The winners will be announced on Nov. 6, 2019 during the 49th SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala. 

SMC/LMC rear trunk components, a finalist for the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition. Source | SPE Automotive

The Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE, Troy, Mich., U.S.) has announced the finalists for its 49thannual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition. Nominations were first subjected to a pre-qualification review and then were presented before a panel of industry experts on Sept. 26-27, 2019. That panel sent forward the category finalists to the Blue Ribbon judging round, which was held Oct. 4, 2019. Category and Grand Award winners selected during the Blue Ribbon judging round will be announced on Nov. 6, 2019 during the 49th SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala. 

Description: Additive Manufacturing was used to produce a single tooling insert (lifter) that replaced two conventionally machined lifters to mold an injection molded sunglass stowage bin. That enabled design changes to produce a deeper pocket with a heavier undercut that still could be molded without hotspots, warpage or demolding issues and without needing to switch to a more costly resin. The new deeper bin design also better meets customer requirements while reducing cycle time, molding scrap, tooling maintenance and improving dimensional stability in the final part. 

Description: This patent-pending lug nut starter tool was produced via additive manufacturing. Its unique design eliminates the need for a lug wrench or Jemms head tool, battery drive, and charger. User ergonomics are improved and all lug nuts can be started at once on a given wheel rather than starting them individually. Since torque output is reduced, there is far less chance of cross-threading nuts. Additionally, tooling cost is reduced $2,000-$3,000 per tool, no additional equipment is needed and the design can be adapted to any circular bolt pattern.    

Description: This 3D-printed production part with Class A appearance passed all relevant requirements, including UV exposure. It expedited design, testing and production, eliminated $70,000 in tooling costs and saved three months’ time. 


Tier Supplier / Processor: Gemini Group-Regency Plastics Inc.  / Hutchinson, Eberhard Mfg. Co., Gemini Plastics Inc., Sierra Plastics Inc., & GPM Profile Extrusion, Regency Plastics Inc.

Description: These full-length (77-inch/196-centimeter) side storage boxes attach via the D-ring tie downs and sit on the wheel wells of a full-size pickup, eliminating customer-visible fasteners and brackets as well as the need to drill new holes for attachments. The MIC, grained blow-molded boxes and lids are 25-30% lighter than comparable steel or aluminum boxes and easy to install/remove. Lockable lids open into the bed, facilitating access to contents while keeping smaller items out of the main bed and securing valuable items. Injection molded latch cover, latch bezel, and handle and extruded weather seals complete the units.     

Description: Both size and shape of this emblem made it difficult to use traditional radial design with a single LED on the light guide to ensure consistent light output along the entire path. Placing an LED behind each letter would have increased significantly costs and complexity and impacted mating components. By laser etching the perimeter of the light guide tool, a high degree of control over light intensity was achieved, lowering costs 20%. Highest etch density is used at the extremes to maximize light output, while lightest etch density is required near the light source.

Description: Additive manufacturing proved the most efficient and cost-effective method for producing 19 parts on this high-performance sedan whose total build volume will be limited to 300 cars. Both development and production parts were produced on the same printer platform, which eliminated significant tooling investment (estimated at $123,000 USD), as well as storage and maintenance costs. All 19 parts print at one time in a kit, and multiple kits can be produced at the same time. Additionally, parts offer better bonding adhesion than conventionally produced parts and passed paint adhesion tests. 

Description: This is industry’s first pickup box in thermoplastic composite and carbon composite. It saved 62 pounds (28 kilograms), provided best-in-class impact resistance/durability, the unpainted UV-stable material eliminated the need for a bedliner (saving another 40 pounds / 18 kilograms), and numerous customer features were molded in, including functional compartment dividers and motorcycle tire pockets.   The ability to achieve a deeper draw during molding increased cargo capacity. Significant technical challenges were overcome due to use of novel materials, processes, coatings and joining methods. The box is fully recyclable and some scrap is reused on the vehicle.  

Description: This frame-mounted active air deflector is located forward of the vehicle, below the bumper, and activates/stows at set speeds to reduce drag, improve aerodynamics, and boost fuel economy.  It would take a vehicle mass reduction of 100 pounds (45 kilograms) to achieve the same 0.7 mpg fuel-efficiency improvement. The system is designed to withstand high-energy impacts thanks to a unique actuator containing a mechanical clutch and a 2-shot injection molded blade. 

