Continuing just-auto’s series of interviews with those operating in the automotive glazing sector, Matthew Beecham talked with V Umamaheswaran, director of automotive products and marketing, SABIC Innovative Plastics about how polycarbonate (PC) glazing market is shaping up.  The Innovative Plastics strategic business unit of SABIC is a major supplier of engineering thermoplastics. In addition to automotive, SABIC serves the electronics, building and construction, and healthcare markets. Its product portfolio includes thermoplastic resins, coatings, specialty compounds, film and sheet.

just-auto: How is the market for polycarbonate glazing shaping up?

V Umamaheswaran: We believe strongly in the future of PC glazing in the automotive world because the technology overall responds to some of the industry’s big needs. We all know every OEM is interested in shedding weight and reducing their CO2 footprint. Our Lexan resin for PC glazing can reduce weight of some parts by up to 50 percent. This translates into significant savings in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. This in itself is a strong value proposition.
But what many in the industry like about PC glazing is that it can do so much more. With PC glazing, you can achieve styling and design features that are just not possible with traditional materials. Also, glazing enables greater functional integration, parts consolidation and system cost advantages.
And just recently, research findings from our automotive glazing team have highlighted the thermal insulation benefits of Lexan PC resin in glazing applications. Advanced computer analyses of automotive glazing applications have quantified its potential to reduce the load on heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems based on the significantly lower thermal conductivity of PC versus glass. The new findings suggest that PC glazing can help drive improved efficiency for conventional, hybrid and electric vehicles.

We’ve seen some specialist companies develop and promote PC glazing. But in your opinion just how well could PC glazing spread around the car given its price today?

The opportunity for automotive glazing and the benefits it can bring are tremendous. We have to recognise that it can take many years to bring advanced technologies to market. Innovation always requires some lead-time. In the case of glazing, the industry is still doing its due diligence.  [Meanwhile,] we are working with many OEMs behind the scenes on the use of glazing to achieve their design and engineering goals.
As for the cost comparison with glass, it’s not an apples-to-apples view. Glazing is in a unique category for all that it can offer: significant functional integration, reduced weight, increased aerodynamic efficiency, insulation benefits and styling and design freedom.
Our dedicated automotive glazing team of engineers and polymer scientists has evaluated the effects of surface wear on PC glazing using either wet coat or both wet coat and plasma coating technologies. We have found that Lexan PC glazing materials meet current legislative requirements for applications where PC is allowed. We have coating solutions for high weathering performance and we continue to work on enhancements to our existing technologies.
We also have a new family of Lexan PC resin products with infrared (IR) energy absorbing capability. These commercially available products are formulated to reduce the amount of solar heat energy entering a vehicle’s interior. By absorbing solar energy, these Lexan products can further mitigate the load on air conditioning systems and help to improve fuel economy and lower emissions.

Where do you see the opportunities for plastic glazing in the automotive industry?

The opportunities for polycarbonate glazing lie across all of those mentioned applications. The only difference lies in the relative value of the benefits for each application area. For example, if we are talking about glazing in a roof system, the major benefit will be weight reduction and insulation advantages. For glazing in a quarter window, it’s less about weight and more about the styling and functional integration possibilities. The backlite is where we see the greatest opportunity for OEMs as they can realise the full spectrum of benefits.

What are the technical challenges still facing manufacturers of plastic glazing?

Clearly, like any advanced technology in the automotive industry, there’s a proving ground to cross. Fortunately, we have a large amount of technical data available to support the validation of our Lexan polycarbonate glazing technologies. One of the challenges for OEMs is to have their engineers and designers start thinking as early as possible in the development process, right from the original concept, about the potential use of PC glazing.

Presumably the relative cost of plastic glazing compared to glass is still a major concern for carmakers when considering its widespread adoption?

Actually, for those engineers, designers and others who recognise the advantages of PC glazing, cost is not so much the issue. PC glazing, as we have said, is essentially in a different category than glass. If you value lighter weight, greater functional integration, enhanced styling and design, improved performance through thermal control and aerodynamics, glass is simply not part of the conversation.