Ross Brindle

At the Society of Automotive Engineers’ 2014 World Congress & Exhibition, the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division released an updated roadmap that will help automakers and their suppliers dramatically enhance fuel efficiency in vehicles through the adoption of plastics and polymer composites to achieve significant weight reductions. Nexight Group was an instrumental partner to ACC in developing this roadmap, as I’ve written about previously.

Strategic Context
The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) joint standards set by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency require automakers to achieve more than 50 miles per gallon in auto fleets by model year 2025—arguably the most influential force in the North American automotive market today.

For decades, advanced plastics and polymer composites have helped improve the appearance, functionality, and safety of automobiles while also reducing vehicle weight, increasing design flexibility, and delivering superior value to customers. New regulations, shifts in consumer preferences, and recent technology innovations are encouraging automakers to continue increasing the use of advanced plastics and polymer composites to meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. We have written before about the particular importance of fiber-reinforced polymers in the clean energy economy.

About the New Roadmap
The new roadmap, “Plastics and Polymer Composites Technology Roadmap for Automotive Markets,” calls for a series of industry-wide, collaborative demonstration projects to generate data, establish predictive models and develop specifications that will improve the manufacturing and assemblage of new high-performance parts. These pre-competitive, cooperative efforts are aimed at helping plastics and polymer composites suppliers enhance the properties of their materials and improve production efficiencies to accelerate innovations. This will enable automakers to meet and in many cases foster higher performance and sustainability for cars of the future.

“The route laid out in our updated roadmap establishes a realistic, achievable path that will enable plastics and polymer composites suppliers to quickly and effectively meet the evolving needs of the automotive industry,” said Matthew Marks, chair of ACC’s Automotive Team (SABIC). “We look forward to building on our history of strong collaboration to help bring about innovative lightweighting solutions that will dramatically save weight, enhance automotive fuel efficiency, performance and value, all while maintaining safety.”

In addition to an emphasis on industry-wide demonstration projects, the roadmap calls for collaborative R&D in the areas of material selection and part design, manufacturing and assembly, continued materials development, and supporting initiatives such as workforce development. Taken together, these activities will help automakers incorporate plastics and polymer composites into vehicles sooner and more effectively, accelerating their contribution to vehicle lightweighting.

ACC-Graphic

About the Roadmapping Process
To develop the latest roadmap, ACC’s Plastics Division, which represents leading U.S. makers of plastics, and polymer composite elements, engaged Nexight Group because of our deep expertise in technology roadmapping. We worked closely with ACC to engage automotive OEMs, Tier suppliers, the research community, and federal regulatory agencies to understand the significant changes in the automotive marketplace and regulatory environment since earlier editions of the roadmap were published in 2001 and most recently in 2009.

During the roadmap update process, we conducted telephone interviews, reviewed recent literature publications, facilitated a two-day expert workshop, and interfaced with three relevant professional societies. The roadmapping process engaged technical experts and leaders from the automotive and plastics and polymer composites industries, including perspectives from original equipment manufacturers, tier suppliers, material developers, researchers, federal agencies, and consultants, to discuss the current limitations to the increased use of plastics and polymer composites and to identify industry-wide actions that can accelerate the increased widespread use of these materials in future vehicles.

Implementing the Roadmap
The plastics and polymer composites industry is committed to working together with the entire automotive value chain to achieve the roadmap’s vision: by 2030, the automotive industry and society will recognize plastics and polymer composites as preferred material solutions that meet, and in many cases set, automotive performance and sustainability requirements.

“Plastics and polymer composites specialists are excited to begin working with this new roadmap,” said Gina Oliver, senior director of the Auto Team at ACC’s Plastics Division. “We look forward to supporting and contributing to a culture of collaboration up and down the automotive value chain, together with the research community and federal regulators, to take full advantage of the potential benefits that may be realized from the use of plastics and polymer composites.”

I’m also excited to see the roadmap get implemented, particularly now that polymer composites are increasingly being recognized as strategically important to the clean energy economy. Indeed, after opening the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2013, the Department of Energy has announced a competition for a Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures. This Institute represents a significant investment—up to $70 million in DOE funds matched with at least that amount in private funding—in the future of polymer composites. I’ll be watching with excitement to see how these government initiatives can join the industry-led roadmap to accelerate progress and benefit us all.

To learn more about Nexight Group’s approach to technology roadmapping, click here.

To read about Ten Tips for Successful Technology Roadmapping, click here.