What is the best prototyping method for a plastic product? Well, that depends. A panel discussion at Medical Design & Manufacturing (MD&M) West in Anaheim, CA, next month will explore the various options and discuss the advantages and limitations of each. In advance of that Tech Talk session, panelist Michael Paloian, President of Integrated Design Systems Inc., shared his insights with PlasticsToday. An industrial designer and plastics engineer with hundreds of products under his belt, Paloian will be joined at the session, scheduled for Feb. 12 at 8:30 AM, by panelists Rick Puglielli, President, Promold Plastics; Albert McGovern, Director of Mechanical Engineering, Shure Inc.; and George Wilson, Senior Program Manager, ARRK Product Development Group USA. MD&M West, co-located with PLASTEC West, comes to the Anaheim Convention Center from Feb. 11 to 13, 2020.

young engineer

The panelists will discuss the use of 3D printing for prototyping, of course, but they will also delve into CNC machining, polyurethane casting, limited production runs of injection molded prototyping and other technologies, said Paloian. The best process ultimately depends on the designer’s objectives. He or she should ask the following questions before settling on a prototyping process, recommends Paloian.

  • What’s the purpose of the prototype—if it’s for show and tell, don’t bother spending a lot of money replicating details.
  • What’s the lead time? If you need something really fast, that will dictate the optimal process.
  • How large (or small) is the part?
  • What manufacturing process—injection or blow molding, thermoforming, extrusion—are you trying to replicate? That will have some effect on the prototyping process you select.
  • What are the tolerances, material properties, level of detail, quantities?
  • What are you intending to test or evaluate?

“If properties are a critical aspect of your evaluation and testing, CNC machining the part from a particular resin will give you a better indication of how the product will perform than 3D printing,” said Paloian. Don’t be misled by claims of material similarity. “If they tell you it’s similar to ABS or similar to PE, that leaves a lot of gray area. ‘Similar to’ means nothing,” stressed Paloian.

If you’re more interested in the structural behavior of a detail on a part—say, the front bezel of an ultrasound scanner—you could 3D print or machine that portion of the part and subject it to the loads to which it might be exposed, said Paloian. “But if you’re trying to evaluate the wear resistance of a material, for example, you really have to use the material in question, or your evaluations will be erroneous.”

But if your key goal is the best design replication at the lowest cost, it’s hard to beat 3D printing. Then the question becomes, which type of 3D printing?

The three most common platforms are selective laser sintering (SLS), stereolithography (SLA) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), according to Paloian, but SLS is fast becoming the preferred platform. “According to one survey, its market share in prototyping will almost triple over the next 10 years, from about 13% to 33%, while SLA and FDM will shrink.” Materials are playing a big role in that.

“SLA typically is based on a UV-cured acrylic or epoxy, and your properties are limited. There’s no way you’re going to replicate PP or PE with an SLA part,” said Paloian. “With SLS, you’re basically fusing together a powder, so you can use the actual resin, similar to FDM, for testing.” FDM, which Paloian likens to stacking Lincoln logs on top of each other to create the part, lacks resolution. “SLS gives you the best of both worlds—the fine resolution of SLA and the material selection of FDM,” said Paloian.

At the end of the day, understanding the pros and cons of each prototyping process will steer design engineers toward the best option for achieving their objectives. And that won’t always be 3D printing, added Paloian.

Image: Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe Stock


You might call it a giant leap for 3D bioprinting: Human heart cells have been 3D printed on the International Space Station (ISS) and are making their way back to Earth this week inside a SpaceX capsule. The 3D BioFabrication Facility (BFF) was developed by Techshot Inc., a commercial operator of microgravity research and manufacturing equipment, in partnership with nScrypt, a manufacturer of industrial 3D bioprinters and electronics printers.

“Our BFF has the potential to transform human healthcare in ways not previously possible,” said Techshot President and CEO John Vellinger. ”We’re laying the foundation for an entire industry in space.”

3D BioFabrication Facility
The 3D BioFabrication Facility is the first U.S. 3D printer capable of manufacturing human tissue under microgravity conditions, according to Techshot Inc.

If you’re wondering why they don’t just print the cells here on Earth, the answer is gravity. When attempting to print with soft, easily flowing biomaterials on Earth, the tissues collapse under their own weight, resulting in little more than a puddle, explained Techshot in a press release. “But when these same materials are used in the microgravity environment of space, the 3D-printed structures maintain their shapes.” The bio-ink used in the space station, consequently, did not contain the scaffolding materials or thickening agents normally required to resist the Earth’s gravitational pull.

