an impregnation process and to optimize the nonwoven aramid fabrics for this application.  The part represents a 93 percent weight and 22 percent cost reduction vs. previous technology, and also reduced assembly operations and interior noise levels (max. 1.6 dB noise reductions with only 80 g of material). Thermal performance was also upped from 200°C to 310°C), and weight reductions contributed to improved fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.
  • Instrument Panels with Injection-Molded Skin, 2013 Nissan Motor Co. Nissan Sentra compact car, injection molding. This is the world's first instrument panel featuring an injection-molded thinwall skin in ultrahigh-flow TPV. With a melt-flow rate of 250 g/10 min and excellent mechanical properties, this specially formulated material made it possible to mold a 1-mm skin that could accommodate the IP's deep draws and uneven undercuts without tearing, thereby providing new levels of design and styling options.
  • High-Brightness LED Heat Sink, 2014 Aftermarket, injection molding. This aftermarket application is a good example of replacing die-cast aluminum with injection-molded conductive thermoplastic on heat sinks for high-brightness (HB) light-emitting diode (LED) transportation lamps.
  • Rice Hull-Filled Polypropylene Electrical Cowl Bracket, 2104 Ford Motor Co. Ford F-Series pickup, injection molding. In this injection-molded cowl bracket, talc filler was replaced with rice hulls in a PP grade, which also features 25 percent post-consumer recyclate (PCR) content. Rice hulls (a by-product of domestic food processing) were selected to reinforce the resin because they were readily available, were derived from plants with a fast growing cycle, and had a consistent composition season-to-season and field-to-field vs. other natural reinforcements.
  • Mold-In-Color Metallic to Simulate Painted Parts, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Edge CUV, injection molding. This is the first time that MIC injection-molded interior trim parts have matched the satin look of light-silver paint while retaining its metallic sparkle. Although the part looks painted, it feels slick and smooth (owing to the inherent lubricity of the POM polymer) rather than having the dry, rough surface associated with painted parts.  

CATEGORY: Powertrain

  • Turbocharged Air Duct, 2011 Audi AG Audi A4 and A5 sedans with 2.0L TDI & TFSI engines, suction blow molding. This application combines the air-intake duct with charge air cooler and integrates both into the intake manifold, reducing air-intake loop volume by up to 50 percent (for better engine response) while also lowering package space 40 percent and part count, weight, and costs by 20 percent.
  • High-Heat Turbo EGR Sleeve, 2013 Daimler AG Daimler and Mercedes I-4 turbo-diesel engines (multiple platforms), injection molding. This heat shield is integrated into the air-intake manifold inlet for high air-temperature applications like diesels.  In this area of the manifold, hot exhaust gas is mixed with ambient-temperature (fresh) air without failure of adjacent components.  The plastic heat shield offers several improvements vs. previous systems, including greater design flexibility (molded-in vs. machined geometry); improved air/exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) mixing (thanks to molded features, which increase turbulence); a 50 percent weight savings; enhanced component durability; and inherent corrosion resistance.

CATEGORY: Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies

  • Pressure Press Technology, 2014 General Motors Co. Corvette Stingray sports car, out-of-autoclave molding process. This is the first production use of a new rapid out-of-autoclave production process for carbon fiber-reinforced composites. It produces parts with equivalent mechanical properties and better aesthetics far faster than the traditional autoclave (in 17 vs. 150 minutes). This significantly reduces costs and makes carbon composites practical and affordable for the first time for medium-volume automotive production. Key to this significant technology breakthrough was R&D characterization of the autoclave cure cycle and resin cure kinetics, which led to several patent filings, a 66 percent reduction in cycle time, a 30 percent reduction in direct part costs, and a 75 percent reduction in the cost of process consumables. Additionally, the specially designed process and equipment prevents the traditional exothermic cure reaction, eliminating the need for nitrogen blanketing and release of volatiles. Nickel-vapor-deposition (NVD) tooling with embedded hot-oil heating/cooling lines moves heat quickly through the Z-axis for rapid curing. A reusable silicone rubber canopy (good for 400-500 parts) reduces the cost and hassle of traditional disposable bagging. Parts exit the tool with more consistent surfaces, reducing finishing operations by 35 percent.
  • Lightweight Seat Pan, 2013 General Motors Co. Opel Astra OPC sports sedan, hybrid injection molding. In this seat pan, stamped steel is replaced by thermoplastic composite, which combines both discontinuous and continuous fiberglass reinforcement in a PA 6 matrix. The award-winning design features 18 adjustment options to more comfortably fit occupants. It meets all required safety requirements while improving crash and long-term fatigue performance, yet reduces mass 45 percent as well as wall thickness (increasing packaging space) without any cost increase.  The part's design was extensively analyzed via a proprietary simulation tool, Ultrasim, increasing confidence in the ability to accurately predict behavior of continuously reinforced thermoplastic composites. The part is produced in a hybrid injection molding process that combines robotic handling of the pre-cut preimpregnated continuous-fiber insert and an infrared heater inside the injection molding tool that preheats and preforms the cold sheet prior to tool closure and overmolding with impact-modified, discontinuous short glass/PA 6, which is used to form ribs, edges, and other geometry that long fibers cannot fill.
  • Integrated Coolant Cross-Over for 3.5/3.7 L V6 engines, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Taurus, Flex, Edge and Explorer plus and Lincoln MKZ, MKS, MKX and MKT vehicles, injection molding. This integrated composite coolant cross-over tube eliminates corrosion associated with aggressive long-life coolants (LLCs) while taking 1 lb of weight and $1 USD cost out of each engine, thereby improving service life, fuel economy and CO2 emissions while saving money. Previous designs using overmolded brazed metal tubing were replaced by tubing injection molded of 35 percent GR PPA. Each molded tube is subsequently inserted into a second tool and overmolded with 30 percent GR PA 6 to form the rest of the intake manifold. Significant structural design work was performed to ensure the hollow PPA tube could survive the pressures of overmolding, and special mold-cavity pressure-sensing technology developed by RJG Inc. helps prevent damage during the process.


  • Side Airbag Cover, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Fusion mid-size sedan, injection molding. Replacing a conventional metal can and plastic cover, this is the first time that an insert-molded bracket/cover assembly has been designed to be both the mounting surface for the seat side airbag (SAB) as well as integral to the performance and cosmetic function of the cover. This unique design answered the challenge of meeting styling studio requests for a thin seat appearance, but providing packaging space for increasingly large side airbags, which now typically protect occupants from chest to pelvis.
  • Collapsible Armrest for Side Impact, 2013 Ford Motor Co. Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX CUVs, injection molding. This injection molded armrest has been specially designed to maintain full integrity for NVH, comfort, aesthetics and durability during normal service life yet to detach and collapse during lateral loading from a side impact.

Category and Grand Award winners selected from these finalists during the Blue Ribbon judging on Oct. 7, 2013 will be announced on Nov. 6 during the 43rd-annual SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala at Burton Manor in the suburbs of Detroit. Visit speautomotive.com/inno for more information.