Plastics – The omnipresent material in your car and its future

Look in your car and what is the one thing that you see everywhere? Plastics. It is present on your car’s Dashboard Steering wheel Center console or instrument panels Door panels Seat levers Glove box

Look in your car and what is the one thing that you see everywhere? Plastics.

It is present on your car’s

  1. Dashboard
  2. Steering wheel
  3. Center console or instrument panels
  4. Door panels
  5. Seat levers
  6. Glove box
  7. Bumpers
  8. Fog light housing
  9. OVRM’s
  10. Front grill
  11. Fuel tanks and many more

Plastics is one material that the automotive manufacturers cannot ignore even while building the most expensive cars in the world. You will find plastics with varying quality in a $15k car right up-to a car with a $2MN price tag. It is one material that has tremendous properties and appeal which are hard to let go. This is evident in today’s world where automotive manufacturers are investing heavily in electric technology, efficiency, weight reduction, emissions and safety.

Use of Plastic across the automobile

The reason for the sheer popularity of plastics is the properties it offers which make it suitable for almost all automotive applications.

  1. Offers flexibility in design
  2. Excellent corrosion resistance
  3. Dust-proof
  4. Excellent NVH levels
  5. Eliminates the need for complex mechanical assemblies
  6. Exotic shapes and color patterns
  7. Lightweight
  8. Easy to repair
  9. Cost-effective

History of Plastics:

The use of plastics in automobiles dates to the early 1950s. Plastics started its journey with the use of thermoplastics like ABS going on to polyamide, polyacetal and, polycarbonate. This along with the introduction of alloys and blends of different polymers helped plastics make its way into every vehicle.

Overtime, the use of plastics has risen exponentially in automobiles making it the second-most used compound after ferrous materials.

The most commonly used plastic materials are polypropylene, polyurethane and, PVC. There is a potential for a wave of new materials in the coming decade like composites, advanced polymers and, new-age plastics. As such, replacing the traditional materials is now well within reach of the automotive world. And the reason for this change is the advantage it offers over traditional materials.

Future Trends:

According to a recent study by IHS Chemical, the total weight of plastic parts in a car is set to touch 350 kgs in the coming decade. This is nearly double to that of what is being used in current cars. In the following chart, we look at how the plastic usage has increased since the 1990s and what the future holds in the coming decade.

Today, Plastics contribute to only 15% of a cars weight, but account for 50% of the total volume

Increasing passenger car sale across the globe will result in an exponential rise in plastics usage in the coming years. Primary driver for this increase is to compensate for higher battery weights with lighter and efficient materials in electric vehicles. Even when it comes to cars powered by fossil fuels, plastics offers same benefits which helps to reduce the carbon footprint. Advanced materials such as composites and lightweight aluminium are becoming popular in the automobile world. But, their use is limited to high-end cars due to cost implications. In addition, difficulties in damage repair make these materials exclusive as compared to plastics.

Disadvantage and Future

The prime disadvantage of plastics today is ease of recycling. As a result, manufacturers are constantly challenged at developing environment-friendly plastic materials which can easily degrade and recycle.

Also, favorable government laws and regulations for research in advanced materials have also contributed immensely to the ever-growing success of plastics. With this, plastic material is witnessing huge investments in research and development of:

  1. Thermoplastic material blends
  2. Light-weight Polypropylene
  3. Bio-based materials, etc.

Latest manufacturing techniques such as 3D Printing bring in new possibilities to leverage the benefits of plastics and its properties.

Conclusion

The future for advanced plastics is bright with tremendous rise in its usage over the coming decades. With the automotive world entering a new era of advanced commuting, amount of plastics in your car will double over the coming decades. This will hopefully lead us towards more efficient, modern and environment friendly cars. In short, the opportunities offered by plastics are endless.

Stay tuned for upcoming articles on advanced materials like Composites and why they are so popular in the motorsport world.

2 thoughts on “Plastics – The omnipresent material in your car and its future

  1. Nice information. Use of Plastics in automobile industry is critical in near future and inevitable considering cost effective proposition.

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