This year's winners of the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Innovation Awards reflect an industry laser-focused on reducing weight, enhancing recyclability, improving fuel efficiency, minimizing investment dollars and relying less on petroleum-based materials.

Each honoree in the nine categories listed below was recognized at the annual Innovation Awards Gala held last month in Livonia, MI.

Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies

For the Chevrolet Tahoe, Delphi, Amity Molding and resin supplier MRC developed a plastic case for an automotive radio with insert-molded shielding against electromagnetic interference. A mesh Faraday cage is insert-molded into the lightweight plastic case.

The new box is easier to assemble, eliminates 29 screws and reduces weight 1.2 lbs. (0.5 kg), or 22%. Overall weight savings can be higher because the device enables a lighter substructure as well. Final assembly cycle time is cut in half. Twenty-nine U.S. patents are pending.

At the banquet, the Delphi radio case was named the grand prize winner among all entries.

Body Exterior

General Motors Co. pairs with ABC Group and Sabic Innovative Plastics to produce an exterior spoiler with integrated center high-mount stop light assembly for the all-new Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. Packaging the center high-mounted stop light with the thermoplastic spoiler simplifies vehicle assembly and reduces mass up to 40%. ABC paints the component off-line.

Body Interior

Delphi Holdings LLP and former parent GM collaborated successfully on plastic post isolation for the climate-control blower motors in the all-new Chevrolet Camaro coupe. The application uses an integrally molded plastic mount instead of multiple rubber isolators that soften heating, ventilation and air-conditioning fan-motor vibrations. The change allows more motors to be shipped per container, and a snap-fit joins the plastic mount to the motor for simpler assembly. Mass is reduced up to 10%, and cost about 20%.

Chassis/Hardware

Delphi's former steering division, now known as Nexteer Automotive, supplies a new flexible coupling for the electric power-steering system for the Fiat 500 compact car. The flexible thermoplastic coupling, which replaces a similar stainless-steel device, transfers bi-directional torque from the EPS motor to the mechanical gearbox. The new unit meets all noise, vibration and harshness targets, eliminates damping grease and adhesives, enhances steering feel and reduces weight 17%. It also improves assembly time up to 40%.

Environmental

Denso Corp. and DuPont Automotive, together, developed a new nylon 6/10 for use in a higher-performance radiator end tank made from a renewable source. The component, debuting on the Toyota Camry, contains 40% renewable content by weight, derived from the non-food sourced castor bean plant.

This is the first use of bio-plastic in a chemically aggressive and mechanically demanding application. The new material can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions more than 30% compared with its petroleum-based counterpart.

Materials

Resin producer BASF AG and interior supplier Draexlmaier Group collaborated on the BMW 7-Series inner door panel compression-molded from a new high-performance, lightweight, cost-effective and environmentally friendly composite. Included in the research team is fiber-mat producer J. Dittrich & Söhne GmbH. The unique new material consists of 70% natural fibers (kenaf) and 30% thermoset-acrylic matrix. The component saves 6.6 lbs. (3 kg) per vehicle and contains no volatile organic compounds or formaldehyde. Any long renewable fiber can be used in place of kenaf.

Performance and Customization

The Ford Mustang is recognized for several different plastic technologies combined to create illuminated door-sill inserts that require only one light-emitting diode light source and easily can be customized (via laser etching) to produce high-impact graphics. As many as eight LEDs were necessary in the past.

Innotec Group developed the process with suppliers Sabic Innovative Plastics and Serigraph Inc. The unique construction can be adapted to new vehicles in weeks, not months, significantly reducing development costs.

Powertrain

Dana Holding Corp. worked with BASF Corp. on an oil pan optimized for stone impact for Ford Motor Co.'s 6.7L Power Stroke Super Duty diesel engine. Ford says this is the first plastic oil pan designed for full exposure to the road environment and optimized to withstand road chemicals.

The 35% glass-reinforced nylon 6 provides impact strength even at -40° F (-40 C°). A special waffle-design ribbing pattern can handle multiple impacts (unlike earlier plastic designs).

The pan also features the first plastic drain plug, which sports a cam-lock design that makes it impossible to over-torque. The oil pan is 2.1 lbs. (1 kg) lighter than the steel pan it replaced and 30% less expensive.

Safety

Sabic Innovative Plastics and Montaplast of North America joined with Ford to develop a pedestrian-friendly fender made of Noryl GTX for the Ford Kuga cross/utility vehicle.

The energy-absorbing component mounts on the grille-opening reinforcement, instead of the more rigid cross-car beam. Ford says this is the first SUV/CUV fender to meet tough European pedestrian-protection regulations for lower-leg impacts. The injection-molded fender also complies with new head-impact regulations and is half the weight of a similar steel component.

The winners were selected from among 30 nominees by a blue-ribbon panel of industry experts. Tom Murphy, executive editor of Ward's AutoWorld magazine, was part of the judging panel. Among OEMs, Ford led the way with 15 of the nominees.