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Vehicle dismantling - is there a future?

Corning Gorilla Glass
Corning's Gorilla Glass may be common on smartphones but it’s half the weight of conventional laminated glass and the car makers are looking - should show a healthy used parts value?

I don’t need to tell anyone that the motor vehicle is changing with an ever increasing range of materials technologies and high value, high tech parts being introduced as each month goes by. Can the industry capitalise on this or are we looking at a future where parts sales are all but banned due to safety concerns put about by the manufactures to protect their sales. Here we take a look at some of the latest developments.

At the Automotive Interiors Expo which recently took place in Germany, Merck, a leading science and technology company in health care, life science and performance materials had some interesting developments. Merck showed materials that are relevant to interior design. The main focus being liquid crystals and OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) materials that are used in various displays in vehicles.

They say future trend is free-form displays. They can be seamlessly adapted to various spaces, for example, in dashboards, doors, and seats. Very thin glass or even plastics can be used for them. The first prototypes for cars underscore the potential of these free-form displays.

They also showed liquid crystal windows that are still in development and that can be used as switchable sunroofs in cars. Another interesting application is Liquid Crystal-based light guidance systems. OLED and LED materials provide new design options in high efficiency lighting.

Car makers are also busy using nanotechnology and nanomaterials. Some car companies have used conductive carbon nanotube composite materials (sounds impressive) in fuel systems and other auto parts since the late1990s. Others use nanocomposites in bumpers, making some products 60 percent lighter, but twice as resistant to denting and scratching.

Other companies are investigating using nanocellulose, which is light, strong like carbon fibre, but inexpensive to produce using new algae-based manufacturing methods. These technologies all aim to make cars lighter and more fuel efficient. According to the Auto Alliance website, car makers have found a range of functions for nanomaterial products including:
  • Tyres reinforced with nanoparticles for better abrasion resistance;
  • Car coatings exhibiting greater scratch resistance and improved gloss;
  • Anti-fog coatings for headlights and windshields;
  • Structural plastic parts combining higher mechanical performance with reduced weight.

There’s plenty more as well according to Auto Alliance, which is the alliance of twelve car makers in the USA including BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo.

They report that some carmakers are producing vehicles equipped with chemically hardened glass — or “Gorilla Glass” as it’s known in the smartphone world. The glass is approximately half the weight of conventional laminated glass.

Don’t forget the “wonder material,” graphene. Car makers are working to utilise graphene, a form of carbon 200 times stronger than steel, but as thin as an atom. According to The Wall Street Journal, graphene “has ignited a global scientific gold rush, sending companies and universities racing to understand, patent and profit from the skinnier, more glamorous cousin of ordinary pencil lead.”

Aerogel is another material being researched by the industry. First developed by NASA for use in space suits, Aerogel is one of the world’s lightest materials. It’s 99.8 percent air but it still retains a solid form.

We haven’t even mentioned the autonomous car yet. None could have failed to hear about the various tests and trials happening with a variety of manufacturers around the world. Already cars are available that park themselves, brake at the sign of danger and stay in lanes without driver assistance. This is what the Auto Alliance say about it. “What once only existed in the imaginations of science fiction writers are now being developed and tested by carmakers in laboratories and on roadways across the globe.

As partially-autonomous functions in vehicles become more common, the leap to achieving fully driverless cars becomes ever smaller. Today’s emerging technology — sensors able to read road signs and traffic signals, while also employing vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) systems to navigate roadways, traffic and pedestrian hazards — will be widely available in the not too distant future. Opinions differ on when these autonomous cars will be introduced, but few believe driverless cars in some form are not the way of the future.”

Another change in the auto makers' world has been IT. They now employ thousands of IT specialists so cars can talk to each other, talk the user’s smartphone, talk to road infrastructure and any other smart services. Vehicle technology is now extensive and extremely complex.

And what of the complete car? Reports have suggested that micro cars will soon become massive revenue generators for seven out of the top 10 global car makers. Electric and hybrid are top of the pile with every car maker, and the challenges to make fuel cells cost effective go on.
So where does it leave the dismantler?
On the face of it, all these developments look positive. Materials that hold potentially higher values, components that are complex and expensive - what could go wrong? New materials don’t necessarily mean higher value. Carbon fibre is a good example where it is expensive to use in manufacture but has no great saleability when it comes to post automotive scrap. Then there is the issue we touched on in our opening paragraph - concerns raised about re-use of components.

As technology allows more and more parts to be linked to other parts within a vehicle, it is easier for manufacturers to restrict their use to one particular car. This problem can only get worse if it remains unchecked. Fortunately, we have a European trade body known as EGARA to make sure the EU does not let the car makers abuse this potential. We might be on the way out of the EU but we suspect that this will always be the market we are most closely linked to.

Always interested to hear reader’s experiences email the editor here.

September 2016

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