Driven by tough new legislation and the urgent need for weight reduction, the choice of materials is changing quickly across a wide range of vehicle applications. We discussed the trend with Paul Compton, president and CEO – Europe, JSP. JSP’s materials are addressing an increasingly diverse range of issues.
just-auto: Would you start by telling us a little about your company and the types of product that it supplies for the automotive industry?
Paul Compton: The auto industry is JSP’s biggest sector, so it’s one where we have developed considerable expertise. The majority of our business is in the supply of ARPRO, a 100% recyclable material that can be moulded to deliver a wide range of technical characteristics. With our investments in R&D supporting the growing focus on vehicle weight reduction and whole-life environmental performance, this combination of attributes is allowing the breadth of applications to increase rapidly. You have to be able to support your customers in any location, so JSP has also invested a lot of time and energy in developing a truly global footprint. In the European region, we have content on almost every production vehicle.
just-auto: The market for materials is increasingly price competitive. Is this affecting your ability to innovate?
Paul Compton: We don’t see ourselves as a traditional supplier of materials. When you look at the close relationships we have with vehicle manufacturers and their major first tier suppliers, it is clear that what we are actually selling is materials-based solutions to problems as diverse as pedestrian impact, occupant protection, cost reduction, interior refinement and recyclability. These relationships allow us to immerse ourselves in our customers challenges and come up with new, affordable ways of solving them. An example is the rear seat structure in the new Citroën C3, which saves 2.2kg and simplifies manufacturing. For Volvo, a similar component concept saved 10kg and bettered their cost targets.
just-auto: Those are considerable savings. How were they achieved?
Paul Compton: That kind of substantial saving isn’t just because of ARPRO’s strength and light weight; it’s partly the result of a close collaboration with our customers early in the development process. We worked with Volvo to move the metal anti-submarining ramp for the rear seats from the XC60’s body-in-white to a light-weight ARPRO component embedded in the seat squab. The added benefit for Volvo is that the vehicle platform became simpler and the resulting flat floor also gives users a more efficient load space with fewer structural obstacles when the seat is folded.
For the C3, the challenges were slightly different. We’ve been working with PSA Peugeot Citroën since 2005 and understood what we needed to do to help the engineers prove the concept. We showed them that the material reacts the same way in mass produced parts as it does in prototype form and validated the concept in a physical crash test. This impressed the programme managers and gave them the confidence to back the project for mass production. Building trust is very important.
just-auto: How does the way you work with tier one suppliers differ?
Paul Compton: Fundamentally it doesn’t. JSP has a lot of experience helping tier ones to develop differentiated products that make them more competitive. It’s really the same thing, with the difference that when we work with a tier one, we are focussed on providing them with technical advantages that will help them win new, high value business.
just-auto: Is the drive to take weight out of vehicles changing the way that vehicle manufacturers asses the application of alternative materials?
Paul Compton: A decade ago, evolutions of traditional solutions were preferred because ‘new’ and ‘risk’ were considered synonymous. Today the mind set has changed: for most manufacturers, ‘new’ is now synonymous with ‘opportunity’. That has allowed us to significantly increase the ways in which we help our customers save weight and cost, increase comfort and refinement and improve safety for vehicle occupants and pedestrians.
The problem for the vehicle manufacturer is that the pace of change is so high that it is difficult for them to commit sufficient resource in every area – not just applications engineering and legislative compliance, but new specialisations like environmental impact analysis and life cycle management. These are areas where we have invested in expertise and resources so that we can shoulder some of the burden and allow our customers to get on with designing competitive products.
just-auto: Can you give an example?
Paul Compton: The latest problem to be addressed by JSP is the challenge that vehicle manufacturers are facing with tough new European targets for the use of recycled materials. This has led not only to the development of a new ARPRO grade with recyclate content, but also to a new network of recycling stations across Europe, where JSP will manage the end-of-life processes for components made with our materials.
Part of this process has been to analyse the true environmental impact of our material and to compare that with the traditional alternatives. We’ve looked at everything from the cost of processing and transporting the materials to the energy used to recover them. The analysis has shown that simply changing a seat core to ARPRO can provide a lifetime CO2 saving equivalent to 2.65g/km. In three out of the nine areas of environmental impact analysed, the wire frame is responsible for the majority of the environmental cost because of its high content of energy-intensive steel. Reducing the steel content therefore brings a disproportionate environmental benefit. The big picture is often complex.
just-auto: How do you expect vehicle manufacturers to balance the legislated need to increase the recycled content of vehicles against the need to contain cost?
Paul Compton: It need not be a contradiction if the entire process is carefully controlled. For example, setting-up our own network of recycling centres allows us to guarantee the quality of the recyclate. This helps us ensure that there’s no loss of performance. Getting it right is quite an undertaking, because JSP has said there’ll be no additional cost to our customers and that materials with recyclate can be used as direct substitutes for existing grades without design revisions or further testing.
just-auto: Environmental concerns are driving the development of a new generation of purpose-built electric vehicles. What impact do you expect these will have on your business?
Paul Compton: That’s a very good question because people tend to focus on EV powertrains and batteries, forgetting that almost every other aspect of the vehicle also has to be reassessed. The cost, weight and packaging requirement of batteries, for example, will make total vehicle weight even more critical because weight will influence the vehicle’s range a great deal. And of course weight reduction is a virtuous spiral.
Battery energy will also be saved by improving the thermal insulation of the cabin so that less heating and less cooling is required. The air trapped within ARPRO makes it a much better insulator than most other materials. It can also be tuned to absorb troublesome acoustic frequencies – another area where EVs will need different solutions as their powertrains produce a different frequency spectrum to internal combustion engines.
As with the drive to reduce CO2 emissions from conventional vehicles and the growing pressure on reducing lifecycle environmental impacts, EVs will result in the vehicle manufacturers reassessing their materials mix. It’s going to make for some interesting discussions, but that’s why our people are passionate about this industry.
Matthew ‘Beechy’ Beecham