Plastics Drive the Automotive Industry

Plastics Drive the Automotive Industry

For PMT’s first-ever Manufacturing Day event in 2013, one of our bright engineers created posters illustrating two series of automotive parts we mold, connected to images of the vehicles they would eventually be a part of after leaving our facility.

One poster showcased insert-molded speaker frame parts for the sound system in a luxury sedan; the other showed plastic components for a wireless phone charger in a sports utility vehicle.

plastic engine parts

Plastic is prevalent in today’s vehicles—now composing half the total volume—and is increasingly found in under-the-hood applications.

A common comment from our visitors was that they didn’t realize how many car components were made of plastic. These visual cues invited most guests to think about how prevalent plastic really is—and how important it is to our lives today. It’s the stuff that makes our modern world function. So many things depend on this calculated mix of organic polymers—perhaps, most noticeably, the vehicles we drive.

PMT processes a variety of parts for automotive customers—some very visible interior cosmetic-critical components, and other less obvious parts that remain under hoods or door panels. The plastic parts our customers design and we manufacture allow functionality across all aspects of the driver experience, from windows rolling down and headlights remaining in place to seat belts functioning and electrical wiring systems staying firmly intact.

Once visitors connect with the posters, it usually sets off a spiral of realizations about all the other plastic in their cars. Plastic is prevalent, and is leading to the progression of design and function for consumers and manufacturers alike.

“As for interiors, plastics have been nothing less than revolutionary. They have proven to be a great material for creating comfortable, durable and aesthetically pleasing interior components, while enhancing occupant protection, and reducing noise and vibration levels,” according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

And plastics have surpassed the initial use for visible aesthetics and moved into other areas formerly reserved for metals. Today’s polymers are also resistant to corrosion and able to withstand high temperatures in harsh environments. They’re being used more and more within engine compartments and other under-the-hood applications, according to the Society of Plastics Industry (SPI) and the ACC.

Plastics Today reports the average car currently incorporates over 440 pounds of plastics, a figure expected to jump 75 percent by 2020 as the light-weighting trend continues. The ACC’s Plastics Make it Possible states carmakers are counting on lightweight plastics and plastic composites to meet the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

“Due to plastics’ favorable strength-to-weight ratio, today’s vehicles on average are made up of 50 percent plastics by volume, but only 10 percent by weight,” according to Plastics Make it Possible. Plastics will remain exponentially important to the automotive industry as manufacturers ramp up fuel efficiency by lessening vehicle weight—a great victory in reducing the carbon footprint of American drivers.

SPI’s recently released automotive report, “Plastics Market Watch: Plastics in the Fast Lane”, raises a further question: “As demand for lighter, safer, more fuel efficient cars and trucks continues to grow, so will demand for technologically advanced plastic components. Is an all-plastic car in our future? We will have to look to Generation Y engineers for that answer.”