In 2014, My GSI corporate magazine analyzed the four main technologies offered by the GSI Group, SMC, GMT, D-LFT and LWRT, to the automotive industry with reference to the compression moulding of thermosetting and thermoplastic materials. In an interview the opinions and expectations of some experts of our Group were compared with their experience and role inside the company. In that situation we had a debate with a colleague from the costing office and a project manager. I would like to resume the interrupted debate, proposing subjects already shared but reviewed in the light of the current market development. In a sort of ‘Back to the Future’. I would like to rewind the tape to 2014 and read that interview again, trying to understand what has happened in these two years and what expectations we could have for the following two years.
How is the moulding process of the following materials going to develop in the next 5-10 years?
2014: Thanks to its features, SMC represents a unique technology. A lot of industrial sectors require this thermosetting application: from structural details to painted aesthetic details. SMC is stable at high temperatures, it’s UV-resistant and guarantees a post-moulding shrinkage percentage close to “0” percent, perfect for A-class painted surfaces. It is available in different forms (colour, density and compositions), it is used in different fields such as agriculture, truck, bus and the power sectors. Considering the life of current projects in these sectors (about 10 years),
I can’t see significant market changes.
2016: Regarding this important technology, I can confirm what I declared two years ago. However, I would like to add that the Sheet Moulding Compound doesn’t stop here. We received a lot of signals from the market, where SMC with its new by-products is constantly developing not only in the automotive industry. A significant example is the SMC made up of random carbon fibre. This combination is used both, for structural details and aesthetic details with gloss or matt finish or even matching the body colour.
The main advantages are already known: weight reduction, greater E-module or better aesthetic finish (leopard pattern). I can reaffirm that this SMC by-product has developed strongly in the last few years and it is really appreciated by automotive companies. Another by-product could be a kind of SMC with directly integrated shielding elements against electromagnetic waves. Such composite combination could offer very good shielding capabilities while maintaining the mechanical features of the component. Therefore, SMC technology has still something to say.
2014: the traditional GMT has confirmed its position in the automotive industry. Some specific applications, such as underbody parts or battery structural supports are mostly produced with GMT thanks to its mechanical features. This technology can be used by combining different materials through overmoulding (inserts, aluminium and/or absorbers) or assembling. Anyway, the new market trend is a combination carried out through the co-moulding of GMT with PP materials, such as GMTex or LWRT. Even though this technology has been present for a many years, personally I think that GMT is a solution with a still untapped potential and innovation capacity. For this reason, I believe it is going to be a major player in the next decade. GMT can still surprise and not just in the automotive industry.
2016: With reference to GMT, besides confirming what I declared in the past, I would like to underline that customers encourage OEMs to find cheaper by-products or good alternatives. The main reason is economic aspect and the current oligopoly scenario of few suppliers. Therefore a further technical and economic development is expected for GMT.
2014: D-LFT is a developed technology that has already found a place on the market. The request of D-LFT is steady even though we have observed a slight decrease in favour of injection moulding. This technology could recover with different by-products (not only traditional PP) for example with a PA+FV combination. Looking forward to the next 10 years, I would classify D-LFT technology as optional: with an increasingly rapid demand of technical requirements, the field of application for this technology is inevitably reducing, drastically.
2016: The clear signal received by our customers is to substitute the D-LFT standard technology with injection moulding for low and medium-low segment cars. My suggestion would be to use cheaper materials such as 50% up to 100% recycled PP. Personally, I am not convinced of this choice because it doesn’t encourage a further growth and the advantages wouldn’t be significant. But, pay attention: a new scenario is taking shape, where D-LFT has a leading role. The relaunch of this technology is taking place through the coupling of the standard configuration with structural materials. As a matter of fact, D-LFT reinforced with special materials represents the most effective alternative to more performing (and more expensive) available materials. Given these considerations, I expect that the position of D-LFT technology on the market remains steady.
2014: Since the beginning LWRT has been offering several advantages that create a synergy between weight decrease of the piece, higher acoustic absorption and reduction of investment costs. Thanks to LWRT, underbody parts have undergone a revolution in the last 7-8 years. On the other side, it is essential to assess the limits of LWRT technology: feasibility limited to details, above all, plane details and strong increase of non-reusable scraps difficult to be disposed of. Another important aspect is that the raw material costs twice as much as traditional GMT, mainly because of the supplier’s monopoly position. I am sure that its place on the market is going to be established better in the next 5-10 years. The development of this technology has not finished yet and I expect it is going to improve significantly. The risk is that this technology will be confirmed as niche technology for the production of medium-high segment cars. To be monitored.
2016: As foreseen, LWRT performance is improving model by model. The continuous update of LWRT specifications sent by the customer confirms its frenetic evolution. Research and development on LWRT carried out by suppliers follow customer requests. The GSI Group belongs to them. The recent patent for E.L.I.S.A. obtained by GSI is an excellent example of how a technology can develop in such a short time and how the combination of LWRT with an overmoulded acoustic absorber can ensure a better performance with a decrease of process costs.
We will see E.L.I.S.A. integrated in the mass production soon.
Therefore, I can say that the evolution of this technology in the market should be followed constantly. My opinion is that we are going to see a considerable and a fast change of the balance among the three actors: Customer, Tier 1 and raw material supplier.