By Shell Polymers on Aug 13, 2020
Many manufacturers are eager to capitalize on the latest resources to enhance their products and profits. That is especially true in the auto industry where manufacturers, who have been pushed toward progress by global disruptions, are finding ways to leverage polymers to improve product quality, reduce costs, and create a more sustainable final product.
According to ICIS, an average automotive vehicle contains 1000 plastic parts.1 While replacing metal parts with plastic components has been a trend in the automotive space for many years, today, molders and brand owners are pushing the envelope to parts that haven’t historically seemed viable for plastics conversion thanks to:
- material enhancements
- value chain collaboration
- simulation improvements
- streamlined designs
Polyethylene applications have been a key component to growth in automotive manufacturing. While the HDPE market is expected to grow2, several prominent market forces are driving change in automotive manufacturing that will impact the demand for plastic parts.
1. Electric Vehicles
Shaped further by the impact of COVID-19 on our day-to-day routine, the trend towards more sustainable ways to live is continuing to grow rapidly. In fact, a survey of 2,000 people reports that 70% felt the stay-at-home order made them more aware of their eco-unfriendly habits and triggered an “eco wake-up call”3 As a result of the increased demand for eco-friendly alternatives, automotive manufacturers are adjusting their business plans to adapt.
With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, the growth rates of plastics such as PE are expected to increase.
With the increasing popularity of electric vehicles, the growth rates of plastics such as PE are expected to increase, while the consumption of engineering plastics is expected to slow down because they are not necessary to fulfill the requirements of plastic electric car components.4 For example, blow-molded PE gas tanks are already in use.
Electric vehicles may, however, use more PE in the engine parts as the high temperature performance of engineering polymers is not required in electric battery engines. PE parts are ideal for electric vehicles because they reduce the overall weight, can be customized to address electric vehicle-specific requirements, and strength and have safety benefits. On top of that, it’s cheaper to produce than their metal counterparts, making them a more economic choice to help maximize profits.
2. Autonomous Vehicles
Stemming off the trend towards electric vehicles, autonomous, or driverless vehicles appear to be the future of the car industry. Because autonomous vehicles are heavily reliant on electricity, plastic parts are expected to play an even more central role in future models than they already do. The Plastics Industry Association explains that polyethylene is high-impact resistant, low density, and an all-around durable material, so it’s incredibly useful in automotive applications. Especially in electrical insulation, where moisture resistance and low cost is required.5
The Plastics Industry Association explains that polyethylene is high-impact resistant, low density, and an all-around durable material, so it’s incredibly useful in automotive applications. Especially in electrical insulation, where moisture resistance and low cost is required.
Also, because an autonomous vehicle is essentially a computer with wheels, materials used need to allow signals to pass through and communicate with each other. Automotive Plastics reports that engineers have found success calibrating plastics to allow certain radio frequency signal wavelengths to pass through them. They elaborate, “Plastics can achieve permeability or signal transparency… This quality will allow future vehicle-to-vehicle communication in a car and through the transportation infrastructure.”6
Autonomous vehicles are just beginning a new era of vehicular innovation.
As technology advances, the automotive industry will continue to evolve, requiring new approaches to vehicle design and digital capabilities to keep up with consumer demand.
So, what does all this mean? In essence, collaboration and sharing industry expertise is key to unlocking progress and maintaining a competitive stance in the automotive industry. In order to better support its customers, Shell Polymers’ team of polymer experts is gathering valuable industry insights and is eager to support plastics converters as they embrace new technologies and adapt to emerging automotive trends.
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