TROY, Mich.–Last fall, the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) announced the winners of its 49th annual Automotive Innovation Awards Competition. The announcement was made during the 49th annual SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala, held in November at the Burton Manor in Livonia, Michigan.

The Body Exterior category winner was also this year’s Grand Award winner. The Grand Award winner is selected from the winners of each of nine categories by a panel of industry experts.

Following are descriptions of eight of the nine category winners, as well as winners of the Vehicle Engineering Team Award, the Hall of Fame Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Category Winner, Additive Manufacturing 

Sunglass Bin

  • OEM Make & Model:  2020 Ford Motor Co. Ford Explorer SUV
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Methode Electronics, Inc. / Methode Electronics, Inc.
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Celanese Corp. / RGM Tooling Consultants, Inc.
  • Material / Process:  Celstran PP-GF20-02 LFT-PP / Injection Molding; 3D Printed H13 Steel


Additive manufacturing was used to produce a single tooling insert (lifter) that replaced two conventionally machined lifters to mold an injection-molded sunglass stowage bin.  That enabled design changes to produce a deeper pocket with a heavier undercut that still could be molded without hotspots, warpage, or demolding issues, and without needing to switch to a more costly resin.  The new deeper bin design also better meets customer requirements while reducing cycle time, molding scrap, tooling maintenance, and improving dimensional stability in the final part.

Grand Award & Category Winner, Body Exterior

Composite Pickup Box

  • OEM Make & Model:  2020 General Motors Co. GMC Sierra LD FST pickup
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Continental Structural Plastics/Continental Structural Plastics
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Teijin Ltd./Paragon D&E, Model Die & Mold, Inc., Altron Automation, & Legacy Industries
  • Material / Process:  Sereebo A235Y carbon fiber-reinforced PA6 sheet / Compression Molding


This is industry’s first pickup box in thermoplastic composite and carbon composite.  It saved 62 lb/28 kg and provided best-in-class impact resistance/durability. The unpainted UV-stable material eliminated the need for a bedliner (saving another 40 lb/18 kg). Numerous customer features—including functional compartment dividers and motorcycle tire pockets—were molded-in..

The composite pickup box for the GMC Sierra LD FST pickup took top honors as the Grand Award winner at the SPE Automotive Division Innovation Awards. The product also won in the Body Exterior category. Photo courtesy of SPE Automotive Division.

The ability to achieve a deeper draw during molding increased cargo capacity. Significant technical challenges were overcome due to use of novel materials, processes, coatings, and joining methods.  The box is fully recyclable and some scrap is reused on the vehicle. For more on the pickup box, see GMC Pickup Box Blazing New Path for Automotive Carbon Fiber Composites.

Category Winner, Body Interior

 Integrated Button Carrier Modular Strategy

  • OEM Make & Model:  2020 Ford Motor Co. Explorer/Aviator/Corsair SUVs
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Methode Electronics, Inc. / Methode Electronics, Inc.
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: The Materials Group / RGM Tooling Consultants, Inc.
  • Material / Process:  Opticarb 8085SE PC/ABS / Injection Molding


An integrated button carrier modular strategy by Ford Motor Co. won first place in the Body Interior category. Photo courtesy of SPE Automotive Division.

To reduce overhead console complexity, a new design was developed that integrated mechanical, lighting, electrical, and safety functions into a single modular button carrier, injection molded from MIC PC/ABS. With all program variants, this reduced part count from 70 to 17 per vehicle, achieved a $7 cost saving (USD) per vehicle, and $1.42-million (USD) program savings for tooling and testing. No button binding issues have been seen, BSR was improved, and the headliner fit better. To date, two patents have been filed and one has been granted on this technology.

Category Winner, Chassis/Hardware

Rear-Differential Front Bracket

  • OEM Make & Model:  2020 FCA NA LLC Jeep Cherokee SUV
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Boge Rubber & Plastics / Boge Rubber & Plastics
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: BASF Corp. / N/A
  • Material / Process:  Ultramid A3WG10CR 50 percent GR-PA 6/6 / Injection Molding


The rear-differential front bracket on the 2020 FCA NA LLC Jeep Cherokee SUV was the winner in the Chassis/Hardware category. Photo courtesy of SPE Automotive Division.

