Winners announced for SPE Automotive Innovation Awards

Innovation Award winners: Mega bin/frunk (top left), battery module sideplates (middle left), seat module (bottom left), intumescent terminal covers (bottom middle left), thermoplastic splitgate (top right), battery disconnect unit (middle right), one-piece frunk (bottom middle right) and hybrid battery interconnect board (bottom right). Photo credit: SPE Automotive Division

The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Division (Troy, Mich., U.S.) reveals the winners for its 52nd annual Automotive Innovation Awards Gala, chosen out of 28 finalists. The announcement was made on the evening of Nov. 8, at Burton Manor in Livonia, Mich., U.S. The Body Interior Category winner was also this year’s Grand Award winner. The Grand Award winner is selected from the winners of each of the eight award categories by a panel of industry-expert Blue Ribbon Judges. This year’s winners are:   

Grand award and category winner: Body Interior

Mega Bin/Frunk

  • OEM Make & Model: 2024 Ford Motor Co. Ford F-150 Lightning 
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Cascade Engineering
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Celanese Corp. / Commercial Tool Group
  • Material/Process: Celstran PP-GF40 AD3004 (PP-LFT 40%) / injection molding

By converting from compression molded painted sheet molding compound (SMC) to injection molded MIC LFT-PP to produce this large Class A composite frunk — currently the industry’s largest — mass was reduced 48%, productivity was increased owing to a 37% cycle time reduction, the cost and environmental burden of paint were eliminated, seal interfaces were improved, secondary routering of holes is no longer needed and the frunk is fully recyclable at end of life. A 4,000-ton injection press and a tool equipped with a 16-drop hot runner system are used to mold parts.

Category winner: Aftermarket and Limited Edition/Specialty Vehicles

Hybrid Battery Interconnect Board

  • OEM Make & Model: 2024 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Sun Microstamping Technologies
  • Material/Process: Ultramid B3UG4 PA6 / vertical clamp parting line injection rotary molded – insert overmolding

The patented hybrid battery interconnect board features small and delicate metal current collectors, bus bars and sensing lines in a compact design to fit in limited packaging space. The 20% glass fiber-reinforced PA6 grade was selected for its ability to offer high levels of functional integration in limited space plus be compatible with snap-fits, heat staking, ultrasonic welding and adhesive bonding. The material also is heat stabilized and flame retardant. Laminated core-block inserts are used in rotary injection tooling for venting and to control stampings during overmolding.

                                                                                                                               Category winner: Body Exterior

Thermoplastic Splitgate

  • OEM Make & Model: 2023 Rivian LLC Rivian R1S
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Magna International 
  • Material/Process: LGF-PP and TPO / injection molding

This is reported to be the world’s first all-thermoplastic split gate rear-closure system, which is delivered to the assembly line as a ready-to-install module. The complex, deep draw (>80 millimeter) design offers improved perceived quality at lower mass, NVH and cost versus metals, and is offered in a two-tone execution. By commonizing grades between the liftgate and the benchgate and focusing on sustainability, parts were reduced from nine to three, and only two materials are used (injection molded LFT-PP and thermoplastic olefin/TPO). The CHMSL and tail lamps were carried over from the pickup model.

Category winner: Electric and Autonomous Vehicle Systems

Battery Disconnect Unit

  • OEM Make & Model: 2023 General Motors Co. GMC Hummer EV
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Lear Corp.
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: BASF Corp. / Lear Corp.
  • Material /Process: Ultramid 66 H2 G25 V0KB1 and Ultradur B4450G5 HR / injection molding

Two BDUs have been integrated into a single system supporting two 400-volt systems, which enable fast and safe recharging of electric vehicles (EVs) and disconnects power in an over-current situation to protect passengers. The meter-long parts feature a complex design that offers improved thermal management and reduced component mass. Two UL94 V0 halogen-free materials — one with very high CTI — replaced die-cast aluminum while maintaining improved physical properties and ease of processing. Complex simulation and process optimization were also key to success.


