The advantages of plastics in the automotive industry has increased consumer demand much more than before. A wide scope of technology is used in order to fulfill these demands.
All through our lives we have witnessed numerous transitions one of which is utilization of steel to lightweight alternatives by the automotive industry. An automotive of the 1950s contained almost no plastic but today they contain 100-150 kilograms of plastics. These automotive vehicles are high in performance, safety, construction and functionality.
Automotive industries are the third most plastic consuming sectors. The plastics industry hand in hand with the automotive industry poised to play a role in the revolution of the automotive industry in the usage of thermoplastics, ABS, polyamide, polyacetal and polycarbonate with alloys and blends of different polymers which will be discussed in detail further.
Plastics in an automotive eases manufacturing, the sourcing comes from renewable raw materials, and its design can be improved by development and research i.e. it increases design freedom and innovate potential. Additionally, it helps reduce corrosion, extends vehicle life, provides versatility in integrating components, safety and comfort. The major role of plastics in automobiles is that they become affordable, lightweight and fuel-efficient thereby increasing consumer demand.
In order to have an accurate understanding of the benefits plastics, it is necessary to know the different types and functions as well. The plastics that are commonly used in automotive vehicles are Polypropylene (PP), Polyurethane (PUR), Poly-vinyl Chloride (PVC) but there are an additional 10 different polymers used (66% just the 3 mentioned previously).
First, PP, a saturated addition of polymer produced from propylene which is durable, resistant to numerous chemical solvents, and is imperious to water. This kind of plastic is prevalent in an automotive and is found in car bumpers, cable insulations, carpet fibers, etc.
The characteristic qualities of PUR are its toughness, flexibility, abrasion resistance, and high resiliency. It takes on very soft or hard forms and is well-suited for everything from tires to suspension brushing to seating.
PVC is a type of plastic that comprises of 16 percent of all plastic in a typical automotive. It is resistant to chemical and solvent attack, has flexibility, is flame retardant, has thermal stability and high gloss with little or no led content. PVC works extremely well in a huge range of auto parts to create instruments like panels, electrical cable sheathing and door parts. The PVC is stiff or flexible depending on the amount and type of plasticizers used.
We have Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), a durable thermoplastic resistant to weather and chemicals, created by polymerizing styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polyuridine. The styrene provides the copolymer with a shiny, tough exterior. The rubbery butadiene creates resilience to very low temperatures. With correct adjustments it can enhance impact and heat resistance , and durability. ABS can be used to produce dashboards and wheel covers.
Following ABS, we have Polystyrene (PS) which is easy to manufacture, has chemical and electrical resistance with an availability in high-gloss and high-impact varieties and is commonly used in housings and displays.
Polyamide (PA), also known as Nylon 6/6, is a general-use nylon that possess mechanical qualities and wear resistance. PA is used where there is a need of a strong low-cost rigid and stable material. It also has low friction characteristics and can absorb water easily. It is found in cams and weather-proof coating.
Next is Polyethylene (PE) that has good resistance to chemicals, high impact resilience, low density and solid durability. It is useful where moisture resistance and low-costs are necessary like in glass-reinforced car bodies and electrical insulation.
Polyoxymethylene (POM), the next in line, is rigid, contains massive yield strength, high stability in cold or low temperatures, highly chemical and fuel resistant. It is used to fabricate the interiors and exteriors of automobiles, fuel system parts and small gears.
Polycarbonate (PC) is a distinctive combined with rigidity, hardness and durability alongside weathering impact, optical, electrical and thermal qualities. PC has a remarkable impact strength and is a fine go-to material for car buyers that also provides UV resistance.
Poly-methyl-methacrylate (PMMA) is a type of acrylic that has reasonable tensile strength, UV and weather resistance. It is more transparent than glass and has a high optical quality and surface finish. With a huge color range, PMMA is used in windows, displays and screens.
Polybutylene Terephthalate (PBT) is a type of resin that has good chemical resistance and electrical properties. PBT is a hard and tough material with water absorption, resistance to dynamic stress, thermal and dimension stability. It is easy to manufacture and is used in sun-roofs, front parts, locking systems, housings, door handles, bumpers, and carburetor components.
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is similar to PBT, has low water absorption and surface properties and is used in wiper arms and gears, headlamp retainers, engine covers, etc.