The test prints made in space are large by terrestrial bioprinting standards, measuring 30 mm long by 20 mm wide by 12.6 mm high. The BFF printed inside a Techshot-developed cell-culturing cassette that strengthens the assemblage of cells over time. The tissue-like structure is expected to be viable and self-supporting once it is back in Earth’s gravity.

More 3D bioprinting in space will take place in March following the delivery of additional bio-inks to the ISS National Laboratory aboard SpaceX mission CRS-20.

Following that round of test prints, Techshot expects to declare BFF open for business to industrial and institutional life science customers. Including the bioprinter, Techshot owns and operates five commercial research and manufacturing payloads aboard the ISS, reportedly the largest catalog of any American company operating inside the orbiting lab. A sixth payload, the Techshot Cell Factory, is under development. It will enable the company’s customers to continuously generate multiple cell types in space and not rely entirely on cargo resupply spacecraft transporting the cells.

Although the prospect of manufacturing human hearts and other organs via a 3D bioprinter in space is at least a decade away, Techshot is hopeful that the long-term success of the BFF could lead to a reduction in the shortage of donor organs.

Founded more than 30 years ago, Techshot operates its own commercial research payloads in space and serves as the manager of three NASA-owned ISS payloads. Test experiments, such as the one described in this article, aside, the company rarely conducts its own research. Its business model entails providing equipment on board the station for a fee to those with their own independent research programs, serving as a one-stop resource for organizations that want access to space.

Headquartered in Greenville, IN, and with an office at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Techshot is an official Implementation Partner for the ISS U.S. National Laboratory. It has agreements with NASA that provide the company and its customers with access to space cargo transfer services and assistance from the on-orbit crew.


Plastics have improved the performance, structure and safety of automobiles, and they are a major contributor to lightweighting and, thus, enable fuel efficiency and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, the automotive plastics market has emerged as a vital business space: Valued at $23.7 billion globally in 2016, demand for plastics in the automotive sector is projected to expand 11% CAGR and reach a market value exceeding $50 billion by 2024.

Speedometer showing 2020

Spurred by rigorous regulations, especially in terms of fuel efficiency, plastics are a key factor in the manufacture and design of automotive vehicles. In addition to reducing the mass of parts used in vehicles, plastics provide more design freedom vis-à-vis metals. Other advantages include the material’s recyclability, abrasion resistance, durability, strength and vibration control.

Based on research conducted by Global Market Insights (Selbyville, DE), here are some key trends that will define the automotive plastics market through 2024.

  • Demand for polypropylene (PP) will increase. It is being sourced for automotive interiors and exteriors, as well as under-the-hood applications, often replacing metal parts. In a bid to neutralize battery weight, PP will proliferate as electric vehicle (EV) production surges.
  • Polyethylene (PE) consumption is likely to remain stagnant. While high-density PE continues to replace steel in gas tanks, the newest trend affecting PE demand is the rising proliferation of EVs. In electric vehicles, PE mainly finds deployment in engine parts, since electrically powered engines obviate the need for plastics engineered for high-temperature environments.
  • Although ABS consumption may take a hit as the use of PP composites increases, it will remain in demand for some high-end automobiles because of its perceived quality for automotive interiors. The use of ABS in wheel covers and body parts has been increasing on account of the fact that this material enhances toughness, impact resistance and heat resistance in the final plastic product.
  • Polycarbonate (PC) is setting a new bar for autonomous vehicles, as well as in lighting and electrification in traditional vehicles. Also, PC exhibits exceptional impact, thermal, electrical and weathering properties. The combination of toughness, hardness and stiffness will drive the use of PC in the automotive plastics industry.
  • PVC will witness traction thanks to its enhanced flame retardance, excellent flexibility, low (to no) lead content and high gloss. PVC can be compression molded, injection molded and blow molded to form a range of products. Accordingly, demand for PVC in automobile instrumental panels and doors is expected to grow through 2024.
  • North America and Europe will continue to attract investors into the automotive plastics market, as polymer consumption in this sector experiences unprecedented growth through 2024.

Despite the buzz about advanced materials such as carbon fibers and aluminum, plastics continue to replace metals in automotive parts thanks to technological advances that have bolstered the material’s tensile strength and other properties.

