Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) Standards coupled with heightened consumer sensitivities to the environmental impact of using fossil fuels are tightening fuel consumption requirements for the auto industry.
When engineering-grade resins were introduced in the 1950s, some auto manufacturers were unfamiliar with the benefits of metal-to-plastic conversion, i.e. how to design plastics into products, and how to manufacture with plastics. Today this practice, also known as “lightweighting,” is becoming increasingly popular with automakers as they race to comply with a federal mandate calling for automobiles to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Design teams are always trying to come up with something better—better shapes and designs, better performance, better materials, and most importantly, a better cost. If there's a way to give their product an edge over the competition, the design team will do everything they can to incorporate it into their process and product.
For OEMs that use metal as their primary material, it’s likely they’re very happy with the parts they’re producing. There are a number of key benefits to using metal components, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
In 2012, President Obama finalized standards to increase fuel efficiency in cars and light-duty trucks to nearly 55 mpg by model year 2025, with the aim of saving Americans more than $1.7 trillion at the gas pump and reducing U.S. oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.
While there are several ways to meet this mandate, reducing the car’s weight is one of the best – and easiest – ways to improve fuel economy without impacting other design and safety factors. That's why many automakers are rethinking production and using custom injection molded plastic components instead of metal assemblies.
Metal-to-plastic conversion is a decades old concept, and it remains a popular option for addressing concerns about component or end product cost, weight, manufacturability and compliance. While metal-to-plastic conversion is effective, many industries — notably automotive, defense and medical — are leaning into it further in order to reap more benefits by consolidating multiple existing parts into a single complex injection molded plastic part.
More manufacturing companies—especially automotive—are becoming aware of converting existing metal products or parts to plastic. Plastic parts have the same tight tolerances and are just as tough as metal parts. Plastics can be engineered to have specific characteristics for particular applications that are better than metal. Plastic parts are typically up to 50 percent lighter in weight than metal parts and converting from metal to plastic can significantly reduce total manufacturing costs.
Converting metal parts to plastic is becoming an increasingly standard practice in a number of industries from automotive to defense and public safety. The decision to use plastic instead of metal seems like a no brainer given the many advantages like lighter weight, lower material costs, quicker manufacturing times and extended tooling life.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has long faced the dilemma of balancing the safety and welfare of military personnel with the need for reducing the weight of armed forces gear and equipment.