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The SPE Automotive Innovation Grand Award winner and safety category winner is the 2015 Ford Mustang's integrated knee airbag system within the glovebox door. (View other winners by clicking on arrow at top right of image.)

2015 Mustang's glovebox-integrated knee airbag, other plastics innovations recognized by SPE

A Ford Motor Co. safety application took the grand prize at the 2014 Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Innovation Awards gala on November 12 in Livonia, MI.

Nominations from Chrysler Group, Daimler, Ford, Fiat, General Motors, Hyundai-Kia, Nissan, Renault, and Volkswagen together with their material suppliers and associated process/tooling providers sought the top honor in eight SPE Automotive Innovation Award categories: Body Exterior, Body Interior, Chassis/Hardware, Environmental, Materials, Powertrain, Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies, and Safety. The eight winners were eligible for the Grand Award.

Automotive Engineering, other trade media, industry analysts, and engineers comprised the judging panel. Their selections are...

Winner of the Grand Award and the Safety Award is the 2015 Mustang’s glovebox door-integrated knee airbag system. Ford’s 50th anniversary sports car marks the industry debut of a front seat passenger knee airbag system packaged inside the glovebox door. The package design is 30% smaller and 65% lighter than a conventional knee airbag and glovebox system.

Unlike a traditional woven textile knee airbag that deploys downward then curves upward, the new system’s injection-molded plastic bladder deploys straight from the instrument panel using an inflator that is 75% smaller than a typical knee airbag inflator. The airbag’s hermetic seal is created via the Extol, Inc.-developed hot plate welding of the thermoplastic olefin (TPO) bladder to the glovebox outer door.

Mitsubishi Chemical Corp. provides the airbag door-grade TPO that is capable of handling high strain rates in hot and cold temperatures. Advanced Composites supplies its ADX 5028 and ADX 5017 materials for the system’s polypropylene components. Faurecia is the system supplier. Ford’s integrated knee airbag system within the glovebox door has 15 patents granted and 15 patents in process.

A composite rear seatback on the 2015 Mustang garnered the Body Interior Award. This first-for-Ford application saves weight—2.1 kg (4.6 lb) for each rear seat—and results in 8-mm (0.31-in) less structure thickness vs. a multi-component steel welded construction. The glass mat thermoplastic (GMT) seatback meets global luggage retention requirements without steel reinforcements.

Hanwha Advanced Materials supplies the GMT with 45% glass fiber uni-directional content. Continental Structural Plastics is the molder/processor and the systems supplier. Century Tool is the toolmaker.

The Body Exterior Award went to the 2015 Kia Sorento crossover utility vehicle’s carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRP) panoramic sunroof frame. This industry-first CFRP panoramic frame has four parts, including two steel inserts, vs. a conventional steel frame that requires the welding and painting of 33 parts. A steel-intensive application weighs 13.8 kg (30.4 lb) compared to the composite system’s 6.7 kg (14.7 lb). The resin compounding process uses a patented twist pultrusion mechanism that results in a longer-length fiber per pellet.

Compounding company GS Caltex uses a long fiber pellet production technology under license from Kobe Steel. Tooling provider is Hyundai Motor Co. Inalfa Roof Systems in South Korea is the sunroof frame part producer and the module system supplier.

A co-extrusion coolant tube on the 2015 Renault Twingo city car received the Chassis/Hardware Award. The corrugated tube with patented variable stiffness bellows is a replacement for aluminum tubing or reinforced rubber hose. To withstand temperatures of 125°C (257°F) internal and 150°C (302°F) external, the co-extruded tube relies on two polymers (functionalized polypropylene and PA612). A thin layer of functionalized high-temperature polyolefin provides the tube’s moisture barrier.

On the Twingo, the co-extrusion tube represents a 60% weight savings, 2 lb (0.9 kg) per car, vs. the previous aluminum tubing application. The Twingo’s flexible coolant pipe transports water and glycol fluid from the radiator end tank to the rear-engine. Zytel PA612 and the high-temperature polyolefin Bynel are supplied by DuPont Performance Polymers. The molder and system supplier, Tristone Flowtech Group, provides the two tubes with one measuring 9 ft (2.7 m) in length.

The Environmental Award went to a crossover vehicle’s center armrest substrate made from a cellulose fiber composite. Debuting on the 2013 Lincoln MKX, this load-bearing application uses a natural-fiber-reinforced polypropylene as a replacement to a glass-fiber-reinforced polypropylene (GFPP). The 20% renewably sourced wood pulp cellulose fiber armrest reflects a 6% weight reduction, a 10% cycle time reduction, a 10% process energy reduction, and an 11% CO2 emissions reduction vs. the GFPP counterpart.

Weyerhaeuser NR Co. supplies the sustainably harvested forestry byproducts. The natural-fiber-reinforced PP is injection molded by the system supplier, Johnson Controls. Ford plans to use the natural-fiber-reinforced PP in future structural interior, exterior, underhood, and Class A applications.

Metallic appearance finish panels for the console, center stack, and the shifter surround bezel on the 2015 Ford Mondeo sedan won the Materials Award. These interior parts are free of weld-lines as NADA Technology Co. Ltd’s eMold process essentially eliminates surface flaws by elevating the tool temperature at targeted locations. The optimization of particle shapes (spherical, “corn flake,” and round), sizes, and flow distribution results in a subtle-sparkle finish. Ford’s first application of paint-free metallic finish panels with e-Mold provides a $13 average cost savings per vehicle compared to painted panels that require paint-related infrastructure.

Samsung’s all-new LX-1098 luminous polycarbonate (PC) + acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) thermoplastic provides UV light protection as well as scratch and mar resistance. The material processor is Key Plastics Lohne GmbH. Tooling supplier is Michael Tool & Mold Ltd. The systems supplier is International Automotive Components.

A crankshaft cover with integrated oil seal used on the VW TDI clean diesel MDB-4 engine won the Powertrain Award. Considered the world’s first application of a sustainable crankshaft cover, the part is made from a polyamide (EcoPaXX) that is 70% bio-based. This resin can be processed on standard PA6/PA66 equipment. KACO GmbH’s patented plasma process means the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) seal disc requires no wet-chemical surface treatment.

Compared to aluminum designs, the crankshaft cover with integrated oil seal has a 40% lower mass and provides an up to 25% cost savings. Elmet GmbH is the part’s tooling supplier. Material supplier is DSM Engineering Plastics B.V. The injection molding equipment provider is Engel Austria GmbH. Systems supplier is KACO GmbH + Co. KG. Global vehicle applications for the part include the VW Jetta and Jetta SportWagen, Passat, Golf, Beetle, and Beetle Convertible.

A single collimator molded LED lens for low-beam and high-beam headlamps picked up the Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies Award. The 2015 Ford F-150 fullsize pick-up truck’s headlamps feature a 45-mm (1.8-in) thick, precision optical lens produced by a multi-shot molding process. This injection-molded lens essentially provides the same level of light output, plus greater design flexibility, vs. the previous glass LED lens.

When compared to the predecessor technology, the optical grade polycarbonate (PC) reduces the weight from 0.31 kg (0.68 lb) to 0.155 kg (0.342 lb), compresses the process cycle time from 34 min to less than 5 min, and provides a 62% optical efficiency vs. the 58% optical efficiency of the previous LED lens. The lens resin, Makrolon LED 2245, is provided by Bayer. DBM Reflex is the molder and tool supplier. The LED module supplier is Osram, and the system supplier is Flex-N-Gate.

For more information on the 2014 SPE Automotive Innovation Award winners, visit

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