Demand for plastics in automotive exteriors has brought a paradigm shift to auto body design. In addition to lightweighting, the use of plastics allows manufacturers to lower production costs, advance modular assembly practices and improve the aerodynamic properties of car exteriors.

Plastics help manufacturers to meet Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and cater to market trends and the buying habits of consumers who want products and companies to be environmentally responsible. The adoption of polymer technologies by automotive engineers is expected to continue in passenger cars and mass transit vehicles. PE and PVC appear to stand out amid growing calls for recyclability, but demand for PC and PP also will continue to gain traction. The automotive plastics market will experience a remarkable transformation in the ensuing period.

Global Market Insights Inc. has published a market report dedicated to global automotive plastics. For more information and to purchase the report, go to the company’s website.

Image: Stock

About the author

Sunil Kumar Jha is Research Content Developer with Global Market Insights.


Several reports on the recycled plastics market are projecting increased demand for recycled plastics, including the latest one from Coherent Market Insights: “Recycled Plastics Market 2019-2027: Growth Rate, Market Drivers and Opportunities Evaluation.” The recycled plastics market and demand for recycled plastics “is expected to be driven by the increasing concerns for disposing of virgin plastic and growing awareness about energy savings,” according to Coherent Market Insights, which is headquartered in India and maintains a U.S. office in Seattle.

Infoholic Research LLP said in its report released Nov. 13, 2019, that it expects the recycled plastics market to grow globally by 6.8% CAGR, reaching a value of $66.73 billion by 2025. “North America leads the current market for recycled plastics with the highest per capita plastics consumption providing an opportunity for recyclers,” said Infoholic, headquartered in Bengaluru, India.

recycling profits

Most of the focus on recycled plastics has been on what is collected curbside from households or gathered up from marine environments, where plastic waste is thoughtlessly thrown. This has led to some consumers and various activist groups to wage a fight against plastic waste,  particularly single-use items. It has also resulted in a backlash from some in the media to reject recycling solutions, calling recycling part of the problem.

However, most recycled plastic materials come from two primary sources: Post-industrial waste and post-consumer waste. Post-industrial plastic waste comes from manufacturing plants that process plastics into products and collect the waste—non-conforming parts, runners and trim waste (in thermoforming and blow molding)—that the processors cannot use in new parts because of specification/quality constraints. Many plastics processors, particularly injection molders, however, do regrind runner waste and non-conforming parts and add this recycled material to the virgin resin at a percentage allowable by customer specifications. I doubt that gets counted in statistics on recycling. Post-industrial waste is in high demand because it is clean and ready to be reground into flake for use in new products.

Post-consumer recycling is the type of recycling that is most often examined when calculating the percentage of plastic waste that is being recycled. This is waste that comes primarily from municipal waste management recycling facilities that has gone through a sorting process before being sent to a plant where the recyclate is cleaned via a hot water/chemical bath to remove labels, food debris and so forth to make it suitable for processing into flake. Recycled materials from post-consumer sources are often unpredictable in quantity/volume, and are more expensive because extensive operations are required to prepare the material for injection molding new products.

Based on product type, Coherent’s report shows “polyethylene terephthalate (PET) accounted for the largest market share in the global recycled plastics market in 2018,” the last year for which figures were available. “Ease of raw material collection in the form of plastic bottles and easy recyclability are the major factors that are expected to drive growth of the PET segment,” said Coherent. That is followed by high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene and PVC, the fourth largest market by product type.

Coherent points out that “increasing usage of recycled plastics in various end-use industries such as automotive and building & construction, coupled with propelling growth of these industries, is expected to boost demand for recycled plastics, which will in turn drive market growth over the forecast period.”

Durable goods manufacturers can use conventional virgin and recycled plastic materials in their products with very little push-back from anti-plastic activists. Design for disassembly for durable goods such as vehicles has long been on the drawing board. 

With the demand for recycled plastic materials projected to increase, companies may be forced to rely on more post-industrial waste for materials. In a recent article, PlasticsToday questioned whether the push toward so-called “biodegradable” plastics would “sabotage” beverage companies’ use of recyclable plastics for PET bottles. That seems unlikely now that there has been a turn in the way some brand owners are recognizing that biodegradable plastics are not recyclable with PET and only degradable in a landfill (maybe) or left in the open environment. Additionally, it appears doubtful that plastics made from everything from mango and avocado pits to banana pseudostems, pineapple leaves, fish guts and crab shells can scale commercially to be a viable solution.

