Automotive Materials Strategy Workshop—Detroit, MI, October 6, 2011

Environmental materials strategy: 'knowledge-based anticipation and substitution'

At an 'Automotive Materials Strategy Workshop' in October 2011, our guest speaker was Dr. Keith Legg, President and founder of Rowan Technology Group—specialists in evaluation and market analysis of advanced materials and coatings, with a strong focus on environmental and health issues. With a background in surface and coatings technology for manufacturing, aerospace and defense, as well as business development and international regulations, and management of the US Defense Department's "clean coatings" database, Dr. Legg has many years experience of technology development and market analysis for the advanced materials and coatings industry. This enabled him to give an excellent introduction to the challenges of working with the ever-growing environmental and restricted substance legislation, in his talk on 'knowledge-based anticipation and substitution'

The automotive industry, as Dr. Legg pointed out, has done a 'good job' of eliminating the use of cadmium, chromates, and lead-based solders. It seemed painful at the time, but the industry coordinated efforts and has largely met its goals. While RoHS and ELV meant difficult changes had to be made, these were achievable because the process was relatively straightforward, with specific rules covering specific materials.

Looking forward, the situation is more challenging. Under REACH legislation, every chemical must be registered and can only be incorporated into your products or manufacturing process if it is registered for that use. Today, the major constituents are rarely the main problem: it is the essential minor or even trace chemicals which critically impact your production process that could be withdrawn at any stage. You may run into difficulties in sourcing a vital chemical either because its own use becomes restricted, or simply because a key substance in its make-up or manufacture is not registered for use in that way. Alarmingly, the substance itself may not be a problem: its market might just be too specialized for it to be worth the cost of registering.

This is especially so in the area of coatings and corrosion control, of great importance for the automobile industry. Environmental regulations are making this increasingly difficult because "any material active enough for corrosion control will be a health and environmental hazard". He calls this 'Legg's Law'.

Even if a specific coating is benign, the process chemicals to deposit it may not be—for example, chrome plating uses chromic acid, which has recently been proposed for authorization under REACH.As the coatings industry is small, it simply cannot bear the costs of registering every chemical used in coatings: such chemicals may well be withdrawn.

With new legislation continually being produced, it can be hard to keep up, especially for the minor elements. And in the current climate, you need as much time to prepare as possible. Alternatives are often more expensive and (at least in the first instance) not as effective. So what should you do? Migrate to the next closest option for better availability, lower cost, and technical risk, or hold out for a better replacement, offering better performance and lower cost, but with no guarantee? Or should you make a big jump in the hope it will last longer in the market and maybe even give you "green kudos"?

The key to surviving all these challenges is knowledge. If you can access the right data, quickly, easily, and in the form that you need it, you have the best chance of not just keeping on top of legislation but planning your substitutions to be more future-proofed. And get those "green kudos"! Dr. Legg identified seven key stages:

  1. Be aware of what is in your products
  2. Be aware of what chemicals are used to make them
  3. Anticipate from lists, databases, and suppliers,
  4. Keep on top of technology and material developments
  5. Plan on how and when to change
  6. Use gold-standard databases and materials information software tools to identify alternatives
  7. Minimize risk and cost by integrating all this within your test and design methodologies
Dr. Legg went on to talk about the latest developments in materials information technology software, available from Granta Design. These can make this less daunting, helping you to assess, manage, and design-out risk due to restricted substance regulations. By tracking global legislation, linking this information to materials and coatings, and using this combined knowledge to inform selection and substitution decisions in design, automotive suppliers and OEMs can deliver their long-term compliance strategies.

Granta and Rowan Technology Group have been working together to incorporate the wealth of coatings expertise from Rowan Technology into Granta's materials information management system, GRANTA MI. Dr. Legg illustrated how the web browser user interface allows you to rapidly find the restricted substance status for a coating, identify potential substitutes, or look up coatings that meet a particular engineering performance requirement. This coatings information can be delivered smoothly into the hands of the engineers and designers who need it.  Applying this key knowledge, Dr. Legg argued, and integrating performance data, corrosion prediction, and design, can help those in the automotive industry to anticipate and survive in the current climate of increasing environmental legislation.

Granta would like to thank Dr Keith Legg from Rowan Technology Group for his presentation, and are grateful to all the participants for making this an instructive and informative day. If you would like to know more about how Granta can support your organization, please get in touch.

Read more about Granta's Coatings Data Module