The automotive industry has been experiencing a significant change over the years, and there is an increasing trend towards reduction of automobile weight to improve fuel efficiency.
The major raw materials used for plastic production include natural gas, crude oil, coal, cellulose, and salt.
Plastics used for automotive manufacturing are compounded with additives and fiberglass to improve mechanical properties and stability. Increased focus on natural gas is anticipated to drive demand by the economics of oil in the Middle East region. New capacity additions in Middle East countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE are expected to drive demand owing to expanding end-use industries. Middle East countries are also expected to benefit from low petrochemical feedstock prices in the near future.
These raw materials & feedstock undergo a distillation process in an oil refinery, encompassing various processes such as the segregation of heavy crude oil into lighter groups, also called fractions. The end products are thus a combination of linked hydrocarbon chains, made up entirely of chemical compounds such as hydrogen and carbon among others.
The final products may differ depending on the structure and size of raw material molecules. A major element required for their production is naphtha, and two major processes used for the production include polycondensation and polymerization, each requiring specific catalysts. Monomers such as ethylene and propylene are combined to form a long polymer chain in the polymerization process.
The production process undergoes certain necessary steps to generate homogeneous compound from the different number of raw materials such as plasticizing, melting, conveying, homogenizing, mixing, blending, devolatizing, dispersing, cooling/heating, and pressurizing. They can be fabricated via various processes including extrusion, molding, compounding, lamination, and welding among others.
Plastics used in automotive applications
|Powertrains||PE, PP, PVC, PU, ABS, PC, PA, Others|
|Electrical Components||PA, PP, PMMA, ABS, PVC, Others|
|Interior Furnishings||PUR, PP, PMMA, ABS, PVC, PE, PA, Others|
|Exterior Furnishings||PP, ABS, PVC, PUR, PA, Others|
|Under the Hood Components||PE, PP, PA, ABS, PUR, Others|
|Chassis||PE, PP, ABS, PA, PUR, Others|
Injection molding is the most widely used technology for plastic molding. The wide variety of products is produced through injection molding, which may vary depending upon complexity, size, and application. Injection molding can be performed using a variety of materials including glass, elastomers, metals, thermosetting and thermoplastics polymers. They are melted in the form of granules and injected under high pressure into a mold. This process produces a large number of parts of high quality with great accuracy and quickly.
Extrusion is a production process of a continuous length of product with a uniform profile, heated under pressure. Low cost and high production rates make this process a common manufacturing choice for applications such as pipes, gutter, fencing, films and deck railings. Thermoplastic raw materials or resins are fed from a top-mounted hopper into the barrel of an extruder. Depending on the type of raw materials, barrel temperatures can vary between 400 to 530 degrees Fahrenheit.
Technological advancements are expected to introduce new and innovative processing methods for automotive plastics in the near future. Numerous companies are already undertaking intensive R&D and collaborating with scientific & research institutions to gain a competitive edge.