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 Car interiors

Plastics suppliers step up to the design table

Itís logical, itís useful Ė and it may eventually spell doom to a whole range of plastic parts currently needed for interior wiring.The development exemplifies a noteworthy trend in interior plastics, and it spells bad news for any plastics supplier with a buggy-whip mindset. In the early 20th century, whip-makers, faced by the emerging automobile industry, refused to recognize that technology was about to bypass them, and instead railed against change and demanded protective legislation. Any plastics supplier finding itself in this position must adapt or face extinction.Foam-in-place wiring could render some significant tooling and production methods obsolete. It may also reduce the amount of manual labor associated with wiring harness manufacture. In addition, it may reduce or eliminate several different kinds of automotive plastic products, including tape, tubes, straps, troughs and grommets.Todayís interior systems integrators and their material suppliers canít afford to be fearful of that kind of change. Theyíve learned that ignoring progress, or even just standing still waiting for orders to come in, can turn them into road-kill.UTís harness concept is just one of many that shows how plastics suppliers, Tier One suppliers and the OEM customer are having to work collaboratively from the earliest stages of product design. In UTís case, it was the Tier One that brought together existing foam and a new application, but Tim OíBrien, UT Automotive advanced engineering manager for instrument panels, says if the idea had come from a materials supplier, it probably would have received the same fast-track treatment.

"I think we would have developed it just as aggressively with them, assuming they were willing to do a joint-disclosure kind of thing, so we could gain a leg up on our competitors," OíBrien says.

In fact, UT is currently evaluating polyurethane foams from Bayer, BASF and Dow for the application. But today, plastics suppliers are expected to lead in the materials selection process, even helping automakers specify for cast metal or hydroformed steel interior systems where the economics donít favor an all-plastic solution.

Today, many molders are facing market trends that demand them to lower part costs, consider recyclability in part design and reduce part weight. At the same time, they must also improve the soft look and feel of IP trim, work in tandem with Design For Assembly (DFA) driven productivity strategies and increase product quality to reduce buzz, squeak and rattle.

The resins help reduce part costs with no-paint, low-gloss, molded-in color surfaces. High-quality aesthetics and UV stable parts provide consistent build quality.

In some applications, low-gloss resin savings can run upwards of 30% per part. 



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