Many factors contribute to the expanding global electric vehicle (EV) market, but all underscore the burgeoning value of environmentally responsible, clean-driving cars and trucks. The growth reflects the automotive industry’s increasing attention to environmental responsibility and system sustainability.
The Rise of Electric Vehicles: A Global Phenomenon
Just ten years ago, people largely dismissed electric vehicles as a replacement for traditional gas-powered cars. However, the demand for more environmentally friendly transportation options has increased their popularity, and by 2022, the world was purchasing more electric vehicles in one week2 than it did in all of 2012.
Automobile manufacturers are paying attention to this growing market for electric vehicles and have ramped up their production, as they indicated they would in 2021. That year, 18 of the world’s 20 largest automobile original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)3 declared they would boost the number of models and production volumes of electric conveyances. In addition, several committed to shifting to the production of only electric vehicles in the near future, and by 2030:
- Volvo will sell only electric cars.
- Ford’s European market will be strictly electric vehicles.
- Volkswagen’s United States market will be exclusively electric vehicles.
The prominence of electric vehicles will continue to increase after 2030, and by 2035:
- General Motors will have gone fully electric.
- 35% of the U.S. Stellantis market will be electric, along with 70% of its European market.
But these notable industry leaders are doing more than simply responding to consumer demand. By strategizing their transitions from gas-fueled to electric-fueled vehicles, they are aligning their initiatives with the Sustainable Development Scenario4 and the Stated Policy Scenario5 by the International Energy Agency6 — and that’s good news for both consumers and the planet.
Injection Molded Plastics Contribute to EV Evolution
One significant success factor for the EV switch is increasing use of injection molding for the production of plastic parts, especially for the interior features of electric vehicles. Typically, EVs are much heavier than conventional automobiles7 because of the weight of their batteries and reinforced framework and suspension. Manufacturers have worked diligently to reduce their weight by switching from metal to injection molded plastic parts throughout their design. Interior features, such as armrests, door sides, dashboards, etc., can be produced using injection molding technology to reduce weight economically and without compromising EV quality.
The advancing appeal of lightweight vehicles is accelerating the automotive industry’s embrace of injection molding technology for automotive parts. The market for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a popular resin used in the production of injection molded automobile parts, sat at US $95 billion in 2020. It is expected to increase to over US $100 billion by 2027, specifically because of the demand for those plastics in the auto industry. Other plastic resin markets are also predicted to grow, with the value of the entire global injection molded plastic market expected to top more than US $385 billion by that same year8.
Supply Chains are Challenged …
The increasing relevance of injection molded plastic for electric vehicle parts is accompanied by a similar rise in interest throughout the wider manufacturing sector. However, as more companies across industries seek injection molded plastics for materials and components, supply chains are increasingly pressured to meet that heightened demand. Not only are there more competitors for primary materials, but global challenges caused by the pandemic, climate issues, and political unrest have interfered with fundamental supply chain infrastructures.
The biggest challenge is the lack of a robust resin supply.9 Almost all of today’s injection molded plastic products are created using a single resin or family of resins that share a common chemistry and have very similar viscosities. Consequently, producers require adequate “virgin” resin supplies to meet their contractual quotas and the supply/demand balance for many grades is out of whack.
On top of this, they have not had the injection molding technology needed to access Post Consumer Recycled (PCR) plastic resins as they become more sporadically available. Oftentimes “like material types” have different viscosities or melt flow. Think of the difference, for example, between a yogurt cup and a bottle of laundry detergent. Both may be made from the same type of resin but depending on their intended use the melt flow selected to produce the initial product can be different to give end parts and products the properties they need to function appropriately.
Once an injection molding machine and mold are programmed for a particular resin viscosity or melt flow, that is the only resin it can process without significant operator intervention.
As a result, PCR products from the same resin family often aren’t easy to process because of the viscosity variations. And today’s recycling industry isn’t equipped to do the highly detailed sorting necessary to parse PCR plastics into such narrow categories. This limited capacity typically prevents manufacturers from using large portions of PCR resins as their product base.
… But There’s a Solution to That Challenge
Fortunately, there’s a solution to this challenge. iMFLUX engineers developed technology to revamp existing injection molding machinery to manage a broader scope of resin materials, including PCR, with varying viscosities. Instead of the conventional high-pressure injection method, the new technology uses a low-constant-pressure injection molding process to fill the mold. Low-constant-pressure injection molding facilitates a steady and controlled fill. A melt pressure sensor maintains constant pressure by automatically adjusting the screw when detecting shifts in viscosity or changes in the material. Continuous and automatic adjustments for material viscosity shifts result in a cleaner shot, with fewer errors and a high-quality plastic injection molded product.
The introduction of automation into injection molding technology is also a game changer and mirrors engineering advances toward autonomous cars11. Just as an autonomous vehicle can sense its environment and respond accordingly,12 so does the iMFLUX-enabled injection molding machinery.
This innovation accomplishes several common industrial goals:
- It reduces the frequency and severity of errors in injection molding production lines while also increasing efficiency.
- It reduces the energy used per part produced, improving the industry’s carbon footprint
- It broadens the opportunity for greater resin flexibility, giving injection molding companies, brand owners, and other stakeholders more options for their injection molding materials.
Finding solutions to environmental challenges is a significant focus of today’s automotive industry. iMFLUX’s injection molding technology provides answers to many of those questions. Contact iMFLUX today to learn more about how their innovative technology can automate and enhance your injection molding electric vehicle parts and production system.