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HarleyEarl

GM Moves....

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News GM moves to replace paint with plastic film; facias, rocker panels are first applications RHODA MIEL | Plastics News Posted Date: 11/4/05 DETROIT -- General Motors is using film rather than paint on parts for five vehicles. Bumper fascia and rocker panels are among the parts involved. Unlike past users of paint replacement film on parts, GM has chosen a thick thermoformed sheet. The company intends to develop a supply base of thermoformers. "This is one of our major efforts," said Charles Buehler, a technical integration engineer in GM's materials group, during an Oct. 11 interview at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Thermoplastic Olefin conference in Sterling Heights, Mich. "We're working to build a cooperative supply base for thermoforming." GM first used a thermoformed sheet that combined a thermoplastic polyolefin base with a body-color film on a stone shield for its Chevrolet SSR pickup. Now the Chevrolet HHR wagon has stone shields that were made using the process. Two cars just beginning to roll out -- the Buick Lucerne and Cadillac STS-V -- have thermoformed rocker panels; the GMC Envoy will have thermoformed bumper fascia starting next year. GM and its suppliers have created 1,000 of the fascia in an early rollout. With the bumpers, not only did the companies eliminate the need to paint a plastic part, they also replaced an injection-molded part with thermoforming. An earlier paint-replacement system that debuted on the Dodge Neon used thermoformed paint replacement, but the fascia was injection molded behind a thin formed sheet. The thick-sheet thermoforming reduces the number of manufacturing steps, which shortens development time and cuts costs. That's because tooling for thermoforming is less expensive than standard injection-molding tooling, Buehler said. Using thermoforming, the company and its suppliers can create a component -- from design to tooling to production -- within 120 days, he said. "We see this as an enabler," Buehler said. "We're not against injection molding behind (the sheet), but we think the supply base in place isn't ready." Now a supply base for thermoforming is developing, creating opportunities for molders, material suppliers, tool makers and machinery makers. The GM system uses films produced by Soliant LLC of Lancaster, S.C., that can match the full line of automotive paint colors. Machinery makers accustomed to making materials-handling equipment are learning how to make parts that meet automakers' demands for Class A surface quality, said Ed Bearse, a partner in Plastic Concepts & Innovations LLC of Mount Pleasant, S.C. His company helps coordinate communication within the developing supply chain and runs training programs for thermoformers. Suppliers latch on Durakon Industries Inc., a Lapeer, Mich., supplier that makes aftermarket thermoformed pickup beds, launched its paint film technology with the SSR. Now it's turning out rocker panels for the Lucerne and STS-V. Guardian Industries Inc., of Auburn Hills, Mich., a traditional injection molder, is making the stone shields for the HHR. It is taking over thermoforming operations from partner Southtech Plastics Inc. of New Bern, N.C., and is seeking more contracts. Another injection molder, Meridian Automotive Systems Inc., of Dearborn, Mich., is overseeing the SUV fascia program. "This is something new for the industry," said Len Damico, vice president of sales at Durakon. "It's been a real bright spot for the company, and we've made some substantial investments." Durakon was one of a handful of thick-sheet thermoformers that already supplied the auto industry. It had its own in-house extrusion to turn out the sheets but added clean rooms to laminate its substrate to Soliant's film. It also added robots to automate production further. "It had been a tremendous effort to get this started from an infrastructure standpoint," said Joe Randazzo, Guardian's director of research and materials development. By partnering with Southtech, Guardian has access to Southtech's expertise in producing the thick thermoplastic polyolefin sheets laminated with Soliant's film. It is also tapping other companies, such as Plastic Concepts & Innovations, for information. Durakon has shared information with potential competitors to get the industry off to a smooth start, Damico said. "It's a new beast out there called collaboration," he said. "Collaboration and teamwork are essential." Selected applications GM is targeting specific applications on each vehicle it has selected for its paint-replacement project, Buehler said. In the case of the HHR, the company needed to protect a fender area of the car that takes abuse from road debris. Stones would chip away the paint on a standard part. GM and its suppliers had to design a shield that would stand up to the damage but also precisely mimic the shape of the vehicle, sitting flush with the body. "The perspective that we're looking at is in terms of value performance," Buehler said. "We want what's best for the vehicle. We want the right places to do it." Meridian is investing both in thermoforming and standard injection molding and paint lines so that it can make parts with whichever process a customer selects, COO Steve McKenzie said. Success with GM's programs now will lead to more opportunities. Guardian's Randazzo said all of the automakers are continuing to consider options. Said Randazzo: "There is a lot of interest out there, and GM, for all intents and purposes, is the one that is pushing it forward."
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Sounds cool. hope it works. I wonder if any others will follow.......
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.. if it's successful then of course they will. Toyota/Honda will advertise their "breakthrough" about 5 years from now. See adaptive headlights, rain-sensing wipers, wind ("belly") pans, etc for details on that one..
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It's great to hear about these great new innovations at GM....it's part of what makes me a GM fan. cmattson, you are so right about others taking credit down the road.
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Take a look at the Ridgeline's dual-hinge tailgate. That design is ancient; having its origins back in the station wagon days. GM debuted it on their XUV and I swear you could hear crickets from the auto-press. Honda has it and it's the best thing since sliced bread.
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Cmattson: I'm with you brother. Hopefully this will give GM some positive press, I'm usually skeptical about this kind of thing but it sounds awsome.
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I remember sometime not too long ago Toyota having a big halabalou about the fact they had electronic cruise control. GM has had that since 1984. But they took credit for it. Same with the Honda Ridgeline tailgate. Gm has had that since the 1960's.
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Not to mention digital guage clusters! :P Anyways, this is interesting. Not sure if I like the idea or not. Something makes me think these will fade faster. None-the-less I hate how my rocker panels are chipped all to hell....
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I remember sometime not too long ago Toyota having a big halabalou about the fact they had electronic cruise control. GM has had that since 1984. But they took credit for it. Same with the Honda Ridgeline tailgate. Gm has had that since the 1960's.

[post="45549"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]


Allow me to play devil's advocate here:

I don't see the big deal personally. For instance, Honda didn't claim the Ridgeline was the first vehicle to offer the dual-hinged tailgate, they simply simply said it was "innovative". Splitting hairs maybe but still... Edited by VarianceJ30
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Isn't that splitting hairs? Innovative, by definition means something new and/or original. Having something that others have had as recent as 3 years ago and have been in existence got 40 years hardly qualifies for innovation. Besides, I wasn't talking about what Honda said, I was talking about how the press covered it.
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Isn't that splitting hairs?  Innovative, by definition means something new and/or original.  Having something that others have had as recent as 3 years ago and have been in existence got 40 years hardly qualifies for innovation.  Besides, I wasn't talking about what Honda said, I was talking about how the press covered it.

[post="45587"]<{POST_SNAPBACK}>[/post]



Exactly. Well said.
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Interesting. . . I build a film plastic injection mold for the new neons back in 2001. At first I thought it wouldnt catch on for mass production but it seems to be saving DCX so much it's a must these days.
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Question is.. will it resist scratches and dings? With a scratch/ding, will it tear off the whole panel's "paint"?
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Is this like the grey plastic that we've seen over the past 15 years, except with color? Or is this more like bumper plastic? Could someone take a picture of the STS-V, HHR or SSR and show where these thermoformed plastics are being applied?
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