Plastics in Automotive Engineering a great success

Lightweight design, fiber composites and recycling – at Plastics in Automotive Engineering, the international VDI conference, leading specialists addressed the wide range of fields covered by materials in automotive engineering.

This year's international VDI conference Plastics in Automotive Engineering which was held in Mannheim on 2nd and 3rd April 2014 offered an ambitious conference program with two parallel sections and around 35 papers. With an audience of more than 1400, top-flight speakers addressed topics including lightweight design, the vehicle interior and exterior, fiber composites, repairs and recycling. In the accompanying trade show around 100 exhibitors presented innovative plastics-related solutions for the automotive industry. Conference director Prof. Rudolf Stauber opened the conference to a packed auditorium.

One highlight of the technical exhibition was the Frimo Street Shark, a BMW Z4 with hood and roof module made of a Vitrox-based composite material in 3D-core sandwich with a sharkskin surface. Evonik also drew a lot of attention with its concept vehicle, the Rinspeed XchangE, a 100% electrically powered touring limousine. Georg Kaufmann Formenbau presented an innovative door module which was specially developed for Brose. The module forms the load-bearing element of the entire door assembly and was made 350 g lighter by using a very thin composite material -  that is 30% less weight than the usual component produced by classic injection-molding.

On the first day of the conference Dr. Leo Hoffmann of Neue Materialien Fürth reported on high-performance fiber composite components from the injection-molding machine. “In the continuing debate about climate change, automobile manufacturers are more than ever required to build sustainable and resource-thrifty vehicles”, Hoffmann explained at the beginning of his presentation. One important contribution to this can be made by reducing the weight of the vehicle. This can be done, he said, by using high-performance fiber composites, for example. Manufacturing processes for highly stressable fiber composite components are frequently based on thermoset matrix systems which would in many cases not be suitable for high-volume production on account of the longer cycle times involved. On the other hand, says Hoffmann, by using thermoplastic matrix systems and processing them in injection-molding machines or transfer molding presses, it is possible to achieve very short cycle times of around one minute and thus suitability for large-scale production.

On the second day of the conference, as part of the Joining Technologies subject grouping, Dr. Uwe Arz of Adam Opel and Jürgen Behle of EJOT looked at threaded connections for plastics in the automobile. Their presentation  surveyed the use of self-tapping fasteners in thermoplastics, focusing on the automobile sector. “Plastic components play an important role in automotive engineering and one which is currently expanding further as regards lightweight construction”, Arz stressed. When plastic components are to be clamped together, the special properties of the material must be taken into account. “Provided one is aware of these special aspects, a correct fastening design means that it is possible to dispense with the inserts normally required for a plastic fastening, both on the nut and on the sleeve side,” Arz explained, adding that this not only reduces costs but also means a weight reduction.

Next year the international conference Plastics in Automotive Engineering will be held on the 18th and 19th March 2015 in its usual home, Mannheim.

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