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A dedicated business unit for automotive plastics

GE Advanced Materials : 19 March, 2004  (Technical Article)
GE Advanced Materials has adopted a strategy to intensify the focus of its plastics business on the global needs of the automotive industry.
According to André Horbach, GE Advanced Materials, vice president – Automotive Plastics: “We took the automotive business out of our Americas, European and Pacific operations and made it a dedicated business unit. This allows us to concentrate our resources and efforts exclusively on the automotive industry worldwide. GE Advanced Materials is doing this to build a stronger relationship with the auto industry by driving innovation that helps manufacturers produce exciting, technically advanced vehicles that auto buyers demand. We believe game changing innovation in materials and application development can help OEMs build stronger auto brands. In this fiercely competitive market, manufacturers are subject to increased external pressures from safety and environmental legislation, as well as consumer demands for additional features and style changes,” Horbach continued, citing the pressures that automakers face from the ever-present - and absolute need - for cost reduction.

“GE Advanced Materials has been very successful in using our technology to help customers address these issues. Now, by leveraging the global strength our dedicated automotive organisation, we can better focus our technical resources on developing more innovative, higher value application solutions all over the vehicle,” Horbach added.

While imagination and thinking outside the box are core disciplines, GE Advanced Materials is characterized by its leadership in materials, proprietary technology, design and application development. This is backed by $2.6 billion in annual spending that GE invests in R and D, along with global GE R and D and Technology Centres strategically located in the U.S.A., China, India and Europe. Staffed by more than 2500 world-class scientists and engineers, these resources are available to support the development of state-of-the-art innovation for auto manufacturers and tier suppliers.

“GE is currently investing $52 million to build another world-class Technology Centre in Munich-Garching, Germany, which is scheduled to open in June,” said John Carrington, GE Advanced Materials, global marketing director - Automotive Plastics. “Staffed by 150 researchers and developers, this centre will not only extend the plastics resources we can make available to customers, but also improve customer access as it’s located in the centre of Europe - in close proximity to German automotive manufacturers - as well as the Munich Technical University, where we can call upon experts in physics, mechanical engineering and other disciplines.”

“Imagination at work” in GE Advanced Materials is evidenced by a continuous stream of developments that help drive innovation in five key automotive segments: Body Panels and Glazing, Under-the-Hood, Components, Structures and Lighting.

Imagine a “no-paint” body panel. GE did. Development of advanced Lexan SLX film provides automakers with a ‘paint-free’ option that can deliver a Class A surface finish with deep gloss consumer appeal. Furthermore, the film has the ability to withstand prolonged exposure to UV rays without fading, and it’s scratch and chemical resistant. The Lexan SLX film roof module on the Smart Roadster won the Society of Automotive Engineers’ Grand Prize for Innovation.

For automakers, Lexan SLX film can eliminate new paint line investment, emissions and - by replacing metal panels – reduce vehicle weight by 40 to 50%. The film is applicable to most exterior body panels, matches well to a variety of substrates, and can be processed using large in-mould decoration techniques.

In painted body panels, GE Advanced Materials leads the way with painted engineering thermoplastic body panels aboard 19 vehicle platforms produced by nine automakers worldwide. In fact, GE has more engineering thermoplastic body panels on the road than any other resin supplier. GE Advanced Materials understands that automakers want an option for any painting process. Consequently, GE offers all three. Off-Line solutions include paintable – or moulded-in-colour – Xenoy resin panels. On-line and in-line painted body panels can also be manufactured from non-conductive Noryl GTX resins, or from conductive grades that eliminate the need for primers.

Weight reduction is another critical component of our strategy and plastic body panels offer an ideal solution. For example, fenders moulded of Noryl GTX or Xenoy resins, can help reduce weight by up to 40%, compared with steel. These panels are dent, ding and corrosion resistant, offer high heat and chemical resistance, and can be moulded into complex shapes that are difficult to achieve in metal offering complete styling freedom.

Imagine wrap-around glazing that takes design to a new level, giving drivers and passengers a better all round view, while offering outstanding impact resistance. GE turned imagination into reality with Lexan resin glazing that can provide panoramic roof systems with integrated features in complex shapes that glass cannot deliver.

Lexan resin glazing offers weight savings of up to 50% versus glass and metal systems, while helping to lower the centre of gravity for greater stability.