That leaves the recycling of conventional polymers as the best option. Both reports project good growth for the recycled plastics market. With the winds shifting back toward recycling and away from more pie-in-the-sky biodegradables and the even less promising “compostable” materials, these market reports appear to be on target.

Image: Stock


The Cleveland Clinic reported yesterday that FDA has cleared patient-specific 3D-printed airway stents developed by one of its physicians, Tom Gildea, MD.

The stents are used to keep open the airways of patients with serious breathing disorders, such as those caused by tumors, inflammation, trauma or other masses. Until now, the patient-specific devices were being implanted under FDA’s compassionate use program, which allows patients who have failed all available forms of treatment to receive investigational ones not yet available to the public, said the Cleveland Clinic in a news release.

Standard airway stents come in a limited number of sizes and shapes and are generally designed for larger airways. However, no two patient anatomies are alike, making it difficult to get a perfect fit, especially for those with complex conditions. Ill-fitting standard stents can result in stent kinking and bending as well as airway complications such as growth of new tissue, mucus impaction and tissue death.

The patient-specific stents developed by Gildea and his engineering team are designed using CT scans and proprietary 3D visualization software. The molds for the stents are then printed using a 3D printer and injected with medical-grade silicone. This process allows them to perfectly fit a patient’s anatomy.

By using CT scans, visualization software and a 3D printer, Cleveland Clinic physician Tom Gildea is able to produce airway stents that precisely fit patient anatomies. This image courtesy Cleveland Clinic shows implantation of the stent.

“Breathing is something many people take for granted, but for many of these patients, every breath can be a struggle. It’s been gratifying to see patients receiving the customized stents feeling relief right away,” said Gildea, section head of bronchoscopy at Cleveland Clinic. “We are excited to be able to bring this technology to more patients across the country and grateful for the patients and donors who have worked with us to help pioneer this technology.”

Unlike standard stents, which may require frequent changes and cleaning because of a poor fit, patient-specific silicone stents lasted, on average, about a year in studies conducted at the Cleveland Clinic. Furthermore, the patient-specific stents exhibited shorter procedure times and improved patient-reported symptoms, leading to a reduced need for stent changes and modifications.

Approximately 30,000 airway stents will be implanted in the United States in 2020, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Patient-specific products manufactured with 3D printing, including the airway stents, were named as one of the top 10 innovations at Cleveland Clinic’s annual Medical Innovations Summit in 2018. Gildea received the Outstanding Innovation in Medical Device award at the 2018 Inventor Awards Reception held by Cleveland Clinic Innovations.

A new subsidiary named VisionAir Solutions will be formed around the technology with the sole mission of bringing more personalized medical devices to interventional pulmonologists. By the end of the first quarter of 2020, this new spin-off company plans to begin providing the personalized stents to patients in a controlled launch at many of the country’s top medical institutions.


There is a French revolution nouveau taking place—a revolt against single-use plastics (SUPs). In case you haven’t heard, the French government wants to eliminate all disposable plastic packaging by 2040.

You may have read about France’s decision to end the use of straws, glasses, cutlery, plates, drink stirrers, take-out cups and lids as well as food boxes made of EPS that will take effect in January. France wants to take that a step further, by going from a “disposable” society to a “reusable” one in the country’s drive for Zero Waste 2040 by banning all plastic packaging.

Single-use plastic cutlery

All products that were formerly “disposable” must be “reusable.” That means that even fast food restaurants must provide cutlery, plates, cups and lids that can be washed/sterilized and reused, which pretty much ends the take-out business many of these restaurants currently provide. The energy and water used to ensure the sanitary conditions of these utensils and plates will be enormous. But France has plenty of energy from its nuclear power plants, so energy—and, obviously, potable water—is not a problem.

According to a report by Axel Barrett in Bioplastics News, the bill that will ban all plastic packaging also prohibits the “free distribution of plastic bottles in public and business places. All will have to be equipped with water fountains.” Plans call for the deployment of “bulk devices by 2021, forcing sellers to accept containers brought by the consumer.” Manufacturers who use any type of plastic overwrap will run the risk of a “financial penalty.”

