Historically, the underbody panels on vehicles have been made from hard plastics. Either injection molded or thermoformed, the parts would degrade over time and get brittle or break.
Janesville Acoustics, a division of Milwaukee-based Jason Industries Inc., set out a few years ago to find opportunities to convert parts from plastic to a polyester fiber-based product and quickly settled on the car underbody. After a year-and-a-half of development, the result is the company’s Aerotex product.
The product is made from post-industrial waste such as soda bottles, which are ground up. The resulting mix is made into pellets and then extruded into micro strands that are cut to length, according to Srivas Prasad, senior vice president and general manager of Janesville. The strands are then converted into blankets and compression molded into three-dimensional shapes with structural integrity.
The product is both made from recycled material and recyclable.
Prasad said the challenge in developing the product was finding the right blend of materials to withstand the exposure to the elements under a car. Janesville also had to convince its customers, large automakers, to shift away from familiar products.
He said Jason works on innovation by creating an environment for employees to come up with new ideas and then deciding which ideas should receive additional funding.
“It’s okay for people to fail,” Prasad said. “Quite frankly, we expect the initial things to fail; very rarely do the first ideas take off for the first time. It’s a process of iteration.”