Imagine the benefit of Under-the-Hood components that can reduce cost, weight, integrate parts and maintain high dimensional stability versus metal. GE did. Electronic throttle bodies moulded from high heat Ultem resins can lower system cost and reduce parts by up to 30%, while eliminating machining and lowering weight by up to 50%, versus metal.

For applications from air intake systems to engine covers, GE offers a broad portfolio of engineering resins and composites designed to withstand high heat and harsh chemical environments.

High Performance Components
Imagine a strong, lightweight running board made of composite materials. GE did. Result: the first moulded-in-colour, injection-moulded, composite running board on the 2004 Dodge Durango. Made of Verton PDX composite, the stylish running board is about half the weight of conventional steel systems.

From bumper to bumper, GE Advanced Materials offers a wide variety of high performance engineering thermoplastics and composites for Exterior and Interior component applications. For example, Geloy XTW resin, is a game-changing material that delivers three to five times better colour and gloss retention than conventional ASAs, and comes in a spectrum of colours.

More than additives, this revolutionary resin uses new polymer building blocks to dramatically improve weatherability in exterior applications. While moulded-in colour eliminates paint and hard coat, automakers can also achieve blacks that are deeper and darker, whites that are brighter and cleaner, along with an excellent depth of image that will be noticed, and appreciated, by auto consumers.

The experience of GE Advanced Materials in Structures is broad, encompassing instrument panels, headliners and energy absorption systems that include injection moulded FMVSS and Pedestrian Impact designs.

Integrated front-end modules (FEMs) are another priority, as GE supports the development of lightweight all-plastic FEMs, along with advanced steel and plastics systems such as HydroPlast Structures.

Imagine a Seamless Air Bag System that meets the needs of styling and performs in extreme temperatures. GE did, with a seamless Integrated Airbag Door Instrument Panel system made with Lexan EXL, a highly ductile advanced resin. This innovative design enables the seamless integration of the air bag door into the instrument panel, for good aesthetics, while helping to facilitate robust air bag deployment without fragmentation, even at -40C.

GE designers also respond to legislation in Europe and Japan that call for highly efficient impact performance that can reduce damage to the lower leg in the event of a pedestrian accident. Energy Absorber Systems made with Xenoy resin can help do this by allowing tier suppliers to provide a Pedestrian Protection System that is functional, lightweight and stylish, as it permits less pronounced bumper offsets for cleaner vehicle lines.

GE HydroPlast Structures is a metal/plastic hybrid solution that can combine the strength of steel with the low mass of plastics, and do it in a single cost effective moulding process.

Because of their substantial savings potential, GE focused this innovation on large front-end structures to help lower weight and investment, reduce mass and parts integration.

HydroPlast Structures and SmartLok Connections permit hydro-formed steel to be combined with engineering thermoplastic structures in a single moulding process. This system allows the integration of separate steel parts into a single integrated unit, which was demonstrated in a retrofit bolster HydroPlast Structure of Verton MFX composite. It integrates the radiator, hood latch, washer bottle, headlamps, grille and fascia, while managing both vehicle level input and local mechanical loads.

Imagine automotive lighting systems of advanced resins that are tough, stylish and welcome the high heat of projector and fog lamps. GE did, and provided Ultem XH6050 resin, an advanced material that GE believes is the highest heat, highest modulus amorphous resin available. By offering heat resistance to 225 degrees C, Ultem XH6050 expands heat capability to include fog lamp and projector lamp reflectors.

The resin is characterised by exceptional dimensional stability, strength and durability. In addition, it’s flame retardant and 100% recyclable using standard equipment, and offers cost savings versus lacquered thermosets and metals.

Millions of vehicles worldwide already rely on Lexan resin to provide high impact resistance and clarity in headlight lenses and bezels. Now, a new high heat polycarbonate grade, Lexan 4401R resin, provides a step improvement in the balance of flow and heat resistance currently available with alternative resins.

With improved heat stability to148 degrees C, Lexan 4401R resin can optimise flow and heat for bezels that require direct metallisation and high surface quality, while permitting faster cycle times and higher productivity.

Noryl GTX resins, or from conductive grades that eliminate the need for primers. Weight reduction is another critical component of our strategy and plastic body panels offer an ideal solution. For example, fenders moulded of Noryl GTX or Xenoy resins, can help reduce weight by up to 40% compared with steel. These panels are dent, ding and corrosion resistant, offer high heat and chemical resistance, and can be moulded into complex shapes that are difficult to achieve in metal offering complete styling freedom.
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