The North American International Automotive Show (NAIAS) is an annual, 16-day automotive trade show in Detroit focusing on the latest mobility innovations, including industry-shaping announcements, global reveals, policy, and industry conversation on an autonomous future.

This all happens while welcoming roughly 800,000 people from around the world who come to experience the new product and technology buzz. Many plastics technologies build forward and evolve out of this annual, early-year event.

Let’s take a look and highlight some emerging plastics technologies from this year's NAIAS.

Victrex PEEK Resin Offers Weight Savings, Reliability

Lightweight thermoplastics such as PEEK HMF (High Modulus Fiber) polymers can help engineers reduce component weight by up to 80 percent when compared to metals like steel and brass.

Incorporating HMF into high-flow PEEK material offers the strength and stiffness necessary to displace metals such as steel, aluminum, titanium, brass and magnesium in automotive and industrial applications.

Fully-commercialized Evonik PMMA Molding Compound for Auto Glazing

The specialty molding compound Plexiglas Resist AG 1001 for injection molding and extrusion provides huge design freedom, low weight and the option of integrating a variety of functions. It offers the high resistance to UV light and weathering for which Plexiglas is known, is impact-modified and has up to 30 times the breaking strength of mineral glass.

The new specialty compound can be processed by injection molding, compression molding, or by extrusion with subsequent sheet thermoforming.Unlike other thermoplastics,such as polycarbonate, which must undergo a two-step coating process, the new Resist is inherently resistant to UV light and weathering, and therefore only requires a single coating.

Continental Structural Plastics’ Ultra-Light Sheet Molding Compound (SMC)

A substantial reduction in SMC parts density can be achieved by incorporating high-strength microspheres into the corresponding SMC resin matrix. The formulation that has a specific gravity of 1.2 provides engineers with the ability to design with a lower specific gravity material without sacrificing mechanical properties, surface qualities and adhesion requirements.

Depending on the body component being developed, the CSP Ultra Lite offers a weight savings of up to 21 percent over mid-density TCA Lite (1.6 specific gravity), and 35 percent over the company’s standard TCA material (1.9 specific gravity).

Ultra-Light technology uses treated glass bubbles to replace some of the calcium carbonate, allowing the resin to adhere to the matrix and increase the interfacial strength between the bubble and resin. The treated bubbles also help with automotive paint adhesion and bonding characteristics.

Carbon Fiber Composite Performance vs. Metals, (Teijin Sereebo/Continental Structural Plastics).

Carbon Fiber-Reinforced Thermoplastic Composites (CFRTP)

Teijin commercialized carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites represent a long stride toward the use of carbon fiber for the mass production of automobiles and other products.

Sereebo, a Teijin technology, cuts compression molding cycle times to less than 1 minute using thermoplastic carbon fiber compounds. Traditionally, carbon fiber was mixed with thermoset plastic, which required five minutes of molding time, making it primarily suitable only for high-end, specialized applications.

The company has also developed technologies for welding CFRTP parts together, and also for bonding CFRTP with materials such as steel. Teijin is currently working with GM and other carmakers worldwide to develop advanced CFRP for the mass production of reduced weight vehicles.

Winning Wood Cellulose Composite Car Part

First place in the environmental category of the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards was awarded to the injection-molded cellulose fiber composite console armrest developed for Ford by Johnson Controls.

Ford is using International Paper’s Thrive cellulose for reinforcing polypropylene in the center console armrest of its Lincoln MKX.

Advanced Nanocellulose-Reinforced Polymer

Partnerships to develop ultrastrong, lightweight automotive structural components reinforced with nanocellulose have been formed. American Process Inc. and Futuris Automotive recently formed a partnership to advance nanocellulose composites to be an economical substitute for expensive lightweight carbon fiber composites currently used in some luxury automobiles.

Nanostructure-Based Advanced High-Strength Steels (AHSS)

A new class of steels based on nanostructured materials have exceptional combinations of strength and ductility for automotive applications.A study by independent engineering firm EDAG Inc., commissioned by Nanosteel, shows this new AHSS has the potential to provide a 30 percent reduction of weight in the Body-In-White structure of a baseline sedan.

Ford Motors’ Active Glove Box Knee Airbag

The technology is essentially a passenger knee airbag that fits in the panel door of the car's glove box. The system replaces a traditional textile airbag with an injection molded plastic bladder, integrated into the glove box door.

CAMISMA Project – Lighter, Safer Car Seats, (Johnson Controls/MultiVu).

