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Old 10-24-2009, 03:17 AM   #1
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WHEN the Boeing 787 airliner goes into commercial service next year, travelers will be transported on wings and fuselages made of advanced composite plastics.
This raises a logical question: if modern plastics are sturdy enough for 600 mile-per-hour airplanes, why are car engines still made by pouring molten metal into molds, a 6,000-year-old process?

That inequity is especially grating to Matti Holtzberg, a New Jersey engineer who has spent 30 years trying to send iron and aluminum engines the way of the woolly mammoth. The plastic powerplants he designed and built in the 1980s proved tough enough to race in professional motorsports.

But Mr. Holtzberg failed to persuade carmakers that the benefits — major weight and cost savings — were worth the risk. So, like the long-lasting battery and the driveway-ready hydrogen fuel cell, plastic engines remain just beyond fruition.

What keeps Mr. Holtzberg going is the occasional ally he converts to his way of thinking. Recently he formed a strategic partnership with the Huntsman Corporation of Houston, a global chemical company with 12,000 employees and annual revenues of $10 billion. Huntsman’s proven record as an auto industry supplier may bring the clout needed to move plastic engines out of the laboratory and onto the proving grounds where auto engineers are searching for ways to meet the next round of fuel economy targets.

Mr. Holtzberg is not the first pioneer to be frustrated in an attempt to move plastics to the mainstream. Henry Ford was an early champion of plastics, commissioning projects to explore alternative materials for car bodies in an era when steel was in short supply because of the military buildup for World War II. And he took the lead in promoting the concept: in 1941, he whacked his personal car with an ax to demonstrate the toughness of an experimental plastic trunk lid.

For years Ford cars had been equipped with plastic horn buttons, shift knobs, door handles and timing gears molded from soybean meal. Ford was drawn to plastic for its cost- and weight savings as well as its corrosion resistance.
Six years after Henry Ford died, his dream was finally realized. The first of more than 1.5 million Chevrolet Corvettes with fiberglass body panels began rolling off General Motors assembly lines in 1953.

Since then, cars have benefited from a steadily rising plastic content. The typical North American-made vehicle now contains over 300 pounds of the stuff, according to the Energy Department, making it the second largest material type behind steel. But major powertrain structural components — engine blocks and cylinder heads, transmission cases and axle housings — continue to be iron or aluminum castings because of the heat and stress they must endure.

Mr. Holtzberg’s efforts to change that can be traced at least to 1969. Reading a magazine article at the public library in Hackensack, N.J., he learned of a new plastic said to be tough enough to withstand the harsh conditions inside engines. He obtained a sample, made a piston with it and installed it in the engine of a friend’s Austin Mini.
The plastic piston lasted 20 minutes.

Mr. Holtzberg pressed on. During the 1970s, he made and sold plastic pistons — now with aluminum crowns to withstand the heat inside the cylinders — and connecting rods to racers. In 1979, he founded Polimotor — shorthand for polymer motor — to develop a plastic-intensive engine.

The first Polimotor, a clone of the Ford Pinto 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, used plastic for the block, piston skirts, connecting rods, oil pan and most of the cylinder head. Bore surfaces, piston crowns and combustion-chamber liners were iron or aluminum. The crankshaft and camshaft were standard metal components.

Shortly after Mr. Holtzberg’s first engine successfully ran, an article in Automotive Industries, a trade magazine, inquired, “What...a Plastic Engine?” Two years later, Popular Science featured a Polimotor on its cover. By then, Mr. Holtzberg had progressed to a second-generation 300-horsepower design weighing 152 pounds; a stock Pinto engine made 88 horsepower and weighed 415 pounds.

To prove that his plastic powerplant was durable, Mr. Holtzberg campaigned a Lola racecar in the International Motor Sports Association’s Camel Lights series. Amoco Chemical provided financial backing to promote its Torlon plastic resin. The only mishap during half-a-dozen 1984 and 1985 races was the failure of a connecting rod, a part purchased from an outside supplier.

In spite of his successes, Mr. Holtzberg roused little attention. “Ford was technically interested,” he recalled. “The Popular Science article gave them plenty of free publicity, but they actually contributed nothing to the Polimotor project.”

Mr. Holtzberg persevered with plastics better suited to mass production. In 1986, he shifted his focus to phenolic resin, the same material Henry Ford used to bond the soybean fibers in his experimental car body. Mr. Holtzberg still holds patents covering polymer formulations and techniques for casting resin reinforced with fiberglass in the type of molds in wide use. He views his composite casting technology as the next logical step in the evolution of the automobile, from wood, iron and steel to aluminum, magnesium and advanced plastics. Huntsman will supply the epoxy resin and aid in engineering and marketing efforts.

Mr. Holtzberg said that his materials could trim an aluminum engine’s weight by 30 percent to 35 percent, but that’s not its sole appeal.

“After 25 years of effort, major foundries are finally inquiring about my process,” he said. “Witnessing the demise of steel making and iron casting in America and experiencing the loss of a significant share of their business to Asia and India, they’re interested in advanced casting processes that can trim both material and machining costs.”

