Auburn Hills-based Continental Releases Lightweight Alternative to Aluminum


Auburn Hills-based Continental Structural Plastics announced Thursday it has developed an alternative to aluminum that will not only reduce the weight of vehicles to improve mileage but offer engineers the same design opportunities as the traditional material. The company hopes to introduce the new material into vehicle production in January.

“We have developed a patented technology that enables us to achieve superior weight savings without experiencing any degradation of mechanical properties,” says Frank Macher, chairman and CEO of Continental Structural Plastics. “TCA Ultra Lite is an affordable alternative to aluminum, and offers engineers all of the advantages that come with using (sheet molding composite) instead of metal in body design.”

Depending on the body component being developed, the new material can offer a weight savings of up to 21 percent over the company’s mid-density material and 35 percent over its standard material.

The “ultra lite” material — which has already been approved by major automotive OEMs — will allow engineers to design with a lower specific gravity material without sacrificing mechanical properties, surface qualities, and adhesion requirements, Macher says.

The company’s patented treatment technology makes molded parts more resistant to handling damage, and prevents the micro-cracks that cause paint pops, pits, and blistering. Ultimately, the result is a material with paint and gloss qualities comparable to metals, including aluminum, Macher says.

“The fact that we are seeing no degradation of mechanical properties means lighter parts do not have to be made thicker, or incorporate structural reinforcements, to maintain the desired performance qualities.”

Continental Structural Plastics  — which provides lightweight materials for the automotive, heavy truck, HVAC, and construction industries — holds more than 50 active patents covering materials development and manufacturing processes in composite materials formulation, design, and manufacturing technologies.