An article in the online media publication Euractiv noted that the “timetable for getting rid of disposable plastics adopted by the majority of [Members of Parliament] has caused an outcry, given that it seems disconnected from what the European Parliament recently declared to be an ‘environmental emergency.’” Euractiv noted that last March, the EU Parliament adopted a “less extensive ban of plates, cutlery, cotton buds and straws” scheduled for 2021.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of France complained: “We cannot wait until 2040 to ban disposable bags, small bottles or plastics in public and at events,” said Euractiv, noting that WWF France “is asking the government to take concrete and immediate action.”

I suppose the French aren’t as concerned about food safety as they are about getting rid of plastic. In many cases, a plastic overwrap is used to protect the product from tampering by some nefarious persons with the intent to do harm to the general public. It also can add to the shelf-life of a product by serving as an added barrier from oxygen that can result in spoilage. That also goes for barrier packaging that employs layers of plastic—forget that! Banned! Food waste will soon be a big problem in France.

And if you think that “bioplastics” and “compostable” packaging products are exempt, think again. As Barrett reported, the French parliament also adopted a new amendment that says if the “packaging is not ‘home compostable’ it cannot be labeled ‘compostable.’” As Barrett noted in his editorial, “This will force bioplastics companies to aim for home compostability instead of just industrial compostability.”

However, we must remind Barrett that “bioplastic” isn’t necessarily “compostable.” Not all compostable materials—plastics and paperboard—can actually be composted in a commercial/industrial composting facility, much less a backyard composting bin. How many Parisians, for example, have a composting bin? Will the French parliament mandate that all households have a composting bin that can actually compost plastics and paperboard? Will the urban French have to install under-the-sink composting bins?

Backyard composting is work! The environment must be kept at a temperature that is conducive to creating compost. The layers of dirt and food waste must be turned every few days. Even large industrial composting facilities have found that compostable or biodegradable plastics and some heavier paperboard containers will not break down enough in six months for the compost to be sold to consumers.

Let’s face it, “biodegradable” and “compostable” are terms used by companies to “greenwash” their products. Barrett believes that this new mandate by the French parliament “may enable a true bioplastics packaging revolution.”

Or maybe not.

The French Parliament recently had an enlightening experience. The alternative for take-out packaging—food containers and cups—is paper or paperboard. However, the plastics lobby educated Members of Parliament on the fact that paper and paperboard cups and take-out food containers are not “waterproof” without a protective layer of—wait for it—plastic! That makes these paper and paperboard items non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and non-compostable!

Plastic cups and lids, plates and take-out containers are recyclable. “Many stakeholders of the plastic industry were afraid that the paper and cardboard industry would benefit from the plastic bashing in the sense that it would be perceived as a sustainable alternative,” Barrett wrote in his editorial. “The plastic lobby was more efficient than the cardboard and paper lobby. The end of paper and cardboard cups in Europe is coming.”


It was one hell of a [insert your adjective] year, but one thing you can’t say is that it was boring. That was true of the movies—The Irishman! Ford v Ferrari! Once Upon a Time in Hollywood! Parasite!—music—Billie Eilish! Lizzo! Billie Eilish!—and, last but not least, politics—Trump! Brexit! Impeachment!

It was a year to remember for the plastics industry, as well, 2019 being a K year, after all. We had a great time at the show, discovering new products, identifying trends and catching up with folks in the industry from around the world.

year change to 2020

But 2019 is winding down and our attention turns to the year ahead, which gave us the idea of asking people associated with the plastics industry what was on their wish list for 2020. Here’s what they told us.

A special thanks to all of the folks who shared their 2020 wish lists with PlasticsToday, and now we invite you, dear readers, to share your wishes for the new year in the comments section below. And allow me to take this opportunity to wish each and every one of you a happy new year. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear, as someone once sang.

Circularity of the economy is a must for the future

Mark Costa, Eastman“As a materials innovation company, Eastman is working toward creating infinite value from our finite resources as we strive to improve the quality of life globally in a material way. We believe circularity of the economy is a must for the future and that chemical recycling is a critical tool for making that happen. In this arena, our greatest wish for 2020 is that chemical recycling becomes accepted as a legitimate recycling option, facilitated by a mass balance credit approach. As a subset of that, we want to see policies and infrastructure created to drive the collection, aggregation and distribution of plastic waste to companies like ours that can use it right now as a feedstock to create new, circular materials.”

