We encounter plastics on a daily basis, from the pen we use to write to the bags that carry our groceries. This low cost, lightweight and versatile material has become so ubiquitous in modern society that it's hard to find an industry where plastic has not made its mark. Even the auto industry, which typically relies on parts made of metal, is slowly embracing the use of plastic in today's automobiles.
In an effort to meet the EPA's Fuel Economy Regulations, car engineers are now using plastic to build lighter parts without compromising performance.
Daimler Chrysler was the first automaker to integrate a polymer oil pan module, an oil pan with an aluminum upper shell and plastic lower shell. Made from thermoformed nylon resin, the plastic lower shell of the oil pan not only reduces the weight of the product, but also improves functionality and cost efficiency.
An oil pan made partially from plastic delivers several significant benefits. Because it is lighter than oil pans made entirely from aluminum, it increases fuel savings while reducing CO2 emissions. The flexibility of plastic material also permits more design freedom and opportunities to improve product performance. Lastly, the use of plastic instead of metal reduces the cost of tooling and simplifies production.
The successful integration of this thermoformed part opens the door for designers to expand the use of thermoplastic polymers for additional automobile parts. This lightweight material features both structural stability and ease of molding, making it an ideal material for continued use throughout the auto industry.