A critical diecast and machined aluminum bracket was replaced by an injection molded bracket in 50 percent GR-PA 6/6 in this demanding rear differential module. The composite material was 30 percent lighter and saved $1  per car in direct costs versus the benchmark aluminum. Its matrix provided 10 times higher damping, improving NVH performance, and it fit current packaging space for this running change. The part passed all performance and durability requirements, eliminated corrosion issues, and will significantly reduce tooling costs over the life of the program.

Category Winner, Environmental

100 percent PCR Carbon Canister Housing

  • OEM Make & Model:  2019 Ford Motor Co. Ford Mustang Sports Car
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Delphi Technologies PLC / MGS Mfg. Group
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Wellman Advanced Materials / MGS Mfg. Group
  • Material / Process:  EcoLene PP8004-BK1 20 percent GR-PP / Melt Compounding & Injection Molding


The Environmental Award went to a 100 percent post-consumer resin (PCR) carbon canister housing for the 2019 Ford Mustang Sports Car. It is reported to be the first 100 percent PCR polypropylene (PP) based carbon canister. Photo courtesy of SPE Automotive Division.

The PP backing from PCR carpeting is given another use life as it is recycled back into the injection molded carbon canister housing for passenger cars.  This is the first 100 percent PCR PP-based carbon canister. By replacing virgin PP, the recycled resin reduces cost by 25 percent with no sacrifice to processing or molded-part performance, but increases sustainability. It is currently being rolled out on more than 20 Ford programs globally.

Category Winner, Materials 

Glass Wool-Reinforced Composites for Improved Scratch Resistance

  • OEM Make & Model:  2017 Hyundai Motor Co. Hyundai Elantra sedan
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Seoyon E-Wha / Seoyon E-Wha
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: Daehacom Co., Ltd. / Seoyon E-Wha
  • Material / Process:  SW920 SA glass wool-reinforced PP / Injection Molding


To improve long-term scratch resistance and dimensional stability in injection-molded PP interior trim panels, glass wool (crushed glass and sand produced from reclaimed/PIR building insulation) was used to replace talc, whiskers, and fiberglass. Because glass wool boosts mechanical properties versus talc, filler content was reduced 5 percent, leading to lighter, less costly parts. Because it also helps maintain surface finish longer, it should lower warranty claims. A unique process was developed to incorporate glass wool into the resin compound. Glass wool is difficult to dispose of, so this application gives it another use life.

Category Winner, Powertrain

Transmission Gear Shroud

  • OEM Make & Model:  2017 Ford Motor Co. Ford F-150 pickup
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Stackpole International / MacLean-Fogg Co., Engineered Plastics Components Inc.
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: DuPont de Nemours, Inc. / Gibson Automation
  • Material / Process:  Hytrel 8238 TPC-ET / Injection molding


A new transmission gear shroud cover and base protect the drive gear so that it rotates freely without needing to push through transmission fluid—lowering effort, improving pump efficiency, and increasing vehicle MPG and the effective life of the transmission fluid.

Injection molded TPC-ET replaced earlier steel covers with rubber seals that were heavier, more complex, and costly, and suffered from more variation. Very aggressive snap fits permanently join the cover to base once the assembly is completed. The same material, molded very thin, provides a ductile seal. Costs were reduced 22 percent, weight lowered 65 percent, and NVH was improved.

Category Winner, Process / Assembly / Enabling Technologies

Rear Bumper

  • OEM Make & Model:  2020 General Motors Co. Chevrolet Corvette sports car
  • Tier Supplier / Processor:  Shape Corp. / Shape Corp.
  • Material Supplier / Toolmaker: SGL Carbon SE, VectorPly Corp., Scott Bader Co. Ltd.  / Thomas GmbH + Co. Technik + Innovation KG
  • Material / Process:  Crestapol 1250 PUR-acrylate reinforced with CF / Radius-Pultrusion


The auto industry’s first pultruded curved bumper beam uses the unique radius-pultrusion process and equipment to achieve a hollow beam with central web in carbon fiber fabric-reinforced polyurethane/acrylate resin. The curved geometry was desired to better match rear styling and vehicle package space. The beam features an integral tow hook mounting and is assembled to the body-in-white (BIW), requiring excellent mechanicals at elevated temperature.