—Mark Costa, Board Chair and CEO, Eastman

We will drive digitalization even further

Stefan Engleder, ENGEL“Digitalization is paving the way for solving some of the toughest challenges of our time. One important field are the emerging initiatives regarding the circular economy. Only by connecting companies along the value chain, will we be capable of implementing a sustainable recycling network. Digitalization is the enabler of a modern, healthy and eco-friendly life. For 2020, I wish that together, with our customers, we will drive digitalization even further.”

—Dr. Stefan Engleder, CEO, Engel Holding

Plastics is strong

David Preusse, Wittmann Battenfeld USA“Plastic bans continue and may be gaining some momentum, but I can’t state the actual effects since much of it is based on emotion and there are hardly any better materials to replace plastics. We see more advances in plastics applications in the medical field that continue to save lives and push life expectancy. It’s too bad the public isn’t learning how plastics are saving lives and contributing to our sustainability. As governments add more bans and brand owners demand recycling, while China isn’t taking our trash, we might start to see the real change that I believe is possible. Landfills are not the answer.

“The U.S. division of Wittmann Battenfeld had a super year. After 12 years of a wonderful economic climb, I don’t expect 2020 growth necessarily, but if we actually do see growth, I will be very pleased.

“If we don’t follow the negative news media, we are still so fortunate here in the United States. Plastics is strong, and we all should be proud. If a partial slow down comes, just maybe we slow the issue we face in not having enough of a technical trained workforce and slow the challenges in such a low unemployment situation (technical unemployment is below 2%!).”

—David Preusse, President, Wittmann Battenfeld USA

Main image: Phunrawin/Adobe Stock


From 78s manufactured until the late 1950s from shellac, to LP records that debuted in 1948 pressed from PVC, and the compact disc released in 1982 that was injection-molded using polycarbonate, plastics traditionally played a key role in disseminating all manner of music, and thence culture, globally. And while vinyl records have been making a comeback of sorts of late, music has for all intents and purpose transitioned to a digital product, much to the detriment of album cover artwork.

Plastic has also played its part in music culture, be it band and artist names, track names, lyrics and, indeed, costumes and props. Here, we’d like to pay homage to the best—and worst—in our all-time Plastic Emmy/Razzie awards.

                                                                                                                                              [Photo: Bandcamp]

Best song title: “Plastic Factory” by Captain Beefheart. An all-time classic from the late multi-instrumentalist born Don Van Vliet. I never got the connection with phosphorus, but apparently the Captain didn’t like working there judging from the lyrics: Phos’phrous chimney burnin’, modern-men’s a-learnin’, Time and space a-turnin’, Motor’s engine churnin’, fac’trys no place for me boss man let me be. Special mention here for Icelandic electronic band Gus Gus and its 1998 song, “Polyesterday.”


With vehicle mass at a premium in electric vehicles (EVs), polypropylene (PP) suppliers are developing an array of materials solutions to engineer weight out of autos and extend the range of EVs, and consequently reduce CO2 emissions. Applications include both exterior and interior parts, both structural and non-structural.

The NIO ES8 EV makes extensive use of PP for lightweighting.

Take the plastic tailgate for example. According to Nicholas Kolesch, Head of Marketing, Automotive at Borealis, the metal structure and skin of a conventional tailgate for a c-segment vehicle has weight of approx. 16kg, whereas the same tailgate with a glass-fiber PP structure and PP TPO skin weighs in at 12 kg, a saving of 25%. “Furthermore, the design freedom of thermoplastics versus metal allows for functional integration of other tailgate components including spoilers, antennae, and rear lighting.”

Converting front fenders to PP can also save 2o–30% on weight as demonstrated in the ES8 SUV from China’s NIO. The next phase of car lightweighting will likely be conversion of doors and roofs.

EVs also bring new and unique applications to PP, such as the front trunk liner (frunk) in the Tesla Model 3. And despite the thermal requirement of EV drivetrain-related applications (see article on engineering plastics use in EVs), Borealis believes flame-retardant PP still has a major role to play. “We are looking into PP solutions for multiple aspects of battery systems that achieve V0 flame retardance, including structural applications to replace metal or engineering plastics,” he notes. “These include battery trays, cell holders, covers, and some of the elements of connectivity.”

PP is also playing a major role in the lightweighting of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. Here Borealis has developed a series of short glass fiber-reinforced Fibremod PP compounds for use in  front-end modules originally specified in polyamide (PA).

Pedal carrier and air intake manifold applications are also proving that PP can also take the pressure and heat. The Renault B4D engine, for example, uses a PP compound for the air intake manifold that weighs 15% less than a PA manifold and has a 20% lower system cost, all with material performance that is not dependant on humidity.

