The shift from internal combustion engine architectures to battery electric vehicle architectures represents an inflection point for the automotive industry. It is prompting OEMs and suppliers to reexamine all of their vehicle components for any opportunities to use less carbon-intensive materials and make both the products and the processes more sustainable.
Switching from one material to another within a mature supply chain requires a lot of due diligence. Manufacturers must ensure that the supply of that material is stable and can meet customer demand, validate the material’s properties to verify that it meets the application’s requirements, and adjust tools and processes accordingly.
A holistic approach can help manufacturers update materials while minimizing costs and maintaining stable production. Here are four examples of ways in which Aptiv and its business units have successfully switched to more sustainable materials for use in production.
Partnering with regulators to go lead-free
In the early 2000s, the European Commission issued new regulations to phase out the use of lead in nearly all automotive products, but the industry was not ready to make such a large change. Manufacturers and their suppliers had to work together to address the impending requirements, as well as partner with regulators to establish appropriate timelines.
Aptiv business Antaya Technologies had already been working on an innovative, indium-based, lead-free alloy for on-glass soldering applications and was ready to begin phasing it into production. During the transition, Antaya instituted several control measures to protect against cross-contamination between leaded and lead-free products — such as adding dyes to distinguish between otherwise identical products. Antaya’s expertise in collaborating with regulators helped it establish best practices to create a completely lead-free assembly line — removing lead from the supply chain and preventing its negative impact on the environment at the end the vehicle’s life.
Vetting recycled copper for automotive applications
No matter the reason for making a change, one of the most important considerations is whether a new material can get the job done. In 2022, Aptiv tested recycled copper for both high- and low-voltage applications — putting the recycled product through the same validation testing we run for all of our cables, including electrical, mechanical and environmental tests. Copper has long been an important material for vehicles’ electrical architectures, and it will become even more critical as the industry moves toward fully electric vehicles. Aptiv’s validation testing demonstrated that recycled copper meets all of the stringent performance requirements of automotive applications.
Phasing in recycled resins
After verifying that a material is well suited for its intended applications, following a phased-in approach to rolling it out is essential. Within the mobility industry, recycled resins offer enormous potential for reducing costs and carbon emissions. Postindustrial resin (PIR) recycled feedstock has the same compounded resin properties as prime resin but generates 26 percent less carbon emissions when sourced. In 2022, we implemented a relatively modest increase of PIR in our connection systems portfolio, but starting small helped ensure PIR’s successful integration and has enabled us to share what we learned with other regions as we work to double our PIR usage in 2023.
Building on success
Innovative approaches to finding alternative materials are key. Aptiv subsidiary HellermannTyton developed a solution with Ford to make the first automotive part from 100 percent recycled ocean plastic. The team verified that parts made from recycled fishing nets match the strength and durability of new, petroleum-based products while saving energy and costs. The release of the first product was so successful that Ford chose to expand its ocean plastic product line with four new parts in 2023, including transmission brackets, wire shields and floor side rails.
Every manufacturer must continually evaluate its materials and supply chain to keep pace with the industry. However, changes should not be made lightly; it takes a holistic approach to ensure that material sourcing is done cost-effectively, efficiently and sustainably. Aptiv’s expertise as a system integrator makes us well suited to help our customers navigate toward a more sustainable future.