When it comes to the business of lightweighting vehicles, many people probably wouldn’t think that a company that is primarily focused on coatings would be one of your first stops.
But PPG Industries executives say they are heavily involved helping automakers remove weight in their vehicles, primarily through two areas – coatings that allow automakers to use thinner steel and fiber glass, which can be used in place of or in combination with other materials.
PPG had a press conference Tuesday at the Detroit Auto Show to explain how some of its products are helping reduce vehicle weight, which can reduce fuel consumption.
Tim Knavish, vice president of automotive OEM coatings for PPG, said the company’s electric coating process promotes corrosion protection and has largely eliminated the rusted-out vehicles of the past. One advantage of the product is it is easier to get into difficult-to-reach spots on the vehicle, so less paint is needed.
Still paint only represents about five pounds of a typical vehicle’s weight, so that’s not a big reduction. But since the process reduces corrosion, it allows automakers to use a thinner gauge metal in the car, which can represent a significant reduction.
PPG’s new paints and paint processes are also allowing automakers to eliminate their primer booths, which reduces energy consumption and helps the maker to reduce the size of the plant and speed the painting process.
“We see tremendous growth in this technology,” Knavish said.
In addition, PPG is working on products and processes to paint lightweight substrates such as carbon fiber, plastics, aluminum and magnesium. In fact Cindy Niekamp, the company’s senior vice president of OEM coatings, said consumers have little knowledge of the difficulty in maintaining consistent color and quality on the wide array of materials found on today’s cars. For example, one car may have a mostly steel body, but an aluminum hood and plastic bumpers, all requiring different types of paints and processes used to apply them.
Tom Kerr, PPG’s vice president of fiber glass, said that while the use of fiber glass started as a way to reduce costs and part consolidation, automakers are now looking at the material as a way to reduce weight.
Kerr said making direct cost comparisons between new-tech composite parts and traditional steel parts is difficult because the new version of a part might look nothing like the old one.
Part of the problem with lightweighting vehicles is getting suppliers of the different materials – steel and fiber glass, for example – together. Some parts are made of a combination of materials that take advantage of different attributes of both.
Kevin Richardson, market development manager for fiber glass, said some material suppliers are territorial, not wanting to work with others who might try to reduce the amount of their material used to make the vehicle.
“It’s difficult to get those kinds of collaborations,” Richardson said.