An Australian plastics scientist has won the inaugural Prime Minister's Prize for New Innovators for creating a process that allows manufacturers to replace glass components with light-weight plastic.
Dr Colin Hall and his colleagues at the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute combined micron thin layers of plastics to develop a material that can replace glass in cars, aircraft, spacecraft, and even whitegoods – making them lighter and more efficient.
One of the first applications for the technology has been the creation of shatter-proof plastic side mirrors for cars that are now being exported to the US. The mirrors are made in Adelaide, South Australia, by SMR Automotive and have earned AUD$160m (£101m, US$123m) in exports to date.
Over the last five years, the Ford Motor Company has purchased more than 1.6 million assemblies for the plastic side mirrors for use on its F-Series trucks.
Car makers have long searched for new ways to reduce the body weight of vehicles and the car-wing mirror design weighs a fraction of the conventional glass product.
From research to commercial application
The award acknowledged the contribution Dr Hall has made to bringing science and industry together to find practical solutions to problems that have a market value.
“Universities can transition something that has been dreamed up in the lab right through to scale up to production,” Dr Hall said. “It shows that universities can work with industry hand in hand for commercial success.”
Dr Hall used his experience in the spectacle industry to help develop the combination of five layers of materials that will bind to plastic to create a car mirror that performs as well as glass and metal, at a fraction of the weight.
In an Interview with the ABC, Dr Hall said: “A lot of other countries can make cars and it’s very competitive in that environment. If we can make items or show technologies that no-one else can do, then we can compete on technology.”