In interior components, meanwhile, the trend is towards lower talc loadings that deliver a lower density compound, while still achieving the right haptics along with scratch and mar resistance. “Some OEMs have even opted for neat PP, but these vehicles have reportedly achieved low ratings in JD Power surveys, with the components not holding up to wear and tear,” says Kolesch.

One example of a successful application of a low talc PP grade is in the instrument panel lower trims, glove box, and center console of the Skoda Scala. The 10% talc-filled grade from Borealis boasts low emissions, fogging and odor coupled with excellent scratch resistance and zero tackiness.

Another lightweighting tool in the Borealis toolkit is foamed PP. Daploy HMS resins are gaining traction in automotive, driven by lightweighting versus rigid components and recyclability versus alternative foam solutions like cross-linked polyethylene (XLPE). One application in this area is foamed automotive airducts. In this application, Daploy HMS can be processed using blow molding and sheet extrusion.

Daploy HMS resins target a density reduction up to 90% versus rigid PP. The combination of lightweight with increased thermal and acoustic insulation properties, while offering easy and widely available recyclability, make the material a resin of choice for driving the circular plastics economy forward.

Image souce: Ford Motor Co.

Like many commuters, Ford Motor Co. is making a morning stop by Mickey Dee’s for coffee. Only Ford’s coffee run is for the chaff of the dried skin that comes off the beans when roasting them. 

McDonald’s USA produces millions of pounds of coffee chaff every year, and now Ford is incorporating some of that waste stream into the creation of injection-molded plastic parts like F-150 pickup truck headlamp housings.

An F-150 headlamp housing. Image source: Ford Motor Co.
Ford’s Sustainability Projects

2007: Soybean-based foam for seats and headliners

2008: Recycled plastic bottles for carpets, wheel liners and fabrics

2009: Wheat straw for storage bins and cup holders

2010: Post-consumer recycled cotton for door and trunk sound-dampening

2011: Recycled tires for seals and gaskets and dandelions for floor mats, cupholders and interior trim pieces

2012: Recycled/shredded US currency for small bins and coin holders and kenaf plant into door bolsters

2013: Rice hulls for electrical harnesses

2014: Tomato skins for wiring brackets and storage bins

2015: Cellulose tree bark for underhood applications

2016: Agave fiber for cup holders and storage bins

2017: Captured CO2 to convert into foams and padding

2018: Bamboo for interior and underhood plastic composite parts

2019: Coffee chaff for headlamp housings and underhood components

The chaff serves as a filler in place of talc, which is normally used to help reduce the weight, increase the strength and improve the heat resistance of plastic parts by blending it into the mixture that is used to make parts

The coffee chaff doesn’t just turn out to be a sustainable alternative to talc, it actually performs even better than the regular material. Of course, if you could just grind up coffee chaff and stir it into plastic materials, suppliers would likely have been doing so already.

Ford’s Research and Innovation Center has developed a process that heats the chaff to high temperatures under low oxygen and then mixes it along with other additives into plastic to create the pellets that plastic manufacturers use to create the end product.

Ford and McDonald’s partner with Competitive Green Technologies, which processes the coffee chaff and with Varroc Lighting Systems, which supplies the F-150’s headlamps to Ford. Together, they create parts that are about 20 percent lighter than before and use 25 percent less energy during the molding process, but which have significantly better heat properties than headlight housings made with talc.

“The coffee chaff is even better than the talc material we are replacing,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team. “It is better for the environment, lighter weight and it even has better heat properties.”

While McDonald’s produces millions of pounds of chaff annually, the project with Ford is starting off using 75,000 lbs. “Which really is a lot, but it is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ian Olson, senior director of global sustainability for McDonald’s. “The potential is unlimited,” he enthused.

Indeed, Ford doesn’t plan to stop with just this one part for one vehicle. “We don’t want to put it on just one car line,” said Mielewski. “We start there and grow it until we do sustainability everywhere we can.”

Ford has a record of using recycled and sustainable materials in its vehicles dating to 2007, when the company employed soybean-based foam for seats and headliners. “This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and this is an example of jump starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products,” Mielewski explained.

McDonald’s is planning to have all of its coffee beans be sustainably sourced by 2020, which will further improve the benefits of the project. “Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative ways to further that goal,” said Olson. “By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy.”

Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.