Category: Materials

Battery Module Side Plates

  • OEM Make & Model: 2024 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray  
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Novares Group
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: RTP Co. / Liberty Molds Inc.
  • Material/Process: RTP 299 K X 138337 E Black / injection molding

By replacing metals with RTP 299 K X 138337 E Black Para material to injection mold the side plates for this battery module, extremely flat parts with high dimensional accuracy, stiffness and strength were achieved in a complex geometry. The high-modulus, creep-resistant FR polymer eliminated the need for compression limiters and electrical isolation films, yet withstood extreme pressures from cell expansion and met all mechanical requirements. Additionally, four components were reduced to one and many functional features were incorporated in the patented side plates that would not have been possible in metals. Mass was reduced by 37% and cost by 55%.

Category: Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies

Seat Module

  • OEM Make & Model: 2024 Toyota Motor Corp. Toyota Grand Highlander
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Hi-Lex Corp.
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: NA / Hi-Lex Corp.
  • Material/Process: NA / injection molding

This patented injection molded module for seats incorporates both temporary and permanent holding features to control cables and dramatically reduce both components and labor at the seat manufacturer. Cables are delivered to the Tier 1 pre-routed on the module plate, eliminating the brackets, cable ties and clips typically used to control seat cables, and greatly reducing labor for an assembly operator. The module also reduces rework and scrap due to cable misalignments. Additionally, lever pull effort for consumers is reduced because direct cable routing enables use of shorter cables.

Category winner: Safety

Intumescent Terminal Covers

  • OEM Make & Model: 2023 General Motors Co. Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer 
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: Auto-Kabel Group/ Molded Precision Components
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Pyrophobic Systems Ltd. / NA
  • Material/Process: Lithium Prevent 200 PVC / injection molding  

A formulated flexible and intumescent PVC is designed to prevent arcing during thermal runaway events in high-voltage EV batteries. The high-temperature, high-voltage insulator is used to injection mold various terminal caps and barriers. Safety is increased during thermal runaway since the material maintains high dielectric strength, reducing arcing risk and ignition of gases, and forms a structured char barrier, helping reduce spread of fire from one module to another.

Category winner: Sustainability

One-Piece Thermoplastic Frunk

  • OEM Make & Model: 2024 Ford Motor Co. Ford Mustang Mach E
  • Tier Supplier/Processor: IAC Group
  • Material Supplier/Toolmaker: Advanced Composites Inc.  / HS Inc.
  • Material/Process: ADX8327 20% PCR TPO /  injection molding

This is the first time a 20% PCR recycled material has been used in a color-matched, MIC, Class A structural funk application. Versus virgin TPO, the more sustainable grade lowered density slightly and offered better impact at -15°C. Concurrent redesign reduced component count from six to one, including eliminating two metal brackets, saving 3 kilograms of mass, increasing cargo volume and functionality, improving water management, reducing cost and labor and saving an estimated 1,125 tons of CO2 annually. PCR content is sourced from yogurt cups and packaging materials.

This year’s Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA) went to 2024 Chevrolet E-Ray and a team from General Motors Co. and its suppliers that developed the electrified, all-wheel drive (eAWD) sports car. .

Kevin Pageau, owner and president of International Marketing Alliance, and a major contributor to the SPE Automotive Division Lifetime Awards Program, earned the 2023 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Hall of Fame award went to acrylic rear lens, used on the 1948 General Motors Co. Cadillac Series 60, 61 and 62 models.  The lens were made possible with the invention of polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) by Dr. Otto Röhm in 1932, replacing ground glass and enabling a renaissance of new lighting designs for all OEMs.

The companies involved in developing the first acrylic rear lens include General Motors Co. (OEM); molder processor Fisher Body Division; and Röhm & Haas OHG, now known as Röhm GmbH, as the material supplier. General Motors accepted the SPE Automotive Hall of Fame Award on behalf of the original team that worked to develop this application.