NOVI, Mich.—Automotive suppliers will need a product portfolio that can meet the needs of the electric vehicle market while it's expected to become "increasingly plastic" as the market develops and grows.
Cooper Standard Automotive Inc. expects the EV market will grow from roughly 13 percent today to 64 percent electric by 2031, including hybrid vehicles, according to its market research.
New EVs will have to maintain a low component and fluid mass to meet vehicle driving range goals while meeting thermal management functions. Plastics can help to reduce weight and add flexibility to fluid systems' routing and tube shape, Chris Couch, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Cooper Standard, told Plastics News.
"Fluid handling systems on gasoline vehicles tend to be rubber," Couch said, in part because of temperature and pressure requirements.
As the market grows, he said he expects "EVB thermal management fluid handling systems really transitioning to a plastic portfolio."
Not only are plastics lighter weight, adding to vehicle efficiency and range, but also they help Cooper Standard optimize architectures and designs for its OEM customers.
"As fluids move around the vehicle, every twist and turn adds resistance," Couch said. "The more we can open up those systems for efficient flow, the more effective they can do their job, which cools the power components better, which means more range.
"Rubber tubes would typically contain multiple layers, including things like reinforcement yarns," he said. "They're thicker and heavier as an end product per meter.
"Plastic tubing is easier to route in useful ways through the body architecture." Couch said. "Plastic is often much easier to bend and shape to make not just round tubing but different types of cross sections, oval shapes and flat shapes that fit through narrow openings. It's easier to convolute it and give in that accordion appearance where you can bend it easily."
Plastic materials also allow tubes and connectors to incorporate communication signals like temperature, pressure and controlling fluid flow, he said.
"In a gasoline car, connecting hoses to a radiator to an engine is relatively simple," Couch said. "These EV cooling systems are more complex, there are more subsystems, they're bigger in the vehicle."
In an EV, heat is "dumped out of the system at the front, at the radiator," he said. With the battery in the middle of the car and a motor in the back, "there's a lot more distance of fluid flow on an EV compared to a gas engine. In terms of meters of tubing, there's more that has to wind its way through nooks and crannies in the body architecture."
Materials and sustainability
The materials market will have to support a transition "from what were traditionally rubber-based systems on gasoline cars to plastic-based fluid systems," Couch said.
Suppliers will need "the right kind of plastic materials," which must meet sustainability standards becoming increasingly important in the automotive industry, "from the barrel of oil to what comes into our door and even as it goes out," he said.
"When our customer thinks about sustainability, it's comprehensive," Couch said. "It's not just about what the factory process looks like inside Cooper Standard's four walls. We also have to continue the carbon footprint of the materials we're buying, and I think the market will have to comprehend that."
For Cooper Standard, making its products more efficiently and in an environmentally friendly way starts in the design stage.
The supplier has made "significant investments" into more energy-efficient processes with computer-aided engineering, Couch said, to reduce the number of prototypes, or eliminate them in some cases, by simulating the efficiency impact of designs more accurately, before it starts producing parts.
As the EV market grows, the company also expects to adjust its fluids handling business, which includes fuel systems that "go away on EVs," he said.
"The good news is EVs have so much other content in terms of fluids that it more than makes up for it, so we fully embrace (it)," Couch said. "We're excited about it. It gives Cooper Standard additional content per vehicle and financially is a good story for us."
Cooper Standard recently introduced some specially designed tubing and connectors for EVs, including its PlastiCool 2000 multilayer tubing and its Ergo-Lock connector with a single-push-to-lock design and scannable latch verification options.