Lastly, Acrylonitrile Styrene Acrylate is known for its toughness and rigidity. It has chemical resistance and thermal stability. ASA has an outstanding resistance to weather, aging and yellowing and provides high gloss to housings, profiles, interior parts and outdoor applications.
The development and advanced performance in an automotive that induces these polymers in their productions increase usage and demand. Plastics offer mechanical properties, appearance, reduce weight, energy efficiency and high performance at low costs. On an average, one automotive contains about 150kg plastics and plastics composites. Engineered polymer composites and plastics are the second class of automotive materials after metals and alloys.
Commercial vehicles contain 50% plastic contents, the interior component including safety subsystems, door and seat assemblies. The mounting costs are lowered by replacement of plastic components that are also easier in assembling. The exteriors and interiors that include plastics are bumpers, doors, safety and windows, headlight, and sideview mirrors, housing, trunk lids, grilles and wheel covers.
One of the main advantages of plastics in an automotive industry is the lightweight factor brought by installation of innovative products of high rigidity with low weight. Lightweight production of automobiles involve certain environment imperatives and safety requirements that result to weight reduction and fuel abbreviation that lower car manufacturing costs compared to the rising prices of steel and iron for productions of fuel tanks. Advanced cars contain 50% plastics resulting into just 10% weight, making it light, cost-effective in the fuel economy thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well.
Rising problems of fuel hike and stricter environment regulations have driven focus towards fuel efficiency. There are 30,000 parts in a vehicle where 1/3 is made of 39 different types of plastics and polymers. 70% polymers are from the 4, PP, PUR, polyamides and PVC. The decision to choose plastics over other materials is due its high absorption property that then provides stricter safety standards, and more designs, that comes with Paint Protection Film (PPF), thermoplastic methane film, high gloss paint, etc., compared to metals.
High performance plastics that meet higher requirements than standard plastics, have better mechanical properties, lighter chemical and/or heat stability re used by automotive industries to manufacture automobiles. The applications of PP, PV, PVC, ABS and PC polymers are seen in the exterior furnishings, power strain, chassis, electrical components, and under the hood parts and in the interior, dashboards, fuel systems, interior trim, under-bonnet components, lighting, exterior trim, liquid reservoirs, and upholstery.
For the purpose of safety, PC, PP, AS, PVR, PA polymers are used. High strength polyamides are used in seat belts, airbags, child restraint seats, shatter resistant wind shields that use a thin layer of plastic, improved sound alternation and filter out most infrared rays. Bumpers to body panels, managements technologies, safety performance from external forces are all provided with the use of plastics.
A study by Research and Markets claim, “There has been a rise in demand of power train, interior and exterior furnishing application and by 2025 there will be an 8.8% growth.” Powertrains are the highest growing applications due to its decreased weight quality that boots performance, hikes productivity and saves costs. Advancements in durable automotive plastics will amplify use of plastic in cars.
The interiors of automotive plastics are durable, comfortable and pleasing. A study by Grand View Research on Interior leading application stated, “A 50 percent increase of volume was seen in 2016 in making seat bases, load floors, headliners, rare package shelves that were made of high performance plastics of GMT and ABS composites resulted to weight savings.” Digitalization on car dashboards, highly advanced futuristic technology and features, safety concerns and high electrical insulation are some additional elements provided by plastics that increase demand.
The new future of the automotive industry evolved with the brining of electric, hybrid and hydrogen powered vehicles that worked on new battery technology that used renewable resources. Electric Vehicles (EVS) are not were different from other automotive vehicles, though they were devoid of fuel systems, pumps, tanks, connecting cables, etc.
The introduction of EVS increased demand of PC that is used in sensors and LEDs. Applications of polymer components in battery packs created opportunities for lightweight engineered polymers and composites. Soon, there will be an increase in demand for PP as well in the new application in the exterior and interior of the car and under the hood replacing metal parts. High priced ABS will be replaced by low priced PP. PC growth will be seen in the emerging application of car sensors (lenses).
The overall consumption of polymers is expected to continue to grow depending on the plastics types, application in automotive, interpolymer substitution as well as recycling efforts in different regions. The growth rates of plastics like PP, PA, PC and PE will be due to EVS.
Plastics provide sustainable mobility to an automotive with the use of engineered plastics which will soon create a future for chemical and automotive industry to collaborate for better recyclability and sustainability. There will be developments in the automotive plastic productions and recycling system.
Influence of these propelled industry growth economically in Asia-Pacific locations like China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The new future of automobiles involves expansion of manufacturing and increase in investments.