Flexible partnerships providing strong results
In the automotive industry, new technologies are constantly being developed to respond to increasingly stringent regulations and manufacturing requirements. To successfully compete on the global stage, auto manufacturers must find new ways of controlling design and development costs, streamlining fabrication processes and responding quickly to rapidly changing market needs.
Nowhere is this more challenging than in the manufacturing of hollow plastic parts created through the blow-molding process. As one of the most complex and expensive steps in product development today, manufacturers need new solutions that will respond to the industry's persistent demands for greater product functionality, reduced weight and higher performance-to-cost ratios.
To tackle these challenges head-on, global leaders in the automotive, packaged goods and resin industries are supported by the 14-member Special Interest Group in Blow Molding (SIGBLOW) with the goal of increasing the efficiency of the blow-molding design process. With its extensive scientific knowledge of polymers, engineering capability and equipment that can handle various types of blow-molding processes, the National Research Council (NRC) serves as its primary research lead.
Responding to these demands, NRC, under the leadership of SIGBLOW, has developed a unique simulation software that can predict how new products will behave without needing to build and experiment with expensive prototypes. This unique "BlowView" simulation software numerically models variations in polymer products and provides SIGBLOW members with the ability to identify ways in which they can improve part design and processing conditions in order to respect strict performance criteria.
"SIGBLOW's strong relationships over the years have ensured that our members not only stay on top of emerging challenges, but also stay ahead of the times," comments Mohammad Usman, Global Manager/Technical Leader of Computer Aided Engineering, Plastics Manufacturing and Materials at Ford Motor Company. The result is a streamlined, yet flexible, manufacturing process that will decrease time-to-market and reduce costs.
The BlowView software is now being used by top manufacturers of plastic auto parts and packaged-goods containers as a new way to optimize mass production and stay ahead of the competition. "NRC's expertise and unique modelling technology provides a competitive edge to Canadian manufacturers," says Hicham Mir, Virtual Prototyping Research Engineer, Plastic Omnium—Auto Inergy Division.
Manufacturing new solutions
Today, most of the world's plastic fuel tanks are designed using the BlowView software. As a recognized "must-have" technology, it is now ingrained in the design culture of most fuel tank and automotive parts manufacturers in the world as well as in packaging multinationals such as Amcor, Graham Packaging and The Coca-Cola Company.
According to Haile Atsbha, Manager, Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) at Kautex Textron, the productivity benefits gained through the collaboration with SIGBLOW and NRC are felt throughout the supply chain. "The ongoing partnership will help us move into other products and technologies to address emerging environmental and functional concerns." Atsbha further points out that "NRC's role will continue to be invaluable in developing unique simulation capabilities for breakthrough products and technologies."
Looking ahead to the evolution of BlowView, the expanding use of the software is anticipated to include solutions to reduce fuel tank emissions and fuel consumption by reducing the weight of tanks and by adding new processes to the manufacturing cycle that will address issues such as seepage, warping and variations in shape and thickness. And as the partnerships evolve, grow and successfully tackle future challenges, they are certain to mold the shape of industry in new and innovative ways.