2004The State of Plastic Sidelites Part IV
Vast Possibilities Exist for Polycarbonate and Trilaminate Sidelites
by Leslie Shaver
While polycarbonates do have some hurdles to cross before they are approved for use in the sidelites of new American cars, it does not mean they can’t be found in American vehicles. As a matter of fact, they can be found in some interesting places, such as sun and moon roofs, the Corvette top and the body panel under the trunk in the Mercedes C203. NHTSA even mandated them for use in the rear quarter windows in some cars. However, few American car manufacturers have taken advantage of this option as of yet.
“The criteria was that they could not be in a place where they obscured the driver’s vision,” said a source from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA). “We did allow the exception for the area behind the C pillar, but, so far, no one has taken us up on it.”
In Europe, Frank Hoefflin of Exatec said governments are allowing many more things with polycarbonates in design. One example he points to is the French company Peugot, which has used polycarbonates in some inventive ways to reclaim market share in the country. Other companies in Europe, where Hoefflin said regulators are ahead of Americans in accepting polycarbonates, are also benefiting from these plastics.
“European manufacturers are interested in pushing the design envelope,” he said. “Europeans have used polycarbonates in redesigns and as key selling points.”
Still, he admits Europeans are not allowing polycarbonates in sidelites.
For proof of what polycarbonates can do, Hoefflin points to the roof of a minivan. With glass, he said, this roof can only be straight. However, polycarbonates add to the styling potential by giving engineers the option to add curvatures to the roof—either from left or right or back to front.
“There are significant limitations for glass windows,” he said. “With polycarbonates, you can mold them into any shape you want.”
If polycarbonates could get past the NHTSA hurdles in the United States, car manufacturers may welcome them with open arms. But there are other reasons for excitement with polycarbonates, as well—specifically their potential for weight savings. In an era in which every manufacturer is attempting to make cars more fuel-efficient by reducing their weight, this cannot be discounted.
Then there is the issue of manufacturing. Hoefflin said that polycarbonates could actually make the manufacturing process more efficient. For proof of this, he points to the backlite of the Chevrolet Trailblazer, which has a number of attachments on the glass. Many of these are put on manually, he said. However, polycarbonates would allow manufacturers to mold these parts in during the production process.
“The OEM can take some of the cost out of the manufacturing process [by using polycarbonates] because it does not have to pay workers to put attachments into windows,” he said.
Into The Future
While both polycarbonates and laminated sidelites have advanced during the past few years, there remain questions about how widespread these glazings will be utilized. While polycarbonates have NHTSA hurdles to cross, market forces dictate the future of laminated sidelites primarily.
Tom Hagen, GM’s total integration engineer for glass and mouldings, said he sees laminated plastic sidelites becoming more prevalent in high-end cars, where consumers may be more concerned about noise and would have the money to pay for the extra protection they offer.
“More and more windows in luxury cars and SUVs will come with advanced side glazing,” he said.
However, Hagen thinks competition among auto manufacturers will dictate whether these glazings eventually slide into more economical automobiles. He said it mainly will depend on the market and whether or not people with less expensive cars will care enough about noise control and the other benefits of laminated glass to pay a 400- to 500-percent increase over tempered glass for them. If one manufacturer finds there is a demand in these parts on the market, the others probably will follow.
“The question will be if you need laminated sidelites to move ahead of the competition or whether you just need them to keep up,” Hagen said.
If the market forces dictate that laminated glass becomes standard in more vehicles and polycarbonates cross their NHTSA hurdles, there is no doubt that consumers and glass technicians will see changes in the vehicles coming off the lines in the future. As for now, all they can do is become more educated about these technologies and prepare for their arrival.
|Laminated Glazings May Mean Few Adjustments
With car manufacturers increasingly looking to laminated sidelites as an option in their new vehicles, you do not need a crystal ball to see that auto glass installers and repair technicians will soon have to know how to deal with these new sidelites. While laminated glass and tempered glass are very different in their structure and the benefits they offer to drivers, their effects on auto glass installers and repair technicians will be surprisingly similar to those of tempered glass.
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