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The Benefits of Lightweight Plastics and Composites

The “green revolution” of recent years has led to an ever increasing environmental awareness, both by private citizens and large companies. Saving precious natural resources and eliminating potentially harmful, atmospherically toxic emissions have become important factors in the design and manufacture of items ranging from household appliances to jet planes and rocket ships.

At Romeo RIM, we have pioneered a number of innovations aimed at decreasing the environmental impact of our molded parts and the vehicles, machinery and other items in which they are used. The number one way in which we have contributed to the rise of environmental friendly is through the use of extremely lightweight plastics and composites as molding materials.

Today, it is estimated that plastics, such as Romeo RIM’s one of a kind thermoset polymers, make up approximately 50% of the volume of the average automobile. However, those same plastics account for only a mere 10% of the same automobile’s weight.

Thermoset polymers are significantly more lightweight than traditional manufacturing materials such as metals, even supposedly “lighter” metals like aluminum. For this reason, lightweight polymers and other plastics have begun to see use not only in the manufacture of private vehicles but also heavy trucks, agricultural and construction machinery, passenger trains, subways, and even large aircraft. Polymers are capable of replacing metals when making instrument panels, fenders, bumpers, hoods, and both interior and exterior body panels, ultimately resulting in a significant decrease in the overall weight of the vehicle.

The Many Advantages of Lightweight Polymers

1) Fuel Efficiency

Why is the weight of a manufacturing material so important – and why is it such a critical factor in the environmental impact of the resulting parts? The answer is simple: a lighter vehicle is a more fuel-efficient one. Lighter cars, trucks and other modes of transportation can travel much greater distances using the same amount of gas as their older, heavier counterparts. In a world of ever-higher fuel prices and dwindling oil resources, fuel-efficient vehicles are both economically and environmentally beneficial.

Scientific studies have proven that even a 10% decrease in the total weight of a vehicle can result in a 5% to 7% reduction in fuel usage. Recently, the United States government expressed its hope of increasing the average fuel efficiency of all newly manufactured cars and trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025. At Romeo RIM, we believe that replacing heavy steel and aluminum with lighter thermoset polymers is a key step towards successfully achieving this important goal.

2) Less Pollution

Lightweight polymers are also extremely tough, durable and impact- and weather-resistant, meaning that vehicles made from these materials can have a successful lifespan of several decades. Every year that these fuel-efficient cars, trucks and machines are driven rather than heavier ones made from metal, less and less exhaust and other harmful gases are released into the Earth’s atmosphere. In other words, the long lifespans of vehicles made from thermoset polymers themselves contribute towards increasing the lifespan of the planet on which we live.

Thermoset Polymers: The Premier Example of Lightweight Plastics

Thermoset polymers, including polyester, vinyl ester, epoxy, and especially polyurethane, are among the most lightweight manufacturing materials currently available. The term “thermoset polymer” refers to a category of primarily synthetic composites which, when cured via chemical reaction, retain the resulting solid form indefinitely. They can be formed into vehicle or appliance parts by using a quick, efficient process called reaction injection molding (RIM).

3) High Strength-to-Weight ratio

It is this property which gives polyurethane and its fellow thermosets their particular strength and durability – equivalent to that of steel or concrete despite the significantly lesser weight.

4) No Corrossion

Unlike steel, aluminum or even other, weaker polymers such as thermoplastic polyester, polyurethane does not melt, rust, corrode or deform when exposed to any number of outside factors ranging from extreme temperatures to toxic chemicals. In addition, molded polyurethane parts manufactured by Romeo RIM are rigorously tested to ensure that they can withstand regular or high-intensity impacts, making them suitable even for use in long-distance trucks and construction machinery.

However, even among molding processes, there is one which stands head and shoulders above the competition in regards to producing lightweight yet strong materials. This is long fiber injection (LFI), which was introduced to the United States by Romeo RIM in the year 1999 and remains our most cost- and time-efficient (and popular!) offering.

Long Fiber Injection: Producing Unrivaled Lightweight Results

Romeo RIM’s signature LFI process combines a polymer resin, typically high-quality polyurethane, with long reinforcing fibers made from glass or carbon. These fibers, which traditionally range from 0.5 inch to 4 inches (12.5mm to 100mm) in length, provide additional strength, stiffness and durability to the resultant molded parts without increasing their overall weight.

LFI is an efficient, robot-assisted process in which the resin base and reinforcing fibers are injected into a closed mold, where they are mixed and a chemical agent is applied to induce a curing reaction. The curing reaction creates a solid, stable thermoset with the long fibers forming an “internal skeleton” which strengthens and stiffens the part. The average cycle time of an LFI part is anywhere from one to five minutes, significantly faster even than more traditional injection molding processes.

Long Fiber Injection BenefitsThe results don’t lie – the average LFI-molded part is 40% lighter than competing polymers, including sheet molding compound (SMC), bulk molding compound (BMC), and fiber reinforced plastic (FRP). In addition, LFI represents a weight decrease of 60% when compared to aluminum and an unequaled 80% when compared to steel. Its lowered weight, combined with a host of other benefits from impact resistance to glossy, eye-catching Class A finishes painted directly in the mold, clearly shows that there is absolutely zero reason to choose heavier, bulkier materials over LFI.

At Romeo RIM, we believe that LFI represents both the present and the future of lightweight, environmentally friendly molded parts. LFI parts can be quickly molded in large batches, with geometrically complex designs featuring varied wall thicknesses and B-side details, making them perfect for use in any industry. Contact us today to learn more about how choosing lightweight long fiber injected or reaction injection molded thermoset polyurethane parts for your next project is a beneficial, long-term investment in our planet’s future.

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