Seventeen licensees are using Mr. Holtzberg’s approach to manufacture rapid-prototyping components. Ed Graham, the engineering manager at ProtoCam in Northampton, Pa., said that his company had used Mr. Holtzberg’s technology to make engine parts for three years. “The thermoset phenolic material is strong and has excellent heat resistance,” he said. “The process is quick, and the parts go straight into experimental engines and transmissions.”

James Huntsman, vice president of the advanced materials division at Huntsman Corporation, hopes the success achieved in prototype composite-plastic parts will spur interest in low-volume production applications. “We realize that supplanting proven processes is a long and difficult challenge,” he said. “We’re convinced that the time is right for a composite engine.”

Of course, there are skeptics.
“While half of the aluminum car wheels now come from China, the foundries supplying major aluminum power train castings are captive,” said Richard A. Schultz, a consultant at Ducker Worldwide, using the industry term for operations owned by the automakers. “Energy consumption is not an issue, their aluminum scrap is readily recycled, and the cycle time with plastic would surely be longer.”

Jay Baron, president and chief executive of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., pointed out that the auto industry is staunchly risk-averse. “They’re not about to manufacture thousands of vehicles with engines that could fail in service.” he said. “Since plastic engine castings are outside any car company’s mainstream business, all the cost, processing, and durability issues would have to be resolved in the supply base.”

Before internal combustion is finally superseded by electric propulsion, there’s time left for a few more technological breakthroughs. Mr. Holtzberg and his Huntsman partners are betting that composite-plastic engines make the cut
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/au...er=rss&emc=rss
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Old 10-24-2009, 06:12 AM   #2
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What about a carbon ceramic engine? Is this the same thing? Interesting stuff
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Old 10-24-2009, 03:08 PM   #3
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Very cool. Maybe some day...
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Old 10-24-2009, 03:39 PM   #4
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This would be very cool, hopefully I get to see and utilize it in my lifetime.
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Old 10-24-2009, 05:11 PM   #5
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pretty interesting article. maybe some of the members on here will rethink their hating of the plastic intake manifolds that subaru uses now.
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Old 10-24-2009, 07:03 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by 424wrx View Post
pretty interesting article. maybe some of the members on here will rethink their hating of the plastic intake manifolds that subaru uses now.
Maybe they actually know what they are doing.
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Old 10-24-2009, 11:59 PM   #7
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Very cool idea.

Nick
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Old 10-25-2009, 01:46 AM   #8
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Wouldn't manufacturing the engines out of plastics mean that's just one more thing to buy from the oil companies? I'm not a "go green" guy, but this would increase demand on oil, raise oil prices, and increase dependance on the places we're trying to reduce our dependance on.

Just something to think about.
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Old 10-25-2009, 08:00 AM   #9
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WHAT the world could use right now is an affordable plastic car. After all, a car with a plastic frame and body would be lighter than a comparable steel vehicle, get better fuel economy and produce less carbon dioxide.

The reality is that the most popular plastic car in American driveways is red and yellow, and is foot-propelled: the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe.

Alas, that solution is not scalable. The auto industry has for decades waited for the necessary polymer materials to become practical and cheap enough to make mass production of a roadworthy plastic car feasible. That situation may be about to change.

The best materials for vehicles are carbon-fiber composites, which are polymers reinforced with embedded carbon fibers. Not only are the substances light, but they are also remarkably strong — considerably stronger pound for pound in comparison with most metals. This high strength-to-weight ratio is why such polymer composites first replaced metals in military jets like the F/A-18 Hornet.

Plastic car structures still face the same obstacles they did in the past: high fiber costs and slow manufacturing throughput. The fibers are tricky to manufacture and therefore expensive, and composite parts have to be baked for hours under high pressures and temperatures in large chambers called autoclaves. Fabrication slows to a crawl.
Among others, chemists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and at Japanese textile makers like Toray Industries are working to cut prices by using cheaper, easier-to-process starting materials.

Engineers at MAG Industrial Automation Systems, a machine-tool maker in Germany, are also on the case. Daniel Allman, director of MAG’s automotive composites business unit, said the company was “developing a high-performance fiber-reinforced composite material suitable for structural automotive components at a cost that is palatable to the industry.”

Crucially, the new materials do not require autoclave processing. MAG, Mr. Allman said, is looking to complete new production machines that would be able to fabricate structural composite car parts as rapidly as stamped-metal assembly lines.

Progress in this area may be further advanced than we know. Executives at Toray, which has already spent several hundred million dollars to commercialize carbon fiber auto platforms, have suggested that the first mass-produced plastic car prototypes may be only three to four years away.

As one might expect of an exotic material, carbon fiber became a fashion statement because of its link to racecar construction. The exposed — though clear-coated for protection — weave soon became the rage among the “Fast and Furious” tuner crowd and the advanced materials began showing up in trim on all sorts of cars.