Description: The largest known and most fully integrated structural bolster/front-end module carrier to date, this system incorporates upper and lower active grille shutter housing structures, a direct-mounted crash sensor, an IIHS Small Offset structure in the impact beam, a lower cooling pack support structure, and latch reinforcement and mounting integration.  The injection molded design with overmolded steel inserts eliminated a large metal reinforcement, reducing mass 10% and cost 20% vs. the prior model.  Thanks to significant parts integration, material and fastener usage and assembly-plant line space and labor were reduced.  It supports 300 build variations across two platforms. 

Description: A new class of elastomer combines the best EPDM and TPV materials typically used in automotive weather seals without their negatives.  It is lighter, offers best-in-class compression set, weathering, and chemical resistance while maintaining high elasticity and improved NVH and scratch resistance.  The non-conductive elastomer is plasticizer-free, low VOC, contains no nitrosamines, and is non-blooming and non-fogging.  It also offers broad color matching and improved color/gloss finish for enhanced aesthetics and is much easier for operators to install on the assembly line. 

Description: To reduce overhead console complexity, a new design was developed that integrated mechanical, lighting, electrical, and safety functions into a single modular button carrier injection molded from MIC PC/ABS. With all program variants, this reduced part count from 70 to 17/vehicle, achieved a $7 USD cost savings/vehicle and $1.42-million USD program savings for tooling and testing. No button binding issues have been seen, BSR was improved, and the headliner fit better. To date, two patents have been filed and one has been granted on this technology.

Description: A patent-pending glove-box latch redesign featured 5 innovations that improved fit & finish, reduced NVH, lowered costs 30%, and allowed for automated assembly. First, both housing halves are identical, eliminating an injection molding tool. Second, a molded-in L-shape elastic element replaces the small gap normally left to ensure latch-pawl engagement, eliminating movement and noise. Third, an interlocking design replaces a snap-fit, making the latch more robust. Fourth, a double torsion spring reduces twist on latch components and facilitates automated assembly. Fifth, locators in each mold half function as the stop feature. 

Description: Two grades of injection molded TPO are key to achieving iconic styling and flexible bolster comfort and support to accommodate different-size seat occupants in front row seats. The 3-piece seat back system — inner closeout, flex-arch bolster and carrier support, and comfort carrier — snap together to form a unique floating style and a comfort-optimized suspension system with improved craftsmanship and safety. The final seat assembly is over 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) lighter and 10-13% less costly than traditional seating and has had seven patents granted to date.

Description: A critical diecast and machined aluminum bracket was replaced by an injection molded bracket in 50% GR-PA 6/6 in this demanding rear differential module. The composite material was not only 30% lighter and saved $1 per car direct costs compared to the benchmark aluminum, but its matrix provided 10 times higher damping, improving NVH performance, and it fit current packaging space for this running change. The part passed all performance and durability requirements, eliminated corrosion issues, and will significantly reduce tooling costs over the life of the program.

Description: A new and more efficient design for window-regulator retention fasteners was developed using dual-shot injection molded LFT-PP overmolded with a TPV seal. The patent-pending design, industry’s first to provide quick assembly of integrated window regulators, works with hex or Torx tools for greater flexibility and reduced assembly time and effort. It eliminated the need for grease, lowered mass 1.65 pounds (0.75 kilogram) per vehicle, and reduced cost 20%. The fastener already is being used on 33-million vehicles with another 10-million expected to be added as the application spreads to other regions.

Description: A composite with high density (5.8 SG) has replaced traditional metallic wheel weights in steel, zinc or lead. The extruded fluoropolymer contains 67% by volume post-industrial, corrosion-resistant steel alloy and can be recycled again. Supplied as a continuous tape, and with tailored magnetic properties, the weights can be precisely dispensed using a fully automated wheel-balance system in smaller increments for improved ride and less tire wear. The weights reduce assembly time up to 50%, lower costs approximately 10%, significantly reduce and simplify inventory, and offer a broader range of colors.

