Within the next two to four years, plastic/metal hybrid technology will be widespread in vehicle structural components by supplanting conventional all-steel parts, say executives from Bayer Corp.

“All major OEMs are seriously interested or already have programs with us,” Mark W. Witman, director, Technology and Technical Services for Bayer's Plastics Div., tells Ward's in an interview at the company's Pittsburgh headquarters.

The patented technology involves encapsulating super-thin (usually around 0.03 ins.) bake-hardened steel in Bayer's plastic Durethan resin to develop a single integrated unit. The result, Bayer claims, is a lighter component that exceeds the performance of a part made from just metal or plastic. “We put plastic where you need plastic and steel where you need steel,” says Bayer's Engelbert Meurer.

Besides weight savings, the company says parts made from the technology are 100% recyclable. It also improves manufacturing processes.

Bayer began developing plastic/metal hybrid components in the late 1980s, and the technology's first commercial application was a decade later when it was used to make the front end bolster for the Audi A6. Use spread in Europe, and finally hit the U.S. when Ford Motor Co. decided to use plastic/metal parts for the grille opening reinforcement on the '00 Focus.

The initial Focus grille concept of multiple, welded metal stampings had tolerance issues, and the Bayer technology enabled a dramatic decrease in secondary fit and finish adjustments. There also was a more than 40% reduction in weight vs. the traditional metal design. Cost savings exceeded 30% and parts numbers were reduced via integration of six grille pieces into two.

Along with its current uses, Bayer sees instrument panel beams, seats and doors as the most likely applications for plastic/metal parts.