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IAC's Ryntz talks plastics, career and future of auto interiors

Troy, Mich. — You have to wonder if Rose Ryntz is subconsciously designing vehicle interiors for dogs.

The 61-year-old vice president of advanced development and material engineering for Luxembourg-based International Automotive Components Group, a global supplier of instrument panels, center consoles and door trims, drives a 2018 Buick Enclave. But her rationale for choosing the SUV was less about luxury and more about the safety and security of her now 13-year-old rescue dog, Emily.

"The reason I have a Buick Enclave is because my dog cage fits perfectly in the back without me having to the put the seat down," Ryntz said in an interview at her Troy office. "When she was 5, she jumped out of my car."

Before "the incident," Emily — a mixed breed of shar-pei, terrier and pit bull — had free rein of the back seat, trading one window's view for the other, back and forth, with all the tail-wagging excitement stimulated by a world unexplored, squirrels unseen and parks unknown.

"When she stood on the armrest, [her paw] hit the window down ​ button. It went all the way down," she recalled.

Ryntz calmly described the heart-stopping moment when she realized Emily was no longer in the car, a 2008 Saab 9-3 at the time. She had been driving down 15 Mile Road near Groesbeck Highway, a relatively busy intersection in metro Detroit.

"All of a sudden I don't see her in my back seat," she said. "She's in the middle of 15 Mile in the center turn lane. She landed on her paws, scraped her head — didn't break a bone."

Although Ryntz didn't work on the Buick Enclave, over the years she has contributed materials innovations to several vehicle interiors and exteriors that have contributed to safety, function and aesthetics, including a painted thermoplastic polyolefin bumper on the 1995 Ford Windstar minivan; a molded-in-color, scratch-resistant instrument panel on the 2002 Ford Escape; and a lightweight Coreback instrument panel on the 2017 Mini Countryman.

While jumping through a car window with no broken bones is what some might consider an achievement, not all achievements require such dangerous leaps of curiosity. And Ryntz is a good example of how passion for your work can lead to great success almost naturally.

Audrey LaForest Rose Ryntz stands beside Bubbles, a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Coupe that she restored with one of her brothers. She was featured as the cover story in the April/May 1999 edition of Visteon Corp.'s "Eureka!" newsletter, which highlighted innovative employees at the company. Achievements unlocked

On Nov. 7, Ryntz will receive the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Plastics Engineers during the SPE Automotive Innovation Awards Gala in Livonia, Mich.

The technical specialist and research leader in automotive plastics technology has been part of several game-changing innovations, including the development of damage-resistant fascias, automotive interior skin technologies for use in seamless passenger airbag instrument panels, and interior and exterior automotive coatings on plastics.

Her 30-plus-year career has included stints at Dow Chemical Co., Ford Motor Co., Akzo Nobel NV and Visteon Corp. She's been an SPE member since 1992 and was part of a group that launched the first automotive TPO conference, which she continues to help organize today. In 2017, she was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from SPE's Detroit section.

With two of the biggest honors under her belt, one must wonder what it all means to Ryntz.

"I'm old. Lifetime achievement, c'mon," she quipped.

The two lifetime achievement awards sit at the top of a lengthy list acknowledging Ryntz's many accomplishments over the years.

To name a few, in 1983, she earned a doctorate in organic polymer chemistry from the University of Detroit Mercy; in 1999, she received two Customer Driven Quality Awards from Ford; in 2002, she earned an MBA from Michigan State University; and in 2015, she was named one of the Top 100 Leading Women in the North American auto industry by Automotive News, a sister publication of Plastics News. General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra was also recognized in the top 100 that year.

"I never worked to get awards. I'm competitive, right?" Ryntz said of the more than 20 awards she's received throughout her career, plus more than 70 patents and five trade secrets in production and material technology. "[Keeping] my nose to the grindstone, getting the work done, treating people like people."

In 2016, Ryntz was featured as one of PN's Women Breaking the Mold, a program honoring women who are making a difference in the plastics industry. And the list of awards, industry recognition and accomplishments continues.

"I was bestowed with things I never thought I would be. I'm just amazed when I look back on my career and look at all the stuff I've achieved," she said.

Tailored purpose

Her office in Troy is scattered with additional awards that are hung on walls or positioned on window sills and shelves, but there are also a few items that capture some of her most treasured belongings.

One of which is a framed photo of the daredevil pooch, Emily. Another is an April/May 1999 copy of Visteon's "Eureka!" newsletter, which highlighted innovative employees at the automotive electronics supplier. Ryntz is featured as the cover story, which discusses Bubbles, a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Coupe that she restored with one of her brothers.

"The instrument panel was all steel," she said. "You look at instrument panels today, they're all plastic. And they're becoming even more tailored, just like the interior of your vehicle, so having all the stitch lines on them, having different materials or different colors, different feel or haptics."

At IAC, Ryntz and her team are working on what she calls "functionally integrated components," where interior aspects of a vehicle, such as a door panel, need to be multipurpose. This might include reducing unwanted sound and vibration in the cabin or integrating lighting effects such as diagnostic warnings into the material.

"I think the next big thing is going to be a very thin glass composite," she said, adding that a lot of the materials she is working on look like fabric.

On her desk, she had gray-colored swatches of materials, including a low-stretch cloth fabric that she compared with a vinyl look-a-like version with more stretch for improved wrapping capabilities.

"Doesn't it look like a fabric? Isn't that cool?" she said of the plastic material.

Another big focus for the automotive supplier going forward is tailored interiors, which has been the fastest-growing area Ryntz has worked on over the past five years.

"If you look at the things driving interiors or automotive in general, it's lightweight, personalization, craftsmanship, safety, low odor and VOC," Ryntz said. "Getting the component to do all those things, yet have it look like that one time or have it wrapped in leather another time or just have a molded color plastic. Being able to move the industry in that way is what's exciting. We're essentially at the boundaries of changing what the interior of the vehicle looks like."

Ryntz credits getting involved in industry societies and dedicating time for networking early in her career as big sources of her success and recognition in her field. She said she's driven by helping others grow and succeed in their careers as well.

As for the next generation of thinkers and doers in automotive who will face new challenges such as a potential shift from personal vehicle ownership to shared vehicles, Ryntz said the best advice she can offer them is to have an open mind and be willing to learn from others.

"Two minds are better than one is a true story. Three minds are better than two," she said. "You just learn from other people's experiences. I'm not an alien. I wasn't brought from another planet — that I know of — so I had to grow up and learn just like everybody else."

Did you know?

When Rose Ryntz has time outside of juggling commitments with International Automotive Components Group and the Society of Plastics Engineers, taking care of her 13-year-old rescue dog, Emily, and serving on the board of advisers for the University of Detroit Mercy's college of engineering, she enjoys golfing, sipping cabernet sauvignon and flying down to Florida, where she has a second home.

But there are a few things you might not know about this year's winner of the SPE Lifetime Achievement Award:

​ She has an older twin sister who was born three minutes before her.

​ Growing up, she wanted to be a commercial artist, a veterinarian, a horticulturist, a doctor or a teacher.

​ She believes in ghosts and claims her home in Clinton Township, Mich., was haunted.

​ She is a master gardener.

Best career advice?

'Always do the best you can, but know when 85 percent is good enough.'

Rose Ryntz, Vice President of Advanced Development and Material Engineering, International Automotive Components Group

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» Publication Date: 02/10/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [609149].

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