Growth Expected in Composite Pickup Truck Beds
TOLEDO, Ohio, Sept. 15 - Owens Corning (NYSE:OWC) said today it expects substantial growth in the use of composite materials for one of the automotive industry's newest applications -- pickup truck boxes. The company predicts the use of composites in this single application for light trucks to grow from zero today to more than 30,000 metric tons annually within the next five years.
In August, both General Motors and Ford said they would introduce truck models having pickup boxes made with advanced composite materials that resist dents, scratches and rust -- problems that have traditionally plagued pickup truck owners. The boxes are the largest composite parts ever made for light trucks.
"Composite truck boxes will change the mindset for using advanced glass fiber reinforcements and engineered polymers in the automotive market," said Heinz Otto, president, Owens Corning Composites Systems Business.
"Automotive engineers have used composite materials to achieve design objectives, save weight and consolidate parts," continued Otto. "The new truck applications highlight two additional attributes of composite materials -- strength and corrosion resistance. Pickup truck boxes will show consumers the tough side of composites."
The first Ford truck to include a composite box is the 2001 Explorer Sport Trac, a vehicle combining features of both pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. Building on the Explorer platform, the vehicle will have four doors and a 4-foot-long pickup box. The vehicle will also include an optional composite tonneau cover, traditionally an after-market accessory.
Explorer Sport Trac vehicles will be available in dealer showrooms early next year.
Composite pickup boxes for the Explorer Sport Trac will be molded by The Budd Company at North Baltimore, Ohio. Sheet molding compound, incorporating advanced glass fibers from Owens Corning, will be prepared at Budd's facility in Van Wert, Ohio.
Ford already uses composite materials on a number of its cars and trucks, including the Mustang, Windstar and full-size F150 pickup.
The world leader in glass fiber composite systems, Owens Corning helped pioneer the technology that led to the new pickup truck boxes.
Dick McKechnie, automotive market segment leader at Owens Corning, says the pickup truck boxes are a great example of Owens Corning's System Thinking(TM) approach to the market.
"Providing unique solutions which have their foundation in composite materials is the strategic value that Owens Corning brings to its partners in the automotive world," said McKechnie. "Our work with the automakers and their direct suppliers enabled us to tailor our technology and glass to help make a better product for the truck buyer. It is an example of how our System Thinking approach allows us to extend the value we bring to all customers from the molder to the automaker to the final consumer."
McKechnie said the new pickup truck boxes would encourage engineers to look again for ways they can use composites. He says floor pans and front-end supports are likely the next candidates for development.
"Working with auto manufacturers and their Tier 1 suppliers to develop new materials technology has been a tradition at Owens Corning," continued McKechnie. "The company helped develop the Stout-Scarab in 1945, the first car to have a glass fiber-reinforced body. Although the car never saw commercial production, it paved the way for the production models that appeared later."
To make the first large automotive body parts with consistent quality, Owens Corning helped develop sheet-molding compound in the 1950s. As its name suggests, sheet-molding compound combines resin and glass fibers in sheet form, which is then used to load presses and mold parts.
Pushing the size envelope to include still larger parts, Owens Corning developed technology in the 1980s designed to produce large glass fiber preforms using innovative automation.
Originally developed as the Programmable Powdered Preform Process (P4), the technology was introduced by Owens Corning to the transportation market in 1993. P4 was later selected by the Automotive Composites Consortium (an alliance of the "Big 3" automakers) for prototype development scale-up. The technology was installed at the National Composites Center in Kettering, Ohio, to produce pick up truck box preforms as part of a composite pickup box manufacturing demonstration program.
Preforming is a method of placing and configuring glass fibers to replicate the shape of the finished part. The fiberglass preform is then placed in the mold and combined with resin to produce the molded part. Using sheet molding compound, preforms and other advanced processes, automakers around the world today incorporate thousands of composite parts in their vehicles.
Owens Corning is a world leader in building materials and composites systems. The company had 1998 sales of $5 billion and employs approximately 20,000 worldwide. For more information, please visit Owens Corning's Web site at http://www.owenscorning.com .