by Leslie Shaver
In an effort to reduce the number of people killed by side ejections through windows, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has begun to evaluate different ways of restraining passengers during an accident, using materials besides glassspecifically polycarbonates.
To address this need for improved side lites in vehicles, Bayer AG and GE Plastics have formed a company called Exatec to develop ways of making mass-produced polycarbonate windows a reality. The company says that advantages of polycarbonates, such as higher occupant retention during crashes than glass, lighter weight than glass and the unlimited styling possibilities of plastic make polycarbonates a viable alternative to glass.
However, before plastic windows may be produced en masse for cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles there are many structural, safety and durability questions that must be answered.
The major question about polycarbonates is a consequence of their strength. While polycarbonates retain passengers during an accident by not breaking, they can also inflict harm by remaining solid instead of breaking away like glass. As Ed Littell of PPG Industries explains, "When someone hits polycarbonates, they do not break. Instead they transfer the energy (of the initial hit) back to the individual."
Gary Bernier of Pilkington LOF also feels that this the prime issue in the discussion of polycarbonates. "The basic concern is that with tempered glass, head-impact values are relatively low," he says. "The concern with polycarbonates is that they wont break and there is a higher potential for head injury."
"The flip side of the head-impact issue is occupant retention," says Bernier. "The idea that because polycarbonates do not break and people are confined to vehicles even if they are not wearing seat belts."
Steve Summers of the NHTSA says that head-impact implications are something being considered by the organization and that a future report will address these concerns. However, he does add that overall the results are mixed. "Basically its a mixed bag; none of the injury levels (in the polycarbonate window tests) are likely to produce severe head injuries," he says. "There are injury levels which are likely to produce low-level injuries."
To find an appropriate solution to many of these problems, engineers face a dilemma. To fill the same structural role as glass, polycarbonates will have to be modified, which will negate many of their advantages over glass.
Such changes have implications for a vehicles structural stability. Polycarbonates lack the modulus of elasticity of glass, which means that modifications will have to be made to maintain the structural stability of a vehicle with polycarbonates. Littell says this is possible to accomplish by putting polycarbonates in locations where stiffness is less of a factor or by making the polycarbonate thicker. However, he points to a notable problem with making the polycarbonate thicker. "The problem is if you make it thicker then you have to offset the advantage of the relative light weight of the polycarbonate," he says.
Mark Matsco of Exatec says that these challenges can be met with different designs. "We have to design the polycarbonate differently than glass in order to get similar performance," he says.
The problem of noise resistance is a similar dilemma for automotive engineers because mass is the best barrier for noise. Adding mass to reduce noise also neutralizes the weight advantage polycarbonates have over glass.
Other problems often associated with polycarbonates such as abrasion and yellowing are ones that Littell says can be overcome with the proper coatings and location of the polycarbonates. "Coatings can solve these problems depending on where you use the polycarbonate and what the coatings are," he says.
Matsco admits that coatings are an important hurdle for his company to overcome. "The key to the whole technology is to have a hardcoat system that can withstand dings," he says.
However, the issue with proper coatings is not just finding one that can resist abrasion but finding one that can also stand up to time and the elements. "Over the years a number of people have been looking at coatings for plastics," Littell says. "The key question is, how durable is it over time?"
"The high volume of auto uses and the desire to have a vehicle that will last for ten years are issues that have to be resolved with coatings," Bernier says.
Looking into the future, both Bernier and Littell agree that plastics will be incorporated into sidelites; however it could be a while before pure polycarbonates are found in windshields. Exatec admits that "windshields are a long-range, third priority." Bernier agrees, saying, "Windshields are a major hurdle."
Factors such as economics and technology will answer most of the questions regarding polycarbonates, according to Bernier.
"It looks like you are going to see some plastic glazing on automobiles in the not-so-distant future," Bernier says. "How much it grows and how large it gets is pretty much an open issue thats going to be driven by economics and technology."
