Steel, aluminum and plastics suppliers to the auto industry typically compete for real estate on future cars. But even the most ardent backers of individual materials admit the future lies in multimaterial vehicles.
The problem is how to join those materials.
Researchers at Michigan State University, supported by the American Chemistry Council's automotive group, believe they are on the path to a new kind of adhesive that will join multiple materials, Sandra McClelland, a chair for the council's automotive team and business development for Solvay SA, said at the seminars Monday.
Just as important, McClelland said, the group believes the mixed materials can be cleanly separated at the end of vehicle life.
The joining method also would allow a component to be repaired in a way that will make that joint stronger, she said.
"The vehicles of today and tomorrow will be manufactured with a combination of energy-saving materials," McClelland said. "Multimaterial solutions are and will provide OEMs and consumers with the best possible choices for performance, safety, aesthetics and value. All materials are in play."
The industry is keenly interested in not being locked into all-or-nothing uses of materials for vehicles and components. The wish is to be able to join high-strength steel to aluminum alloys, aluminum to composite or composite to steel without adding weight or using adhesives that make it hard to separate the parts at the end of vehicle life.
The adhesive that has researchers enthusiastic is a thermoplastic enhanced with nanomagnetic particles. It would bond different kinds of plastic, different types of metals or metals and plastic without the need for additional rivets or connectors.
Since the bond can be reversed, it will allow for easier recycling at the end of the product's life.
The research is in the laboratory testing phase now, she said. But signs are strong for its potential in real-world situations.