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Plastics are the new metal?

The other day I was on the phone with a plastics engineer and he was discussing his experience using plastic to replace the metal intake manifolds on car engines. This sparked my curiosity and I questioned him further.

He went on to explain that plastics are being designed for use in automobiles to reduce rust and corrosion while ultimately reducing the weight of the overall car. I was aware that they have been using plastic to replace gas tanks to prevent sparks and explosions for some years. As not long ago, I was interviewing one of the engineers that was responsible for creating the first plastic fuel tank.

As, I dug deeper into the topic with this most recent engineer, I asked him how the plastic parts would stand up to the heat and impact. He explained that a zinc ball bearing was shot at the plastic at 120 MPH from 1 foot away with no visible mark. He said it took the bearing shot at 320 MPH before it even altered the surface. I thought of the possibilities. Could entire exhaust systems be made out of plastics one day?

My curiosity drove me to call an Engineering Manager I had placed with one of my forward thinking automotive manufacturers. He confirmed what I’d been told and added that they have been using plastic parts in engines for some time. He said that his company has been supplying plastic for the transmission manifolds. He also reiterated that the plastic they are designing is definitely equipped to handle the heat and impact but added that the problem thus far has been how the plastic is holding up under pressure. He revealed that this is one of the reasons plastic is not being used for even more automotive parts. He did say that due to under car impact potential, plastic exhaust systems are not an option at this time but may be a viable alternative in the future

In conclusion, I learned that plastic is becoming much more durable and heat resistant than I ever imagined. I will most certainly be watching for and asking the experts I talk to about new opportunities to replace corrosive materials such as metal with a tougher and lighter product. PLASTIC!!