Novel adhesives, bonding techniques and tackling ‘dimension creep’ head-on are just some of the activities 3M ’s automotive engineers are currently working on. just-auto bonded with Simon Holmes to find out more.

just-auto: What does 3M supply to the automotive market?

Simon Holmes: Our automotive offering covers all stages of the vehicle manufacturing process, from body-in-white design to aftermarket and repair. Key areas include structural adhesives and films for joining and bonding vehicle structures, additives for plastic injection moulding and many diverse bonding solutions.

We also supply Thinsulate Acoustic Insulation and some advanced interior ambient lighting systems as recently highlighted in the 3M Visteon Technology Showcase.

just-auto: What was discussed at 3M’s Low Carbon event?

Simon Holmes: The event made it clear that the need for weight reduction is driving the adoption of advanced materials together with joining and repair techniques not seen thus far in volume-production vehicles.

A lightweight material of choice, carbon fibre, itself a strong and lightweight material once the preserve of motorsport’s upper echelons, has never been associated with mass production. However, novel mass moulding and recycling processes show promise in advancing the material’s potential.

The bonding of aluminium and repairs on prestigious automotive brands was also highlighted. Aluminium has further potential for reducing weight, and is less expensive and easy to recycle.

just-auto: How proactive is 3M in carbon emissions and weight reduction?

Simon Holmes: Lighter weight materials require specialist adhesives to bond them together. Bonding also uses less energy – and therefore producing lower carbon emissions — than welding. Our range of automotive adhesives covers structural, semi-structural and non-structural applications. The advantages of these adhesives are combined with durability, structural performance to facilitate safety critical composite structures, creep and corrosion resistance.

just-auto: In automotive engineering, increased weight is often an inevitable consequence of ‘dimension creep’ and increased safety measurements. How is 3M helping combat this effect?

Simon Holmes: Simple yet innovative solutions such as applying 3M’s Thinsulate low-bulk insulation material, can improve packaging and NVH as it doubles up as a thermal insulator for wrapping air conditioning units as well as a noise vibration and harshness acoustic reducer.

just-auto: For lightweight methods, you have referred to prestigious car brands. What does 3M’s automotive business offer to the volume and budget sectors?

Simon Holmes: With the injection moulding of plastics, 3M’s glass microspheres reduce density and improve shrinkage properties. Hyundai are using our microspheres to manufacture lighter and cheaper high-volume interior components. The bubbles are capable of withstanding injection moulding and extrusion pressures of 30,000 psi and, after a 19-month long series of instrument panel tests, Hyundai achieved a 16.8 percent weight reduction. Ultimately, the finished part cost was half that of a comparable PC/ABS IP core.

The higher-end-vehicle OEMs are, generally, more open and responsive to new innovations, but this is changing as all markets are experiencing increased pressure on weight reduction to meet pressing CO2 targets.

just-auto: You mention interior enhancement and lighting. Could you elaborate?

Simon Holmes: 3M and Visteon recently displayed a jointly developed concept car featuring about 50 technologies designed to enhance the driving experience of future vehicles.

To display more information within the vehicle in novel ways, 3D technologies from 3M are incorporated into the instrument cluster by utilising eye-catching turn-by-turn navigation graphics on the instrument panel. Static 3D technologies can display branding, enhancing not only the driver experience, but also reinforcing the OEM’s image. As we have seen in some premium cars, lighting can greatly enhance interior ambience, and the concept benefits from 3M’s integrated light guide technologies, such as 3M Precision Lighting Elements in the door panels, map pockets and instrument panel.

The lighting elements are made from flexible polyurethane and use reflective patterns to create focused ambient light pools in the interior, enhancing A-surfaces. The same light guide also has the potential to be used in multiple locations in the vehicle (right, left, front, or rear), further reducing tooling and programme costs.

just-auto: Going back to diversification, what industries have helped 3M assist the automotive market in weight reduction?

Simon Holmes: 3M operates by developing opportunities and synergies across different divisions. For example, Thinsulate Acoustic Insulation was originally developed for its thermal properties and used in the marine sector. Now it is used in automotive applications specifically for its lightweight and acoustic properties.

just-auto: Are there any future 3M developments you can discuss?

Simon Holmes: Wheel balancers: they are an everyday commodity that 3M is about to enhance. Instead of attaching pre-prescribed balancer weights to a wheel, we can supply an extruded tube that can be cut to definable block sizes. The 3M Wheel Weight System is designed to have less impact on the environment than the traditional lead wheel weights, and involves fewer re-work stages at the workshop and the production line.

 

Simon Holmes is general sales and marketing manager for 3M’s automotive business.

3M’s Automotive Business is introducing innovations for a number of areas of vehicle design and manufacture, catering for applications including body-in-white, interior, exterior, powertrain and paint shops. It has hosted the 2008 Low Carbon Vehicles Conference, an event involving OEMs, suppliers and academia. 3M, Thinsulate, Glass Bubbles, Scotch-Weld and Precision Lighting Elements are trademarks of 3M Company.