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Front End Module (FEM) technology combines the strength of steel with the low mass of resins in a single cost-effective moulding process

GE Advanced Materials : 08 July, 2004  (New Product)
GE Advanced Materials introduces Hydroplast Structures with unique Smartlok connection technology, as a breakthrough front end module solution offers more efficient use of materials combined with potential investment and system cost savings.
GE Advanced Materials, in conjunction with Carlisle Engineered Products and Vari-Form Inc., has developed an advanced Front End Module (FEM) technology that combines the strength of steel with the low mass of resins in a single cost-effective moulding process.

Patented as HydroPlast Structures, the new FEM technology brings together pressure sequence hydroforming (PSH), with the established benefits of tight, reproducible tolerances, and the low-weight, high part-integration potential of GE Advanced Materials’ engineering resins. These benefits are obtained through the proprietary SmartLok Connection technology. The SmartLok Connection, formed in the injection moulding process, is the integral tie between the metal and plastic enabling significant load transfer between the two materials.

According to Tom Goral, automotive technology manager at GE Advanced Materials, “In this application, the HydroPlast Structure complements existing production methodologies employed by many OEMs, who incorporate traditional plastic and metal front ends in their vehicles. More importantly, the HydroPlast Structure offers a new opportunity to produce modular front ends at a lower piece price and investment cost than its competition, while achieving weight-out objectives,” says Goral.

To provide the ultimate benchmark, GE Advanced Materials, Carlisle Engineered Products and Vari-Form undertook the development of the HydroPlast Structure FEM that met the OEM’s performance criteria. An existing sport utility vehicle (SUV) was used, which utilises an all-metal front end that would yield the most comprehensive data to validate the HydroPlast Structure on a vehicle.

The starting point of the validation program was to benchmark the front end of the SUV into its component parts, to understand its structure in relation to its performance requirements. Next, a design was created and a tool built for the complete HydroPlast Structure injection moulded part. The design integrates the radiator, bonnet (hood) latch, washer bottle, headlamps, grille and fascia, while managing both vehicle level input and local mechanical loads. A hydroformed insert combined with Noryl GTX resin, a modified high-performance PPO/PA alloy, are the materials of choice for HydroPlast Structures.

Calibrated load tests were conducted on the HydroPlast Structure front end and on the original SUV with its all-metal front end. All tests conformed to industry norms and the OEM’s criteria. Criteria included mounting and torsional regularity, fixed first frequency, hood slam strength and durability, and hood latch retention.

Frank Mooijman, industry manager for bumpers and front ends at GE Advanced Materials, points out several advantages offered by HydroPlast Structures “With PSH, a closed section of steel is used to provide the stiffness required for FEM’s. The closed HydroPlast section is also a more efficient use of steel and plastic, eliminating stampings and the excess plastic used in competitive systems. The design efficiencies of HydroPlast could lead to savings on mass and cost. Using proprietary pressure sequence hydroforming ultimately reduces the steel conversion cost in hybrid front end modules. Hydroforming is a known process that is trusted by automotive engineers for critical components such as engine cradles and roof rails. If you have a hybrid system comprised of multiple individual stamped parts, it requires investment in multiple metal dies. With PSH, only one die is required thus reducing investment cost.”

Mooijman notes the HydroPlast system can reduce tooling investment for the OEM by up to 15%, and produce part cost savings of up to 10 to 20%. “Of course, the actual savings will vary from vehicle to vehicle and be dependent on type of construction used to produce the car.”

To bring HydroPlast Structures to market, GE Advanced Materials is working in conjunction with Carlisle Engineered Products and Vari-Form in the US, as well as best-in-class suppliers in Europe and the Pacific region.
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