Recycled Plastic Material Substitution Solutions

The benefits of virgin plastic replacing metal has been marketed and well documented by major resin companies over the years. These include greater part complexity, parts consolidation, weight reduction, electrical insulation, and chemical/corrosion resistance among others at a lower overall cost.  Now that most of these metal to virgin plastic opportunities have been realized the trend over the last decade has been to substitute lower cost, lower performing virgin plastics in the “over-engineered” plastic part.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common to see various automotive exterior, interior, and under-the-hood brackets made from very high performing engineering resins such as Acetal (Delrin, Celcon), Nylon ( Zytel, Vydyne), Polycarbonate (Lexan, Calibre), Polyester (Rynite, Valox), and Polycarbonate+Polyester Blends (Xenoy, Makroblend).  In hindsight, the design/release/material engineer was overly focused on replacing the original metal part with a virgin plastic material having comparable heat, stiffness, impact, etc… properties.  Fast forward to today and this is now the exception as evidenced by the proliferation of filled and unfilled olefin based compounds such as polypropylene and TPO that are formulated to meet the physical, thermal, and chemical requirements of the actual end use environment. 

For example, interiors supplier Prince Corporation (acquired by Johnson Controls in 1996) used General Electric Lexan EM3110 (a modified polycarbonate with excellent heat resistance and cold temperature impact) for practically all of their backplates, bins, and overhead consoles.  Prince had negotiated such an advantageous price for this grade of material it made it easy and cost effective for them to “drive a semi-truck to pick up a gallon of milk”.  As the cost of bisphenol A began to escalate and the Johnson Controls/General Electric relationship changed, the price of this polycarbonate grade increased.   This led Johnson Controls to systematically validate lower cost virgin plastic options such as polycarbonate+ABS blends and high heat ABS.  This downward ratcheting approach continues today as even lower cost glass/mineral/talc reinforced polypropylene grades make inroads in the automotive interior.

If this was a Hollywood movie it would end happily ever after on this note.  However, as any experienced person in manufacturing knows, life in Hollywood may be plastic, but life in plastics is not Hollywood.  Virgin polymer prices including propylene and ethylene based materials continue to increase at an alarming rate and remain volatile.  What options does an OEM and/or supplier have at this point?  Enter stage right, AGS Injectoblend materials and their injection molding know-how.

The simplest approach to help lower cost is a direct Injectoblend material substitution.  This is a straightforward “apples to apples” replacement of the virgin material with its recycled counterpart.  Several examples of this approach are detailed in the following:     AGS Case Study-STS Bracket     AGS Case Study-Pressurized Sprayer Handle     AGS Case Study-Center Tubes

The more creative approach with the greatest reward potential is cross-polymer Injectoblend material substitution.  When AGS Technology looks to substitute a recycled plastic material for a specific application it does so from a very different perspective.  In many instances, the economics of recycled plastic are such that a higher performing recycled material can replace a lower virgin grade with cost savings.  A good example of this is detailed in the following AGS Case Study-Tank Bases.  In some other instances there are ongoing sources of recycled plastic being generated that are considered “problematic” due to the fact that they may be commingled with another plastic, painted, covered with an adhesive, etc…  Although appearance and some properties may be diminished, AGS’ ability to formulate and then mold a consistent performing part allows for signficant cost reductions as highlighted in AGS Case Study-Challenger OHC Substrate.

Manufacturing is competitive and the pressure to lower cost, reduce delivery times, and improve quality continues unabated.  Since most of the  “low hanging fruit” opportunities have already been captured, OEM’s and design responsible component suppliers need to look outside of their traditional supply base to help them achieve their goals.  Recycled material and conversion solutions offered by AGS Technology represent a new wave of thinking to help tackle these difficult challenges.

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