World’s first plastic automotive mirror

Industry partnership: University of South Australia, SMR Automotive

Researchers from University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute have delivered the world’s first plastic car mirror by pioneering highly sophisticated innovations in thin film coatings.

Through clever materials engineering, the plastic mirror out-performs glass in terms of abrasion resistance and environmental sustainability. The mirror is also shatter proof, lighter and safer than conventional glass mirrors, and meets global automotive standards.

Researchers Drew Evans, Peter Murphy and Colin Hall developed the innovative multi-layer coating design which includes a reflective mirror layer, an abrasion resistant layer and a capping layer to prevent environmental damage. The layers combined, are less than one tenth the thickness of a human hair.

This technology has been transferred to industry partner SMR Automotive and to date, more than 1.5 million mirrors have been produced and exported from Adelaide by SMR Automotive to the United States.

From the start, the approach was integrated, across product design, development, and scale-up facilitated a faster route to commercialisation – sharing expertise and capacity for effective troubleshooting and design optimisation, with SMR owning all rights to the IP and managing the commercialisation process.

The plastic mirror is currently being manufactured in South Australia and exported to global car giant, Ford. This multi-million dollar research and development project has progressed through to industry scale-up and commercialisation.

The entire mirror assembly, encompassing the mirror housing, actuator and reflective element is reduced in mass by around 15% by switching to plastic. This reduction in weight has a positive impact on driving efficiency, equating up to 16,864 litres of fuel saving per annum per 100,000 vehicles. This equates to a reduction in CO2 emissions of 45 tonnes. If applied to SMR Automotive’s current and future market share through until 2017, this will equate to a reduction in green house gas emissions of over 400,000 tonnes.

The product launch for SMR in 2012 saw just less than 500,000 parts supplied to international markets and have continued to grow.

Collaboration between UniSA and SMR Automotive is ongoing and the benefits continue to accumulate. So integrated is the partnership, and clear is the value that these two stakeholders deliver together that they have recently been granted direct IP rights to developments they create together for the automotive sector through Federal Government’s CRC program.

The partnership between SMR Automotive and UniSA spans 12 years, and has delivered remarkable achievements through a combination of deep respect, dedication to the needs of both partners, a clear vision and being agile and adaptable, showcasing IP Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 in action.