News Article

Innovation in Material Technology: Key for the Automotive Sector

By Rodrigo Andrade | Wed, 09/28/2022 - 12:10

As sustainability practices and policies take hold, automotive clients are demanding new solutions to new challenges. In the automotive industry, materials play a critical role in the deployment of green solutions, so automakers are searching for more advanced building materials to boost fuel efficiency and performance, while providing more cost-effective and safer vehicles. 

Materials such as steel and metal alloys were the standard for the sector, but automakers have not shied away from exploring alternatives. “Material science has always been present in automotive development, helping to make cars safer and more efficient,” said José Luis Treviño, VP Strategic Planning, Metalsa. The incorporation of these new technologies is quickly becoming the new standard, as it directly reduces the weight of a vehicle. 

There is a direct correlation between advances in material sciences and the optimization of the manufacturing processes. This link has made new elements such as aluminum alloys grow in demand, especially as EVs need to be lighter to counterbalance the weight added by the batteries. By the next decade, up to 20 percent of vehicles will be made of aluminum, said Treviño. 

More and more solutions will be demanded for the new materials. For example, the industry is now asking how can the batteries utilized in EVs dissipate the heat they produce, as well as how the electronic structures can be coupled with an ever-growing connection between car and user. 

These new opportunities represent diverse challenges for the industry. In the future of materials, sustainability of the entire supply chain is key for both consumers and automakers. Companies must know and understand their carbon footprint throughout their entire supply chain. “Sustainability is the future of materials. We must become more environmentally friendly in our material choices and strive for circular processes,” said Carlos Gómez, Purchasing-SQM Director, Continental Mexico. 

This creates many opportunities for the Mexican automotive industry. As supplier development is key to reduce the carbon footprint, many companies are now entering the country thanks to its privileged geographical location next to the US, one of the most important economies in the world. Through this expansion, companies must become environmentally friendly and strive for circular processes in the production of the materials of the future, said Gómez. 

This innovation requires highly qualified talent, creating large opportunities for engineers. Universities play an essential role in the development of the industry, as they provide the talent needed to advance. “Technology allows us not only to increase vehicle efficiency and sustainability but also safety through automation,” said Gómez.  

The Evolution of Manufacture
Additive manufacturing (AM) can help automakers to find the solutions they need and to produce lighter pieces. While this technology has existed since the 1980s, the democratization of 3D printing has allowed for major advances in the production network of parts for trucks and specialized vehicles, said Sebastían Romo, Managing Partner, Skala Ventures. However, it is important to consider this technology not as a replacement but as a complement that adds value, especially during supply chain disruptions, added Romo. 

The industry must make efforts to seek new ways to provide for better and more efficient materials that allow for a more efficient and sustainable sector. Partnerships must also strive to provide better security for users. “We need to investigate what new materials can be developed so that we do not all depend on the same material, we must be open to reinvent ourselves day by day,” said Gómez. 

Nanotechnology will also play an essential role in the future of materials, as it can target specific problems. “It gives us the ability to manipulate at molecular levels the structures of materials and add other desired functionalities,” said Alex Elías Zúñiga, Research Group Leader of Nanotech and Device Designing, Tec de Monterrey. The university recently opened a program for advanced materials for sustainable manufacturing to bring nanotechnology to the automotive industry and others. 

Nanotechnology also allows for the generation of advanced materials that can be scaled up for mass production, while at the same time brings improvements in safety-related matters as every step to elaborate nanotechnology materials must be certified by the industry. 3D printing and sustainability are issues that universities are already taking into consideration to translate the possibilities that nanotechnology offers into real world applications, explained Zúñiga. 

The industry's future relies on material technology so the key players in both the private and public sectors must keep betting on sustainability and security. All players contribute to a better and more secure future. Automakers cannot survive without the right suppliers, logistics and employees, which is why collaboration is key to ensure the success of the automotive industry. “Innovation and technology development cannot happen without continuous investment in scientific research,” said Felipe Villareal, CEO, Alien Plastics. 

“All advances in materials has helped them, especially structural materials, to improve safety and lightness throughout the history of the automotive industry," said Treviño. The industry requires innovation to provide a better future for both the automotive industry and the planet, added Treviño.

Rodrigo Andrade Rodrigo Andrade Journalist & Industry Analyst