Description: This accurate (PM 2.5/fine dust) air sensor is said to provide the sensitivity of costly lab equipment with the compactness, durability and cost-effectiveness required in the auto industry.  Five of the maintenance-free sensor’s six components are molded in PC/ASA, selected for ability to mold complex geometries, hold tight tolerances, provide smooth interior surfaces, and function at temperatures between -40F/-40C to 185F/85C. Owing to its light weight, compact design, and nearly-silent operation, it was able to be packaged in the overhead console.

Description: The PP backing from PCR carpeting is given another use life by being recycled back into the injection molded carbon canister housing for passenger cars. This is said to be the first 100% PCR PP-based carbon cannister. By replacing virgin PP, the recycled resin reduces cost 25% with no sacrifice to processing or molded-part performance, but increases sustainability. It is currently being rolled out on more than 20 Ford programs globally.

Description: One of eight types of renewable materials in Ford vehicles, rice hulls are used as reinforcement for injection molded PP wiring channels, replacing 20% talc-filled PP without loss of porperties. The high silica content of rice hulls is said to provide high resistance to mildew and fungal growth and offers better flame retardance and lower moisture absorption than cellulose-reinforced plastics. Compared to outgoing talc-filled PP, the application also is 10% lighter and 10% less costly, yet meets all OEM specs. It also offers an additional revenue stream to farmers. 

Description: A thermally and electrically conductive PC housing reduced weight and complexity and improved light output on this front fog-lamp assembly. Replacing die cast aluminum, the injection molded part reduces weight 46%, component count 12%, and direct costs 20% compared to the incumbent design. The material’s high thermal conductivity manages heat well, its high modulus handles structural loads, its low CLTE provides dimensional stability, its electrical conductivity dissipates static charge, and its low EMI shielding helps with electronic integration. The material is fully recyclable and supports high production rates.

Description: A novel ASA/PMMA blend overcame challenges on a MIC high-gloss black wiper motor cover that the individual resins could not. While ASA provides good impact, ductility, and weatherability (in low gloss), it scratches easily and has retention issues in high gloss. And PMMA offers high gloss and brilliant color, scratch resistance, and good weatherability in high gloss, but suffers from poor impact strength and ductility. The new blend offers both color and gloss retention, scratch resistance, weatherability (regardless of gloss level), plus impact strength and ductility. Fully recyclable, it eliminates paint and saves $4 per vehicle.

Description: A multipronged approach eliminated paint on a PA 6 steering-wheel bezel. First, a special pigment package, which achieved the desired color, flop, pop, and depth of color to match the benchmark painted metallic gray, was developed. Second, a knitline issue was resolved by thinning out three areas of the part that are hidden under the steering-wheel cover in the final assembly and adding overflows. The MIC PA 6 met all performance and aesthetic requirements while eliminating the cost and environmental impact of paint and reducing warranty issues in this high-touch area.

Description: To improve both long-term scratch resistance and dimensional stability in injection molded PP interior trim panels, glass wool (crushed glass and sand produced from reclaimed/PIR building insulation) was used to replace talc, whiskers, and fiberglass. Because glass wool boosts mechanical properties compared to talc, filler content was reduced 5%, leading to lighter, less costly parts. Since it helps maintain surface finish longer, it should lower warranty claims. A unique process was developed to incorporate glass wool into the resin compound. Glass wool is difficult to dispose of, so this application gives it another use life.

Description: A lower density (0.9 SG), structural composite, which literally floats on water, was developed to replace standard low-density SMC (1.25 SG), injection molded composite, and multipiece metallic structures for the vehicle’s rear and front trunks. Compared with metals, the new LCM material reduces mass approximately 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) and direct costs while offering the flexibility of two storage trunks, lower NVH, and higher parts-consolidation opportunities. The material/process combination, with a low-VOC unsaturated polyester/vinyl ester matrix, also made it possible to successfully mold both front and rear trunks with tall walls and deep-draw sides.

Description: A new transmission gear shroud cover and base protect the drive gear so it rotates freely without needing to push through transmission fluid, lowering effort, improving pump efficiency, and increasing vehicle MPG and the effective life of the transmission fluid. Injection molded TPC-ET replaced earlier steel covers with rubber seals that were heavier, more complex and costly, and suffered from more variation. Very aggressive snap fits permanently join cover to base once the assembly is completed. The same material molded very-thin provides a ductile seal. Costs were reduced 22%, weight lowered 65%, and NVH was improved.

