Trends in Plastic Automotive Component Manufacture
Steel used to be the material of choice for automotive component manufacture.
From the origin of the automobile in the late 19th century to the Golden Age of Auto Design that began 70 years later, component manufacturers used steel as their go-to material for a broad range of auto parts.
However, consumer attitudes have undergone a significant shift towards fuel efficiency and emissions reduction. Government regulators have assessed stringent standards for vehicular emissions across the world, giving manufacturers a clear incentive to make cars lighter.
This led to a proliferation of aluminum vehicles – the material accounts for 25% of the curb weight of Ford’s iconic F-150. But manufacturers continue looking for stronger, lighter materials than aluminum, and are increasingly turning to plastics for the purpose.
Going Beyond Injection Molding
The current trend in the automotive industry involves heavy reliance on injection molding for automotive interiors. Modular designs ensure that different components fit into a broad range of chassis, and fastening processes like heat staking ensure a tight fit.
However, in its search for the ideal lightweight material, automotive manufacturers are likely to continue adjusting the types of materials that their modular components use. This modular orientation shows a clear preference for fastening options that are suited to dissimilar materials.
Whereas in the past, a manufacturer would only need a welder to join steel components to steel chassis, today’s manufacturers need to find solutions for metal-to-polymer joints that maximize strength and durability while ensuring optimal joint contribution.
Where mechanical fastening, adhesive bonding, and conventional welding produce unsatisfactory results, modern heat staking offers superior strength and cost-savings when dealing with multiple dissimilar materials. The versatility of these processes makes a clear case for investing in heat staking equipment.
This is especially true when it comes automotive taillight manufacture, where vibration and other environmental factors make alternative plastic assembly processes unfeasible.
Design Considerations for Electric Vehicles
Any discussion of the future of the automotive industry would be incomplete without the inclusion of electric vehicles. Sales continue to increase worldwide and many countries offer monetary subsidies to encourage production.
Electric vehicle manufacturers have an even greater incentive to minimize the use of steel and aluminum in component manufacture and have to meet new challenges incorporating the electric engine and battery.
Modern plastic assembly methods represent a key value in ensuring that electric vehicle components are fastened securely and at low cost. Cost-effective vehicle integration remains one of the key concerns to entry of electric vehicles in the mainstream automotive industry.
Moving forward, electric vehicle component manufacturers need to place heavy emphasis on process development in order to bring innovative solutions to market efficiently.
Process development allows manufacturers to mitigate longstanding inefficiencies in the manufacturing process while implementing state-of-the-art mechanical solutions for meeting stringent quality standards.
The increase of data-collecting tools in the automotive plant make harnessing large-scale data flows easier and more effective towards improving the efficiency and profitability of manufacturing processes. Innovative materials require the deployment of innovative processes to produce results.
Thermal Press offers process development services, thermal press equipment and customized interchangeable tooling packages for implementing state-of-the-art plastic manufacturing workflows. Speak to an expert about our process development capabilities.