Ford Motor Co. and Asahi Kasei Plastics North America, Inc. shared the stage at the 42nd Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE®) Automotive Innovation Awards Gala, winning the "Most Innovative Use of Plastics" title in the Materials category for the LINCOLN® MKZ®, FORD® FUSION® and FORD ESCAPE® air register vanes.
Asahi Kasei Plastics developed Leona™ resin, an advanced, partially aromatic polyamide (PA 66/6i) with 60 percent glass reinforcement, to solve the challenges FORD faced when designing longer register vanes. The unique properties of the Leona 90G60 resin meets FORD's requirements for high strength and high modulus (stiffness) while providing the finished part with a Class A surface.
"We are especially proud to have won this award two years in a row and are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with FORD on such a challenging and rewarding project," said John Moyer, president of Asahi Kasei Plastics. "The high level of collaboration with the interiors team led by Mike Sun, supervisor and technical specialist at FORD, made the development and implementation seamless. For that we say thank you."
"I must also extend my deepest gratitude to our employees," continued Moyer "Their dedication and commitment made both the innovation and the award ultimately possible."
"The molded-in-color, Class A surface finish achieved with a 60 percent fiberglass reinforced, controlled crystallization polyamide is a first for FORD and the North American auto industry," said Ramesh Iyer, vice president of commercial operations at Asahi Kasei Plastics.
New Design Required New Technology
Historically, the styling of the instrument panel and center stack have not demanded that register vanes need specialty materials such as Leona 90G60 resin, but that was before touch screen displays started occupying large areas of the dashboard. This shift of instrument panel utilization has required designers to rethink the placement and design of registers which for many years have been simple geometric shapes.
"With the shift to artistic and complex contoured designs in new vehicles, the dimensional evolution of air registers has made the vanes thinner and longer. A material both strong and stiff enough to meet the performance requirements of a vane 170mm (6.7inches) long became necessary," stated Jim Dutchik, business development manager at Asahi Kasei Plastics.
"Meeting the performance requirements can be accomplished one of two ways: increase the thickness of the vanes (impacting air flow and aesthetic appeal) or modify the stiffness by increasing glass fiber content, (allowing for thinner vanes, but also impacting the surface appearance)," added Dutchik. "Fortunately, Leona 90G60 resin not only makes it possible to meet the mechanical specifications of the longer and thinner vanes, but it delivers the Class A, molded-in-color surface appearance required as well."
Contributing to this resin's success is its dimensional stability, addressing prolonged heat and UV exposure over extended periods of times.
"Register vanes have always maintained a functional purpose within automobiles, and as the designs of the interior compartments have evolved, the materials have needed to do the same," commented Dutchik.
The Science Behind The Innovation
"Controlling the crystallization rate by way of the polymer structure of Leona 90G60 resin was critical to the material's success." said Jim Dutchik. "The '6i' aromatic structure changes the crystallization rate of the polyamide, such that the polymer/glass matrix does not immediately freeze upon touching the mold surface."
"This 'freeze delay' allows the molder to achieve a resin-rich surface during the injection and packing segments of the molding cycle, providing a better surface finish despite the high glass content."
The controlled crystallization of Leona 90G60 resin also comes with environmental benefits. Leona can still deliver a Class A surface finish in mold temperatures as low as 85°C (185°F). This allows material processers to take advantage of less-expensive water-chilled molds over costlier oil-chilled molds.
The other environmental benefit is the resin's ability to eliminate the need for secondary painting processes. This not only reduced costs but eliminated VOCs in the interior of the vehicle as well as in the manufacturing environment.
"We're always looking for environmentally sound solutions," states Dutchik. "Leona 90G60 resin enables us to improve quality, provides cost savings and improves environmental sustainability. This was a win-win scenario for us and our customer."