Yet another application is poised to switch from metal to plastic. Mann+Hummel unveiled a plastic oilpan at April’s SAE World Congress, saying the technology is already designed into a model year 2009 North American vehicle.
The unnamed vehicle is expected to be the first to employ plastic for the pan, according to Claude Mathieu, Chairman of Mann+Hummel. Switching to plastic could become an important strategy as automakers attempt to improve fuel economy.
The all-plastic oilpan trims weight by about 60% compared with all pure aluminum parts or 30% compared to hybrid aluminum and plastic subassemblies. While noting that weight is becoming more of an issue than cost in some areas, company spokesmen noted that the plastic part also offers pricing benefits.
“This brings cost savings of around 20%,” said John Baumann, the company’s Business Development Manager.
Baumann noted that future generations can also benefit by molding additional elements into the plastic structure. Those elements could include oil tubes, pickup pipes, strainers, separate oil reservoirs, and baffles. However, that type of integration probably will not occur for a few years.
“For their first step, people completely copy the existing metal part,” Mathieu said. “But the real benefit comes when you integrate more. Once they realize it works, they generally become more creative.”
One of the key reasons that plastics are replacing metal in a growing number of applications is their durability. Both temperature ratings and resistance to shock continue to improve. That is especially important in oilpans, which are sometimes hit by stones, curbs, or other objects.
“We’ve proven in all instances that plastic will respond as well or better than aluminum or steel,” Baumann said.