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Plastic: The Future of Automotive?

12/06/2015
Plastic: The Future of Automotive?Lee Bailey, Fircroft’s Regional Manager for the UK, is based in our Teesside office. Here he discusses the benefits of plastic components in the automotive industry.
 
As we all know, the process and execution of designing and producing a car is a very complex procedure, despite cars being mass produced. Each car contains numerous elements, such as the engine system, power train, the braking system, steering, suspension, tyres and the electrical system – just to name a few! However, in recent years the use of plastic components in car manufacturing has risen dramatically for multiple beneficial reasons.
 
Plastic is lighter than steel
 
The weight of plastic in comparison to metal plays a large part in the benefits of using plastic components when building a car. Light weight plastic not only gives cars better mileage, but it also results in scrap being recycled and reused cost-effectively. Plastic components weigh approximately 50% less than steel, resulting in fewer emissions. In 2006, the DTI’s Energy Review Consultation Document stated that “average fuel efficiency from new cars improved by 10% since 1997”, and “average emissions from new cars in the UK went from 192 grams of CO2 per km in 1995 to 172 in 2004.” Such improvements are largely attributed to the increased use of plastics in car manufacturing.
 
The weight of the car parts is a key factor in the overall effect a vehicle will have on the environment, therefore the more plastic components used, the better. The British Plastics Federation states that using 100kg of plastics in a car can replace approximately 300kg of traditionally used materials, such as steel. Throughout the average lifespan of a car, every 100kg of plastic components used as an alternative to steel can reduce fuel consumption by 750 litres.
 
Secondly, the use of plastic enables engineers to be creative and have freedom when styling components; it is far easier to sculpt plastic and create numerous complex fragments to fit together and create a single, integrated structure. The development of performing similar processes using metal is far less beneficial financially and economically – it can still be done, however it is cheaper when using plastics, and there are more options in terms of innovative design.
 
Multiple car parts can be made using plastic

Plastic components make up more car parts than you may realise; they are used in bumpers, air bags, tailgates, insulation, electrics and seats, as well as numerous other interior and exterior features. Furthermore, it was recently announced that the world’s first plastic automotive engine will be tested in a racing car in 2016.

Many have raised concerns about the heat in an internal combustion engine in combination with plastic, however is has been confirmed that the two areas of the engine that heat up are in fact metal. Around 90% of the engine is plastic, meaning the engine is still around 40kg less than a standard production engine.

Jobs working with plastic automotive parts

Plastic Omnium, a Fircroft client specialising in plastic components for the automotive industry, produces innovative car parts in order to improve emissions such as their light air concept bumper and lightweight tailgates. We are currently recruiting for numerous roles in engineering, manufacturing, project management and design for PO. If you would like to work for one of the most exciting and innovative employers in the automotive industry, click here to see their latest vacancies.

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