It is mostly for show. The carbon-fiber roof on the BMW M3 coupe, for instance, saves a dozen pounds and lowers the car’s center of gravity a bit, but it is only an exterior surface panel that is supported by a conventional metal substructure underneath.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/25/au...er=rss&emc=rss
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Old 10-25-2009, 10:17 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Tim-H View Post
Wouldn't manufacturing the engines out of plastics mean that's just one more thing to buy from the oil companies? I'm not a "go green" guy, but this would increase demand on oil, raise oil prices, and increase dependance on the places we're trying to reduce our dependance on.

Just something to think about.
pretty much yes, but oil is being found in south america (Brazil just found an oil deposit deep in their soil, thats is bigger than that of the middle east....the only issue is that it is also deeper into the earth so more expensive to drill)


Id like to see them build a car and test it out over a 10 year period...see what the maintenance would be and what issues would arise from this kind of engine.
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Old 10-25-2009, 10:19 AM   #11
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This raises a logical question: if modern plastics are sturdy enough for 600 mile-per-hour airplanes, why are car engines still made by pouring molten metal into molds, a 6,000-year-old process?
Simple: the benefits of reducing the weight of an airplane are lot greater than the benefits of reducing the weight of a car.

also:

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the auto industry is staunchly risk-averse. “They’re not about to manufacture thousands of vehicles with engines that could fail in service.”
Metal casting is a tried-and-true process; nobody wants to be the first to switch to something radically different and have it fail on their customers.

New materials and processes are being introduced, but only slowly and when people in industry are convinced they are reliable and cost-effective.
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Old 10-25-2009, 03:11 PM   #12
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The steel industry will not approve.
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Old 10-25-2009, 04:01 PM   #13
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Ford once use plastic timing gear, Chrysler used plastic gear for their distributor and all these things failed. The problem is plastic deteriorated with heat and time. I do not hate plastic, just that it is not proven in heavy duty moving parts and load bearing applications.
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Old 10-25-2009, 07:30 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Tim-H View Post
Wouldn't manufacturing the engines out of plastics mean that's just one more thing to buy from the oil companies? I'm not a "go green" guy, but this would increase demand on oil, raise oil prices, and increase dependance on the places we're trying to reduce our dependance on.

Just something to think about.
weight savings in the car would mean better fuel mileage saving oil in the long run
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Old 10-25-2009, 07:36 PM   #15
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weight savings in the car would mean better fuel mileage saving oil in the long run
The weight savings of a plastic composite engine would about the same as driving without a passenger. It wont increase the mileage that much.
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Old 10-25-2009, 08:40 PM   #16
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The weight savings of a plastic composite engine would about the same as driving without a passenger. It wont increase the mileage that much.
If you replace the engine and transmission with plastic ones and stop there, then you've only done 1/10th of the engineering work, and you've only captured a tiny part of the benefits.

A lighter engine and transmission means that the engine cradle and mounts can also be lighter. The whole front end of your car is now lighter, so now you'll want to re-calibrate the suspension, steering, brakes, cooling system and crash structure. The lightening should ripple through the whole vehicle and might total up to as much as double what you took out of the engine and transmission. Acceleration will be up, maybe even with a smaller-displacement engine, and driving dynamics will be improved, fuel tank and engine compartments can get smaller, interior space can get bigger, mileage goes up. The benefits multiply if you let the engineers work the design cycle a few times.
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Old 10-26-2009, 04:28 AM   #17
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Ford once use plastic timing gear, Chrysler used plastic gear for their distributor and all these things failed. The problem is plastic deteriorated with heat and time. I do not hate plastic, just that it is not proven in heavy duty moving parts and load bearing applications.
I'm with you. Plastic does not have the capability to stand up to heat cycling the way metal alloys can.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:45 AM   #18
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Maybe Lotus should look into this.
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Old 10-26-2009, 10:19 AM   #19
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Subaru should use this to reduce their front weight bias.
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Old 10-26-2009, 10:28 AM   #20
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The advances in plastics and composite materials engineering are coming along pretty quickly, so I think it's a little bit off base to suggest that the fact that plastics have not worked before rules them out now.
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Old 10-26-2009, 09:01 PM   #21
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I'd start buying stock in the Green Light TriggerTM
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:19 PM   #22
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Subaru should use this to reduce their front weight bias.
plastic composite intake manifolds in the new imprezas
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Old 10-27-2009, 05:51 PM   #23
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And Legacy for a few years now.
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Old 01-13-2010, 02:08 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by KidCorporate View Post
I'm with you. Plastic does not have the capability to stand up to heat cycling the way metal alloys can.
I like how you seem to think 'plastic' is one thing.

There are literally thousands of types of plastic, and new ones being formulated all the time. Saying plastic is no good for these environments because some plastics fail would be akin to saying metal is no good to make pistons out of because copper pistons wouldn't work.

Did you even read the article? It actually specifically mentioned how previously there weren't types of plastic around that could handle it but new ones have been invented which they think can.
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Old 01-13-2010, 07:26 AM   #25
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Steel is cheap and easy to recycle, so is Aluminum. The auto industry recycles most of the metal in cars as it is quite valuable. Comparing his engine to a pinto is pretty disingenuous as we have come quite a ways since then. I do not dismiss this notion out of hand, but it seems fairly pointless to me when there are other options for making cars light weight that are less risky in terms of reliability.
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