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Simulations explore use of recycled plastic in auto parts, says JustAuto

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A Pennsylvania company is using simulation technology with plans to change the materials OEMs use to make car parts, according to a JustAuto article

Ansys can use simulations to test materials, such as recycled plastic, early in a part’s design process, the article said.

The company’s simulations use physics models to understand the variability of a material property. The simulations can be replayed hundreds of times to see how the material responds.

“Simulation has become a prerequisite for every engineering business,” Scott Wilkins, Ansys lead product marketing manager, said in the article. “…That’s really our space: how we can translate the laws of physics into something that you can visualize and accomplish digitally. That is our power from a company standpoint.”

Simulation has been used in Formula One racing for years because rules change rapidly, Wilkin said. He said designers of Formula One vehicles have to quickly understand how even a minor change can impact the performance.

Simulations are also often used in safety testing. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently announced virtual tests it uses to measure seat and head restraint quality.

Testing a material before building the part and entire vehicle can save OEMs time and money, the article said. Without simulations, an OEM would need to make the part and then build a test to learn if a material works.

“We have the capability to take a very difficult material for a design application,” Wilkins said. “If you can figure out how it is going to act right at the beginning of that design, you can then start to really make it fit into different parts of a vehicle. That’s the bit that hasn’t really ever been done before.”

Wilkins said Ansys is at the start of using simulations to test recycled plastics and recycled byproducts for auto parts.

“Most vehicle manufacturers, most OEMs, would choose a virgin polymer because they know exactly how it acts, they know exactly what to expect from that material,” Wilkins said. “This brings into question for the designer right at the beginning of that vehicle’s life and the part being considered — should they be using a virgin polymer, or should they be using recycled material? We can show how the recycled material behaves, how they can now design with it, [and] what the properties are going to be because we can narrow down accurately to see what the recycled material can do and how it performs.”

Wilkins said some auto parts could be more cost-effectively replaced with recycled materials.

“You can start to imagine that the chassis of a vehicle, or the components of a vehicle, are starting to change with the greater understanding of those recycled material properties,” Wilkins said. “Today it’s maybe designed with an aluminum part and it has been an aluminum part for the last 20 years. Maybe it won’t be in the future and will, instead, be a recycled material.”

Recycled materials could create a circular economy in the auto manufacturing industry, Wilkins said.

Yet, challenges in using recycled plastic or byproducts exist, the article said. This includes poor collection and sorting of recycled goods leaving limited availability of resources, and a poor market perception of recycled quality.


Photo courtesy of Kriengsak Tarasri/iStock

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