At Magna Exteriors, the material science gurus are brainstorming ways to turn things like plastic bottles, paint sludge, and unwanted tires into the building blocks of greener vehicles. Sustainability is at the heart of their product strategy.
“We’re always thinking of ways to get creative and bring more recycled content into vehicles,” said Parvinder Walia, director of material science at Magna Exteriors. “Our target list includes post- consumer and post-industrial recyclables.”
One idea is an extension of Magna’s thermoplastic liftgates, an innovative solution that helps to cut weight in SUVs, improving fuel economy and reducing emissions.
“A dream project is to make a liftgate out of recycled plastic bottles,” Walia said. “The idea is in the very early stages. But we’re always asking, ‘What else could we do with the materials we use a lot?’”
Engineers and designers are also looking at ways to repurpose unwanted tires.
“We’re taking a serious look at turning ground rubber tires into the sealing used for doors, windows and liftgates,” said Brian Krull, director of innovation at Magna Exteriors. “There may be an opportunity to use it in our products to help reduce waste that is going into landfills.”
Recycled paint sludge, a by-product of manufacturing, could have practical uses, too.
“One possible solution is to turn it into a powder we could put back into a plastic,” Walia said. “That would be huge. It’s in the early stages, but it’s something we want to take a look at developing.”
Some dream projects become reality.
Used carpeting is being repurposed for automotive use. An outside supplier separates the layers of nylon carpets, cleans them, and turns the resin into pellets that are used by Magna as the energy absorber on a bumper.
“Materials are the fundamental building blocks of everything we make,” Krull said. “We look at the very beginnings of what goes into a product to build sustainability starting at the molecular level.”
Lightweighting and Beyond
As SUVs continue to dominate the global market, liftgates present a significant opportunity for mass reduction.
“This is one of the fastest growing products in Magna, and we expect this to continue as automakers seek more innovative lightweight solutions,” said Grahame Burrow, Magna Exteriors global president.
Taking weight out of vehicles is critical, especially as the demand to integrate more sensors, electronic components and lighting in vehicle exteriors grows.
This demand is bringing Magna’s cross- group collaboration to the forefront by leveraging the company’s partnerships, including one with startup Rohinni, an innovative lighting company that is helping Magna bring lightweight micro LEDs into vehicle exteriors.
Sustainability is not just about developing new materials and products, it’s also how we run our factories.
Some Magna factories, such as Sybex in the United Kingdom, are conserving resources by using state-of-the-art energy tracking systems that monitor and reduce the amount of energy used to produce exterior components.
“Everything we’re doing is a sustainability solution,” said John Pianowski, Magna Exteriors global director - advanced development and innovation “Not only are we creating lightweight products, we set up our operations much closer to OEMs to reduce the amount of a time a part or component is on the road. We began doing this with front-end modules, and now do this with fascias and liftgates. We are basically an extension of the OEM’s facility.”
It all goes back to Magna’s culture of innovation.
“We allow that entrepreneurial mindset to come out,” said Brian Krull, director of innovation at Magna Exteriors. “We create ideas and share them. That’s why we can get the jump on sustainability.”
Sustainability on the Home Front
My wife Emelie and I have seven kids ranging in age from one to 11, and we’re always looking for ways to cut down on waste. Recently, we installed bidet seats in two bathrooms at home to cut down on the use of disposable wipes and other items. Most of the kids were scared of the bidet at first, but they got used to it. It also limited everyone’s anxiety about the shortage of toilet paper during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’re buying more in bulk, and using a deep freezer to reduce food-based waste and packaging. Planting a garden has been a great learning opportunity for our kids as well. We’re growing our own organic vegetables. It’s all about trying to be environmentally conscious in the decisions we make at home and at work.
Brian Krull, Magna Exteriors global director of innovation
Parvinder Walia, Magna Exteriors director of material science
At my home, we cut down on our consumption of energy and recycle everything, although the goal is not to fill up the recycling bin. Recycling is a way to shrink your carbon footprint, but the goal is to be carbon neutral. When we shop, we have our own grocery bags, and if we do have grocery bags from a store, we collect and return them.
At work, it’s being mindful of simple things, such as using very few plastic water bottles. I always have a Yeti bottle that I keep my water in. Small things like that can make a difference.
My family has always been focused on reusing as much as we can, washing things instead of throwing them away. When we sit down to dinner, we don’t use paper napkins or towels, we use washcloths or cloth napkins. My kids are 10 and 12, and they have been aware of sustainability since they started school. That’s why our recycling bin is 10 times the size of our trash bin every week.
John Pianowski, Magna Exteriors global director of advanced development, innovation and advanced manufacturing