Plastic Fantastic! The 2014 SPE Innovation Award Winners

For 44 years the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE for short) has recognized manufacturers for the Year's Most Innovative Use of Plastics via the annual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition. Let's take a closer look at the category and Grand Award winners for 2014.

BODY EXTERIOR: Panoramic Sunroof Frame, 2015 Kia Sorento

The 2015 Kia Sorento's carbon-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (CFRP) panoramic sunroof frame is the auto industry's first CFRP panoramic frame. The frame is composed of just four parts (including two steel inserts) compared to conventional all-steel sunroof frames comprising 33 parts – many of which must be welded and painted. In addition, a steel-intensive frame weighs more than twice as much as the Sorento's CFRP frame. (image via CAR NEWS 2015)

BODY INTERIOR: Second-Row Seat Back, 2015 Ford Mustang

Among the foremost benefits of plastic vs metal components is weight reduction and the 2015 Mustang's new composite rear seatbacks are a case in point. on the garnered the Body Interior Award. The glass mat thermoplastic (GMT) seatbacks are a first for Ford and besides saving weight – 2.1 kg (4.6 lb) per each seat – the application allows 8mm (0.31 inch) less structural thickness compared to conventional steel-welded seatbacks. (image via Motor Trend)

CHASSIS & HARDWARE: Co-extruded Thermoplastic Coolant Tube, 2015 Renault Twingo

The 2015 Renault Twingo city car features a front-mounted radiator though the engine is mounted in the rear. This layout necessitates the use of a long pipe connecting the former with the latter; the pipe itself must resist the effects of extreme temperatures while retaining limited flexibility over its long and ocasionally tortuous course. To replace and improve upon piping made from aluminum tubing or reinforced rubber, a co-extruded thermoplastic tube was devised that provides a 60% weight savings: approximately 0.9 kg or 2 lbs per car. (image via

ENVIRONMENTAL: Cellulose Fiber Composite Console Armrest, 2013 Lincoln MKX

Used for the first time inside the 2013 Lincoln MKX's console armrest, natural fiber-reinforced polypropylene replaces glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene and bestows a variety of benefits without sacrificing performance. Substituting 20% renewably-sourced cellulose fiber obtained from sustainably harvested forestry by-products results in a 6% weight savings, reduced tool abrasion, and 10% lower process energy – without incurring any additional expense. Over the average lifespan of the vehicle, CO2 emissions are reduced by 11% and 2,500 gal of fuel are saved. (image via WardsAuto)    

MATERIALS: Metallic Appearance Finish Panels, 2015 Ford Mondeo

Ideally, replacing metal parts with plastic ones should result in a better part at a lower cost. That's just what Ford accomplished by switching to metallic appearance finish panels on its 2015 Mondeo sedan. The replacement panels feature weldline-free surfaces while negating painting. Improved appearance is only skin deep, however: the new panels will reduces warranty claims, offer $13 worth of direct cost savings per installation, and benefit the environment since the panels don't require painting. (image via The Molding Blog)

POWERTRAIN: EcoPaXX Crankshaft Cover, 2014 Volkwagen MDB Engines

Conditions under the hood have long conspired to exile plastics but cumulative improvements in plastics technology are changing all that. VW's TDI clean diesel MDB-4 engine is in the forefront of this change, being the world's first application of a sustainable crankshaft cover. The cover is made from EcoPaXX, a polyamide plastic resin that is 70% bio-based. In supplanting aluminum crankshaft covers, the EcoPaXX cover provides a 40% per unit weight savings and up to 25% manufacturing cost savings.(image via DSM)

PROCESS, ASSEMBLY & ENABLING TECHNOLOGIES: Single-Collimator Molded LED Lens, 2015 Ford F-150 Pickup

With most of the attention focused on the new Ford F-150 truck's lightweight aluminum body, other improvements to this perennial sales-leader have missed the spotlight. That's why recognition of the F-150's single-collimator molded LED headlight lens is so important, as well as being well-deserved. The groundbreaking application of Makrolon® LED 2245 polycarbonate in place of traditional glass offers reduced cycle times and lower unit costs, while making possible a new level of design freedom. (image via LED Times)

SAFETY: Active Glove Box, 2015 Ford Mustang

Not only did the 2015 Ford Mustang's Active Glove Box win the SAFETY category, it was also named this year's GRAND AWARD WINNER. Calling the device an “Active Glove Box” is a bit of a misnomer: it's actually a front seat passenger knee airbag system packaged inside the vehicle's glove box door. By locating the airbag in the glove box door, the bag can deploy directly from the instrument panel. This results in a 75% smaller knee airbag inflator, a 30% smaller knee airbag and an overall 65% lighter knee airbag system. (image via Mustang6G)

For more information on the 2014 SPE Automotive Innovation Award winners, please visit SPE automotive.