By now, you've probably read a number of articles about repairing ultra high-strength steel and high-strength steel (HSS). You might have even attended a Collision Industry Conference meeting and witnessed industry advocate Toby Chess demonstrate how difficult it is to cut through these steels while describing how parts containing them must be repaired according to OEM guidelines to ensure vehicle safety.
Fortunately, the message about these protective, weight-saving steels has penetrated most of the industry. Any repairer worth his salt knows to refer to OEM guidelines to identify and repair these steels. Estimating systems have improved how they address these issues. Many repairers say they feel comfortable working with these materials – as they do with other materials, including aluminum and new alloys that are used more frequently in vehicle parts.
Those who fall into this category shouldn't become too comfortable because manufacturers will soon begin to introduce – and, in some cases, already have brought to market – a host of innovative materials in their vehicles. These materials have the potential to change how techs repair and source parts.
Background for change
During the past decade of the 20th century, the world witnessed two momentous events that continue to impact the automotive industry. India joined China as also having a population that passed the 1 billion mark, and China completely evolved into an economic powerhouse. These events helped drive an explosive increase in the global demand for raw materials, especially petroleum, forcing manufacturers in several industries to look for new material sources.
The focus of the search was for renewable sources manufacturers could re-resource continually to avoid potential shortages and environmental issues surrounding pollution and environmental impact. During their search, auto manufacturers faced unique challenges. Any new materials they adopted also would have to meet stringent safety and fuel efficiency standards. As with HSS, they'd need to be strong, light, and affordable.
OEMs found answers from two unlikely sources – botanists and farmers – and began moving into a manufacturing paradigm in which they're looking to grow many of their products, especially those the collision industry will be repairing or replacing. These plant-based products, or bioproducts, are intended to replace petroleum-based ones. Ford, which is investigating revolutionary bioproduct technology and helping bring it to market, has been at the forefront of this movement.