Looking into a mirror could help save the Australian car industry

UniSA researchers have helped to develop a new type of car wing mirror, creating economic, safety and environmental benefits along with a new lease of life for South Australia’s automotive industry.

The market-first plastic mirror was the result of a partnership between Samvardhana Motherson Reflectec (SMR), an Indian-based multinational company, and UniSA’s Future Industries Institute.

Having tried to build a plastic mirror for some time, SMR sought out UniSA for their input. The project team comprised materials scientists, physicists, process engineers and mechanical engineers from both SMR and UniSA, who collaborated on the design.

Greener, safer and with a global impact - UniSA researchers are helping to build the cars of the future.

By combining materials already available to the car industry with novel coatings, the plastic mirror weighed 50% less than a conventional glass mirror, and facilitated new designs as well as simplified assembly. The lighter weight also reduced fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and – being shatterproof – prevented the eye injuries caused by broken glass in accidents.

Production began in 2012 and global sales exceeded $170 million over the next five years. More than 1.7 million plastic mirrors were manufactured in Adelaide, exported to the US and, when fitted to the Ford Super Duty series of trucks, distributed globally.

The development of this new product in conjunction with UniSA allowed SMR to keep their operation in Australia; their unique and commercially viable products attracted $8.5 million in funding from both the South Australian and Federal governments.

This allowed SMR to add five people to its Research and Development team and build a new advanced manufacturing facility for thin-film coating in Adelaide, which created 20 new jobs. SMR has since created a spin-off business, which is exploring new products like medical devices in conjunction with UniSA.