The beam meets low-speed crash requirements while cutting mass by 4.9 lb/2.2 kg versus a metal-inert gas (MIG) welded aluminum extrusion. 3D printing was used to produce mandrels to maintain the hollow interior.

Category Winner, Vehicle Team Engineering Award

The composites-intensive 2020 model year (MY) Chevrolet Corvette Stingray sports car from General Motors Co. (Detroit) was selected as the winner of this year’s Vehicle Engineering Team Award (VETA). The VETA award was created in 2004 to recognize the technical achievements of entire teams — comprising automotive designers and engineers, tier integrators, materials suppliers, toolmakers, and others — whose work in research, design, engineering, and/or manufacturing has led to significant integration of polymeric materials on a notable vehicle.

Nine innovative part nominations in this year’s  program were for parts or components on the new Corvette.  Two of the nominations were category finalists and one was a category winner.

Category Winner: Hall of Fame

 The first plastic-metal hybrid (PMH) front end structure, used on the 1999 C170 Ford Focus GOR from Ford Motor Company, was named the 2019 Hall of Fame winner.

The plastic-metal front end structure, made with Durethan® BKV30H2.0 (30 percent glass filled PA6/heat stabilized) resin from LANXESS (formerly Bayer) with a steel insert, enabled a 40 percent weight reduction, 30 percent cost reduction, high function integration with reduced process steps, higher accuracy and quality, and higher load capacity compared to a 100 percent steel structure.

To be considered for a Hall of Fame Award, an automotive plastic or composite component must have been in continuous service in some form for at least 15 years and broadly adopted in the automotive industry.

The companies involved in developing the first PMH front end application include Ford Motor Company (OEM); Visteon (system supplier and molder/processor); Misslbeck (toolmaker); and LANXESS (material supplier).

Boris Koch is the inventor and designer of the PMH innovation with Bayer/ LANXESS, and Hubert Goldbach, Ph.D.,  is the inventor and designer for the PMH innovation with Bayer.

 Category Winner, Lifetime Achievement

 Michael J. Whitens, retired former global director for Ford’s Vehicle and Enterprise Sciences at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center, was named the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award Winner. In his most recent role at Ford (2014 – 2018), he led the development of technology strategy and implementation in support of emerging areas, including plastics/polymers, advanced plastics processing technologies, composites, and material formulations, with responsibility for over 500 researchers at three Ford Motor Company global facilities.

Whitens demonstrated expertise working on several advanced plastics processes, including micro-cellular foaming, long-fiber thermoplastic (D-LFT) composites, natural fiber composites, carbon fiber composites, nano additive-based composites, metal-plastics hybrid molding, co-injection molding, twin screw extrusion compounding, polyurethane foams, and more.

His work includes the development of several innovations for numerous automotive plastics applications, ranging from interiors and exteriors to under the hood and safety—including instrument panels, door panels, door modules, molded-in-color, seating, NVH foams, and fuel systems components.

An automotive industry veteran with more than 30 years of experience, Whitens has spent the majority of his career at Ford Motor Company in various body engineering disciplines.  He also spent three years as the Mustang PVT (platform vehicle team) manager, bringing the second-generation Bullitt and Mach 1 to life. He is a recognized leader in the development of innovative technologies in the automotive field, with 35 patents in many areas of component innovation, new material development, safety, body interior, exterior, and vehicle execution.

More information about the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Competition is available at

SPE’s Automotive Innovation Awards Program is reported to be the oldest and largest competition of its kind in the world. Dozens of teams made up of OEMs, tier suppliers, and polymer producers submit nominations describing their part, system, or complete vehicle, and why it merits the claim as the Year’s Most Innovative Use of Plastics. Funds raised from the annual event are used to support SPE educational efforts and technical seminars, which help educate members and secure the role of plastics in the advancement of the automobile.

The mission of SPE is to promote scientific and engineering knowledge relating to plastics worldwide and to educate industry, academia, and the public about these advances. SPE’s Automotive Division is active in educating, promoting, recognizing, and communicating technical accomplishments in all phases of plastics and plastic-based composite developments in the global transportation industry.

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