Johnson Controls’ CAMISMA Project – Lighter, Safer Seats

This is aimed at reducing the use of metals in vehicle seat structures by replacing them with multimaterial systems.

These seats are roughly 40 percent lighter than conventionally manufactured seat structures and are equally as safe. The team used the best features of two short-cycle molding processes, thermoforming and injection molding, and three distinct material forms to fabricate the complex, ribbed automotive seat back with metal inserts.

Two types of carbon fiber-reinforced mat were thermoformed, and an injection-overmolded rib structure were combined in a continuous, single-stage process.

Faurecia’s Composite Vehicle Floor – A Third Lighter than Steel

An integral structural floor made of composite thermoplastic material reinforced with glass fiber. Faurecia engineers have developed an integral structural floor that is 16.5 kg lighter (11.5 kg in front and 5 kg in the rear) than a conventional steel floor.

Hybrid Technology Significantly Reduces Infotainment Mount Weight

Based on thermoplastic composite technology, this is approximately 50 percent lighter than its steel counterpart. The process involves the use of two inserts made of Tepex Dynalite 102-RG600(2)/47 percent, a polyamide 6 composite from Lanxess subsidiary Bond Laminates, reinforced with continuous glass fibers.

Aluminum, Advanced High-Strength Steels Cut Vehicle Weight, Improve Safety

They are finding their way into hoods, roofs, frames, engine blocks, cylinder heads, truck boxes, and other components, driven by a need to reduce weight to improve fuel efficiency.

The Chevrolet Colorado pickup uses a combination of high-strength steels, with yield strengths of more than 188 ksi, to cut weight and improve safety.

DSM Engineering Plastics’ Award-Winning Lightweight Bio-based Nylon Crankshaft Cover

A lightweight multifunctional crankshaft cover in the bio-based polymer came top in the powertrain category at the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive.

A lightweight crankshaft cover and integrated oil seal molded from EcoPaXX biobased polyamide has been adopted for VW’s MDB-4 TDI diesel engines. EcoPaXX Q-HG103 is a 50 percent glass-reinforced polyamide 4,10 based on 70 percent renewable resources derived from tropical castor beans.

The material is also certified 100 percent carbon neutral from cradle-to-gate. The cover weight is significantly reduced, as EcoPaXX is 45 percent less dense than aluminum typically used.

Composite Leaf Springs are 65 Percent Lighter

Carmakers have successfully fabricated a composite automotive leaf spring using a specially developed resin transfer molding (RTM) process. Henkel AG developed the process for RTM of glass-fiber-reinforced leaf springs for cars that uses a polyurethane matrix resin.

Peugeot’s Composite Carbon-Fiber Tailgate

Comprises a combination of plastic and carbon fiber, reducing weight by 35 percent. The “semi-structural” design consists of a skin and a lining with a thickness of 1.5 mm to prevent torsion, thus eliminating the need for additional strengtheners in flat areas by optimizing the direction of the carbon fibers in relation to the forces acting upon them.

Plastics’ Increasing Role in Automotive Lightweighting, (American Chemistry Council).

The stiffness and reduced density have also made it possible to remove one of the two tailgate stabilizers to further reduce weight. Other advantages of Faurecia's technology include the removal of interior trim components as a result of the quality of the carbon fiber material, which can be painted directly; reduction in the number of parts to be assembled; and the ability to produce more complex shapes than with parts made of metal or glass, such as the rear window.

In conclusion, as the automotive industry gears up to meet new emissions regulations which remain the primary driver in vehicle weight reduction, even in light of current lower fluctuating global fuel prices led by the U.S. shale gas revolution, lightweight plastics will play a critical role.

Over the past 40 years, cars have not become lighter, but are rather some 30 percent heavier.

The VW Golf, for example, which weighed 800 kilograms at its launch in 1974, now weighs 1200 kilograms. Thus, material producers, car manufacturers, suppliers, processors and various institutes and associations have taken up the challenge of reducing automotive vehicle weight.

Material combinations allow for a variety of tailor-made solutions. By using different thermoplastic matrix materials (PP -- polypropylene, POM — polyoxymethylene or acetal, TPU — thermoplastic polyurethane, etc.) and embedding various fibers (glass, carbon, etc.) along with the use of additives, material properties can be tailored to suit specific requirements.

The use of composites also allows key components to be integrated into structural elements eliminating metal and processing steps to reduce both weight and production costs.

Volkswagen, for example, has advanced and commercialized the use of long fiber-reinforced thermoplastics (LFRT) Celstran+ for the large format dashboard of its Golf Plus, allowing the passenger airbag to be completely integrated into structural components.