Description: The first completely molded-in-color engine badge assembly replaced a previously unrecyclable and costly assembly combining painted and plated plastic and metal produced in three separate processes. In the new design, a single base resin (PA 6) was used to produce the entire badge. Three separate MIC pigment packages matched the benchmark part without color deviation. Unique metallic silver and color-stable red pigment packages replaced chrome-plated and painted PC/ABS, while a bronze pigment package replaced brushed aluminum. The final assembly reduces cost, environmental burden, and is slightly lighter.

Description: The first all-plastic fuel vapor pump reduces VOCs and improves evaporative emissions control (EVAP) system efficiency while protecting against thermal shocks and holding rotors in place at high rotational speeds in a corrosive environment. Tough injection molded PA 6 and 6/6 provide parts consolidation and hold dimensional tolerances on key parts to 0.002 inch (0.05 millimeters). An integrated pressure sensor offers real-time performance feedback. Overmolding and laser welding eliminate separate seals and fasteners, creating a leak-proof seal. Multiple tooling and process innovations were required to produce the complex assembly.

Description: Three grades of PPS with graduated flexural modulus values were used to develop unique powertrain fluid delivery tubes that provide mechanical retention values for 3000 hr in coolant fluid at 275F/135C and at underhood operating temperatures of 338F/170C. The new design, which combines extruded tubes and injection molded connectors, simplifies the very complex, multi-step, multi-material incumbent assemblies of metal, plastics, elastomers, and fittings. The final assembly halved weight and reduced costs 20%, and eliminated secondary operations necessary with metal designs, yet met all performance requirements.

Description: An integrated connection ring for EV traction motors provides electrical connections from stator windings, integrates and insulates stator leads, and provides ease of assembly for component connections. The novel multi-lead integrated connection design can be used with rigid or flexible leads, which are individually insulated and assembled. By reducing packaging space while maintaining electrical isolation to prevent discharge breakthrough, it contributed to optimized motor design. PPA was selected for its high temperature, high dielectric strength, 600-V comparative tracking index, and volume resistivity at operating temperatures, helping reduce mass and create more reliable motor connections.

Description: The auto industry’s first pultruded curved bumper beam uses the unique radius-pultrusion process and equipment to achieve a hollow beam with central web in carbon fiber fabric-reinforced polyurethane/acrylate resin. The curved geometry was desired to better match rear styling and vehicle package space. The beam features an integral tow hook mounting and is assembled to the body-in-white (BIW), requiring excellent mechanicals at elevated temperature. The beam meets low-speed crash requirements while cutting mass by 4.9 pounds (2.2 kilograms) compared to a metal-inert gas (MIG) welded aluminum extrusion. 3D printing was used to produce mandrels to maintain the hollow interior.

Description: With an estimated $24-million lifetime program savings, direct back foaming eliminates 83 minutes of time and 11 of the typical 16 process steps needed to produce a foamed and skinned IP pad. Interestingly, the same process can be used for base-model and higher-trim levels (including faux and real leather), eliminating multiple tools. It also eliminates PVC and reduces mass 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms), while improving cabin NVH and creating a Class A surface. 

Description: Lasers were key for part cutting and pattern etching on the tambour door and top finish panel of this center console.  This creates a continuous, holographic pattern on a discontinuous surface, giving the appearance of a single-piece door. Additionally, the dynamic pattern changes with viewing angle, hides smudges in high-touch areas, and is 30-50% less costly than films. Top finish panels are injection molded, then painted and laser etched, while tambour doors are injection molded, laser cut apart, painted, and then laser etched. The result is better fit and finish and a unique look. 

The matrix binds the fiber reinforcement, gives the composite component its shape and determines its surface quality. A composite matrix may be a polymer, ceramic, metal or carbon. Here’s a guide to selection.

Composite parts are formed in molds, also known as tools. Tools can be made from virtually any material. The material type, shape and complexity depend upon the part and length of production run. Here's a short summary of the issues involved in electing and making tools.

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