SMC: lowest cost solution to saving weight; how sheet molding composite satisfies your customers

SMC'S Low Program CostFast, frequent, low-cost styling changes keep customers coming backSMC takes center stage as an economical quick-change artist. Its ability to play any number of roles -- and play them well -- is a major reason it continues to rise above the challenges of other plastics, steel and aluminum.Its strengths include:* Simpler, less capital-intensive tooling.* Greater parts consolidation.*

SMC'S Low Program Cost

Fast, frequent, low-cost styling changes keep customers coming back

SMC takes center stage as an economical quick-change artist. Its ability to play any number of roles -- and play them well -- is a major reason it continues to rise above the challenges of other plastics, steel and aluminum.

Its strengths include:

* Simpler, less capital-intensive tooling.

* Greater parts consolidation.

* Shorter lead time.

A recent story in a technology trade publication states that thermoset body panels -- especially SMC -- have the "inside track" for future cars and trucks coming out of Detroit. SMC will succeed, the article explains, because its total systems cost is lower.

Savings in tooling

One of the most financially sensitive areas of the total system is tooling.

Steel, for example, often requires several sets of dies to produce a single automotive component. SMC may need only one, and the number of parts that can be produced from that die has been greatly expanded in recent years. The final product doesn't require a lot of last-minute shaping or rework. It's ready for final assembly.

Today, improved composites and better tooling have greatly expanded production runs. SMC currently is competitive on vehicles with annual production volumes well over 200,000 units. It's playing a major part in some of the most impressive -- and successful -- vehicles of this decade.

Ford chose SMC for the sculpted hood, rear quarter scoops, pillar appliques and license plate housing of its award-winning 1994 Mustang. When demand for the sport coupe exceeded original projections -- approaching 200,000 units -- the automaker was able to get the SMC components it needed, on time and within budget.

Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro also chose SMC for panels and components no other materials could easily duplicate. More than 40% of the exterior panels on the current-generation models are SMC. And the long-time favorite GM F-bodies have been selling at a combined rate of more than 200,000 a year, which are not exactly niche-vehicle numbers.

The redesigned '95-model Lincoln Continental, likely to be even a greater success in the market than its popular predecessor, features SMC quarter-panel extensions, sunshade, hood, decklid and fenders and a structural grille opening reinforcement.

The fenders, made of high-impact, lightweight, flexible SMC, represent the first North American use of this flexible composite for fenders.

Ford's versatile new Windstar minivan sports an SMC hood, cowl-top vent and track cover. The first model run of the Windstar is close to 300,000 units.

Fast turnaround

Both model freshening and extensive restyling are becoming even more economically feasible with SMC components.

"SMC allows us to keep tooling costs low and it cuts down on lead time for tooling," says Craig Schmatz, Ford Motor Co. product design engineer with the F-150 team. "We can come to market quickly with new products."

The new-generation, 1996-model, Chrysler NS minivan family (Caravan/Voyager and Town & Country) features an SMC structural module that consolidates multiple parts. There are some important savings here for the builder of the most successful minivan on the market to date.

First, it will be a high-volume part, expected to reach more than 700,000 units a year, yet initial tooling costs are lower than those of competing materials.

Second, the component combines several pieces into a single module, saving time, labor and materials. Third, when it comes to recycling, there will be no need to carefully separate multiple materials because it is a single part made of one material.

When you add it all up, SMC has the competitive edge.

SMC Weight Savings

It also won't dent, won't rust, boosts mileage and reduces pollution

Losing weight is the great American pastime. Or obsession, depending on how seriously you choose to approach the issue. One thing we seem to do best is lose pounds, only to gain them back, plus a couple more.

With SMC's get-trim plan, once weight is lost, it's gone forever. Those excess hood, decklid, roof or outer door pounds are history, replaced with sleek, lightweight, dent-resistant, recyclable SMC. Structural parts and engine components also can be lightened by substituting SMC for steel because it's typically 25% to 40% lighter. Succinctly put, SMC:

* Is a cost-effective way to "lighten up."

* Is a permanent solution to weight problems.

* Helps reduce vehicle emissions through vehicle weight loss.

* Offers an ergonomics advantage at the plant level. Less lifting means fewer injuries.

The immediate benefit to this weightloss program is greater vehicle fuel economy. But once a vehicle's body structure is lightened, the mass and weight of engines and drivetrains can be reduced because their load is lighter. Brakes, suspensions and other components also can be lightened. Today, close to 300 SMC components are part of more than 110 domestic and import passenger cars. Their use also is growing among medium- and heavy-truck producers. Here are some examples of where SMC is chopping weight:

* The SMC hood on the 1995 Lincoln-Continental weighs 25% less than the steel hood it replaces.

* SMC parts on the 1995 Ford Windstar helped keep down the weight of the new minivan.

* GM saved 15 lbs. each on the doors alone on the restyled F-body Camaro and Firebird sport coupes; before the recent demand, there had been talk about dropping these longtime favorites from the Chevrolet and Pontiac lineups in order to save money.

* All three domestic OEMS have approved recycled SMC applications where weight savings are between 10% and 15%.

Lower cost weight loss

In a study published in 1994, Market Search Inc. of Toledo, OH, found that switching from steel to SMC is more cost-effective than turning to aluminum for some high-volume parts. At runs of 150,000 units per year, an SMC fender represents as much as a 55% savings compared with aluminum per pound of weight reduction, according to the report.

Similarly, a hood made of SMC costs 25% less than one of aluminum.

Tooling for steel and aluminum can cost up to four times as much as tooling for SMC parts, Market Search says. The higher the volume, the greater the savings.

In addition to the vehicle weight savings it provides, SMC saves wear and tear on workers who must lift panels.

"Each SMC hood for the Econoline has a weight savings of three pounds," says Carl Sandvik, Ford Motor Co. planning engineer. "That may not sound like much, but in a day, that's 1,600 pounds you don't have to lift."

In 1994, medium-duty truck makers used some 16 million lbs. of SMC parts.

Heavy trucks, meanwhile, absorbed almost 14 million lbs. of SMC components for fender extensions, hoods and hood assemblies, control panels, windshield cowls and engine covers.

* Lower tooling cost

* Parts consolidation

* Shorter lead tme

* Cost effective

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