Recently, Mike Garry (one of our subject matter experts for polymers and plastics) was interviewed by Plastics Today for an article about recall prevention of plastic components, especially in the automotive industry. The automotive industry is especially vulnerable to poor product quality issues. US vehicle recalls hit an all-time high last year – with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration announcing over 900 recalls affecting 51 million vehicles in 2015. The increase may be due to regulators cracking down on safety defects and automakers becoming more proactive about reporting problems.
With the focus on fuel efficiency, automotive manufacturers are looking for lightweight products to replace heavy steel and iron. In fact, according to the American Chemistry Council, today’s typical lightweight vehicle may contain more than 1,000 plastic and polymer composite parts. Although we don’t know the exact number of plastics that were involved in recalls, we can guess that as manufacturers along the supply chain try out new materials to help increase fuel efficiency and reduce a vehicle’s environmental impact, there are going to be failures in the manufacturing process. Thus failure analysis, failure prevention and material qualification and evaluation are primary areas of concern.
Mike explained that material analysis is important for just about any plastic or polymer-based component of a vehicle—from paint, windshield wipers, brakes and under-the-hood parts to lubricants and fluids. Several techniques and technologies are used for testing and analysis, including: infrared and Raman spectrometers, rheometers, X-ray photoelectron spectrometers (XPS), energy dispersive x-ray spectrometers (EDS) and scanning electron microscopes (SEM). According to Mike:
“We do things such as identify very similar polymers with slight differences in chemical structure, such as nylon 6 versus nylon 6/12….There are chemical bonding differences that make the molecule different structurally. In turn, these structural differences result in different physical properties that can affect how the plastic material performs under use.”
Mike also points out that lab personnel should pay attention to content uniformity (a mixture of polymer and additives together) and contaminant identification. Both can indicate a problem in how the part is being produced, how products change during processing, and how your production process is running.
In addition to reading the article, take a look at our “Featured Automotive Categories” section of our website for more information about plastics and polymers in the automotive industry. Click on the Automotive Polymers & Composites link to explore the technologies, applications, techniques, and instruments used to design, develop, manufacture and troubleshoot across the complete range of materials used in automobiles and the manufacturing process, including:
- Product formulation
- Study material behavior to develop advanced product composition and designs
- Failure Analysis
- Analyze defects, detect and identify contaminants, and determine root cause to understand product failure
- Material Identification
- Identify unknown materials and verify material composition throughout the product development and manufacturing process
- Study reactions and understand chemical and physical changes of materials during the curing process.
- Quality Control
- Ensure products meet the expected standards throughout the research, development and manufacturing processes.
From leather interiors to an alternative energy powertrain, every component in today’s automobile is designed for profitability, performance and appeal. Analytical instrumentation that reveals the chemistry and composition of materials plays an essential role across the supply chain, from R&D to failure analysis.