The Enlighten Award in Review – Week 6: Continental Structural Plastics

1st May 2015 by David Mason

In last week’s post I took a look back at Grede’s 2014 Altair Enlighten Award entry in which the company had taken advantage of a new stamping manufacturing method that could accommodated more intricate, lightweight designs. This week, we’re going to review Continental Structural Plastics’ (CSP) entry which made use of a new material to drive down weight.

Identifying a need in the automotive market to minimize weight, CSP developed a new material as a substitute for metals for vehicle body panels. The proprietary TCA Lite® material – an 850 mid-density sheet moulded compound (SMC) – is formulated with crush-resistant glass microspheres in place of heavier calcium carbonate. TCA Lite is a lower density alternative to CSP’s highly successful Tough Class A SMC. The density is reduced by modifying the filler package to replace higher density calcium carbonate in part with crush resistant hollow glass microspheres.

The material is approaching aluminum’s cost and weight reduction capabilities, making it an attractive alternative to OEMs as they look for ways to reduce overall vehicle weight. Being Class A surface capable, it is ideal for any vehicle body panel.

As an example of the materials’ potential, CSP worked with Corvette to create the doors, fenders, quarter panels and deck lid on the 2015 C7 Convertible from TCA Lite. The result was a 9 percent weight savings per component on the vehicle as compared to those made with previous standard density SMC formulations.

TCA Lite offers significant advantages over aluminum, including reduced tooling costs, improved design flexibility, and corrosion and damage resistance. In addition, CSP noted it can be molded to deeper pockets and achieve sharper styling feature lines that cannot be achieved in stamping operations.

During the review process, the judges were impressed with CSP’s new material as it not only saved a considerable amount of weight, but also because it is can be used for Class A surface. This means it can be externally facing in the same way as traditional metallic panels so there is no need for added weight from additional surface materials.

The automotive industry has of course seen a wealth of example of companies moving to lighter alternatives to traditional steels, with headline grabbing stories coming from manufacturers like Ford and its F-150 and Jaguar Land Rover’s 4x4s.  For a certain architecture approach, materials like CSP’s TCA Lite will provide another great alternative.

It will be interesting to observe the different architecture choices by the OEM’s as they balance weight reduction versus cost for each vehicle segment.  Along this path, it is clear that materials like TCA Lite will grow in production use. In the meantime, we’re excited by the potential and will keep saving for a C7!

The 2015 Enlighten Award is open for nominations now. Find out more.


Continental Structural Plastics' award nomination from 2014
Continental Structural Plastics’ award nomination from 2014 (click to view larger)