Littell says that in a few years there will be a range of side glazing in different vehicles. "You are going to see a variety of windows, depending on a variety of requirements," he says. "You have people beginning to accept laminated side glass for mid-range and upscale vehicles. You will see different kinds of windows in different kinds of vehicles," he predicts.
Apogee Enterprises, Inc. of Minneapolis, MN, announced that it has acquired Virtual Insurance Solution Network (VIS'N) Service Corporation with the intention of expanding its insurance claims and policy processing capabilities. VIS'N, which will operate within Apogee's auto glass segment, is an insurance claims and policy processing outsource company based in Red Wing, MN, that services more than 25 major insurance and reinsurance companies in the United States.
"Insurance claims and policy processing is increasingly becoming an outsourced function, as customers seek cost-effective alternatives to handle routine, highly repetitive claims," said Tom Tolinson, vice president of business development and information technology for Apogees auto glass segment. "VIS'N will expand Apogees product capabilities beyond the auto glass market to capitalize on the full spectrum of services in outsourced insurance claims and policy processing."
The Department of Justice-Antitrust Division has issued subpoenas to a number of glass shops in Texas requesting that they produce documentation of every aspect of their business. Though no definitive answer has been offered as to why the Department of Justice started the investigation, the industry pundits speculate that a meeting of glass shop owners two months ago in Texas to discuss pricing and some bold statements allegedly made on the internet by Texans are possible reasons for the investigation.
The list of items requested by the Department of Justice is both long and detailed. The government has requested documentation from glass shops on the following:
Citing lower claims costs, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and Farmers Insurance have announced plans to reduce their customers premiums.
State Farm said it will return nearly $900 million in premiums to policyholders in 35 states and the District of Columbia, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. The size of the "policyholder dividend" varies from state to state, with the average California dividend, for example, amounting to approximately $58 for each of the insurer's 2.9 million policyholders there. The return will be paid by check or credit to customers accounts during the next several months.
Farmers Insurance has lowered auto rates for California customers who also place their homeowners and/or renters insurance with Farmers. Currently, customers who have Farmers homeowners and auto policies receive a five-percent discount on their auto policy. The discount will be increased to nine percent on average.
The Automotive Glass Subcommittee of the Collision Industry Electronic Commerce Association's Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Action Team completed development of its draft implementation guideline for the 811 EDI Standards. The group's intent is to use the 811 transaction for billing of glass replacement or repair and, when mutually agreed, to also use it as a first notice of loss.
AEGIS® Windshield Repair, a Division of Auto Glass Specialities, has relocated to a new headquarters in Madison, WI. The new mailing address is P.O. Box 259500, Madison, WI 53725-9500, while the new street address is 12000 John Q. Hammons Drive, Suite 200, Madison, WI 53717-1940. The company can found on the internet at http://www.aegisglass.com.
Glas-Weld Systems, Inc. of Bend, OR, offers the moisture evaporator tool, which is designed to remove moisture trapped inside the damaged area of laminated windshields. According to the company, the tool can remove the moisture in 20 seconds and allows technicians to work in wet weather.
The Windshield Repair Warehouse of Telluride, CO, has been created to provide supplies for windshield professionals. According to the company, it purchases large volumes of products and supplies and assembles resins and products for windshield repair professionals throughout the world.
Zeeland, MI-based Gentex Corporation announced that it has completed negotiations with General Motors for what it describes as a five-year, lifetime contract to supply Night Vision Safety (NVS®) Mirrors for all GM vehicles for which Gentex currently supplies interior NVS mirrors . . . O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt Armoring Company of Fairfield, OH, has been chosen as the exclusive provider of protected vehicle security systems for Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars in the United States . . . TRICO Products Corporation of Buffalo, NY, announced that it will move its headquarters to Rochester Hills, MI, by the end of the year. The company will conduct a survey to determine the long-term viability of the Buffalo manufacturing operations.
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