DETROIT -- Dana Corp.'s search for sales opportunities in the industry is prompting it to consider new uses for plastics under the hood.
The Toledo, Ohio, company is developing prototype thermoplastic transmission pans and oil pans with hopes that it can persuade automakers to switch from steel and aluminum systems.
"Plastic offers the same advantages (for the pans) it does in other places," said Dwayne Matthews, executive director of global sales and engineering for Dana's sealing products division in Paris, Tenn. "It has lighter weight; it can work in more complex shapes."
A few European automakers are using plastic for transmission pans, although the trend has not moved to North America, Matthews said.
In North America, oil pans are almost exclusively metal, but, Matthews said, there is the potential to persuade carmakers to switch if Dana can make the right case. Both systems serve as fluid reservoirs for their respective parts and may contain gaskets, seals, electronic connections and pumps.
"If we can show them that we can improve value and give them something better for the same price, we've got a chance," Matthews said.
In developing the systems, Dana will stress its capabilities as well as the material's.
The company views itself as a sealing supplier that also integrates its seals into thermoset and thermoplastic parts that it molds. Valve covers, for instance, can include gaskets, acoustic enhancements, a crankcase ventilation system, and clips and connectors for various hoses and wires.
A single unit that contains multiple parts potentially can reduce assembly time and total system costs.
Tight spaces under the hood could give plastic a competitive advantage in transmission and oil pans since it can be molded into complex shapes.
But resin also would have to show it can stand up to rough roads. The pans are housed on the underside of the engine compartment, making them vulnerable to scrapes and damage. Matthews said a skid plate beneath the engine compartment provides a protective barrier.
Dana probably will have faster customer response with transmission pans since they are in limited use in Europe, Matthews said.
"We have to be the on-site experts for what we do," he said. "We're expected to bring new ideas. If we don't, then others will."