VDI revealed the latest in automotive plastics innovation
Plastics in modern, and future, vehicles continue to increase in volume and importance. This was evident at the recent ‘Plastics in Automotives’ conference organised by the Association of German Engineers (VDI), where the very latest materials developments were unveiled.
The annual gathering of experts from both plastics and automotive industries at the VDI Conference in Germany is widely considered as an important platform for the exchange of new ideas, the unveiling of new materials and information on new technology that is shaping the future of vehicle design and production. This year’s two-day conference, held in Mannheim from 29-30 March, was no exception. The focus on lightweight design concepts for exterior and interior parts, development processes, sustainability and CO2 reduction brought raw materials producers, polymer processors and system suppliers together to participate in technical discussions about joined up thinking, future design and end-of-life options.
Lanxess: Composites and PA 6/66 for safety and weight reduction
Lanxess exhibited its latest materials solution for the automotive industry with a focus on lightweight design with added value. This included the first all-plastic break pedal in series production made from its ‘Tepex’-branded continuous-fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites. So far, this component has been fitted in the Porsche Panamera and the Bentley Continental GT.
It is manufactured by using a one-shot hybrid moulding process with short cycle times. The process integrates the shaping of a Tepex blank into the injection moulding process. “This safety component is only about half the weight of a comparable steel structure, and meets the high load requirements thanks to the innovative multi-axial fibre layer construction of the Tepex blank,” explained Henrik Plaggenborg, Head of Technical Marketing and Business Development Tepex Automotive.
In addition to the brake pedal, Lanxess demonstrated how its Tepex-based hybrid moulding process could be used to produce a module carrier for the Mercedes Benz S Class convertible that is just one millimetre thick. “The component is a prime example of how Tepex can be used to produce large structural components that are particularly thin and thus lightweight. They can also be fitted with numerous functions at the same time,” Plaggenborg continued.
Aside from its composites offerings, Lanxess also highlighted its use of polyamide 6 to replace aluminum in the design of engine oil pans. Produced using its ‘Durethan’ material, an oil pan module for the new six-cylinder boxer engines of the Porsche 911 Carrera was on display. This exhibit, according to Tim Arping, Head of Application Development for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) region at Lanxess’ High Performance Materials (HPM) business unit, underlines how more cost-efficient polyamide 6 is at least just as suitable as polyamide 66 for replacing aluminium in the manufacture of engine oil pans.
The component satisfies all the specific requirements imposed on the new-generation engine in terms of weight reduction, functional integration and cost-efficient production. “The weight of the oil pan could be reduced by more than two kilograms compared to the previous aluminium model,” Arping said.
Not forgetting the commercial vehicle sector, Lanxess demonstrated the lightweighting potential of polyamide 66 used for the production of two air filter mounts that have been fitted in Mercedes Benz Actros since the start of the year. These filters are made of Durethan AKV 50 H2.0.
INEOS Styrolution: New ABS copolymers for light weight and strength
INEOS Styrolution, a leading styrenics company dislayed its very latest materials solutions for the automotive industry. This included a new grade of its ‘Novodur’ range of speciality ABS copolymers for automotive interiors, Ultra 4255.
The new Novodur Ultra 4255 grade features high impact strength at room temperature as well as at low temperatures, 100 per cent ductility at -30°C, high heat resistance and superior flow.
Christophe Ginss, INEOS Styrolution Automotive Sales Director, said: “We expect the new Novodur Ultra 4255 to become a material of choice for car interiors, especially for applications like door panels, lower seat trims, centre and overhead consoles or glove box doors and frames.”
In addition, the company also introduced a laser-weldable version of its Novodur HH-112. This, it says, offers improved adhesion to other materials, such as PMMA, for high aesthetic requirements. Additonally, INEOS Styrolution said this tailored Novodur HH-112 is also reducing production costs, where it can provide a perfect surface when it comes to bonding two different materials.
Along with the new grades, the company also highlighted the benefits of its thermoplastic composite, StyLight, at the conference. This, says INEOS Styrolution, is a response to the industry’s increasing demand for lightweight parts, without compromising on aesthetics, safety and performance, as the new composite boasts properties that not only reduce weight, but also structural and dimensional stiffness and impact strength.
The production process for StyLight is said to ensure highest quality and low cycle times, as complex parts can be produced in a hybrid production process; the thermoplastic composite sheets made from StyLight can be thermoformed, back-injection-moulded and decorated in one processing step.
At the same time, INEOS Styrolution says the lower shrinkage during the consolidation step of the styrenic copolymer matrix, based on a modified SAN, reduces the surface roughness or ‘waviness’ significantly, and offers a “superior” surface quality. Possible applications include body panels, brake pedals, electronic device carriers, gear sticks, instrument panels, spoilers and sun roofs.
Covestro: New PC glazing and holographic films for futuristic driving
Covestro’s exhibit at VDI was central to demonstrating its commitment to “pushing technical boundaries” with its materials. This was represented in the form of a new concept in electric car design, a vehicle ‘wrapped’ in polycarbonate glazing.
“Based on pioneering plastics technologies, the concept incorporates current trends in automotive design," explained Project Manager, Jochen Hardt. “It enables us to give vehicle designers new possibilities for designing comfortable, functional and energy-efficient cars.”
Designed with automotive supplier, HELLA, and the Umeå Institute of Design in Sweden, the concept car is the first vehicle with wrap-around glazing made of transparent polycarbonate. The glazing is lightweight and aerodynamic, two features that reduce energy consumption. The designers also implemented entirely new styling options that they say “would not have been feasible in glass”. This includes the design of transparent A-pillars, where wrap-around glazing rewards passengers with a panorama view, and enhances pedestrian safety because it almost entirely eliminates blind spots. The glazing, says Covestro, meets all the requirements of the new UN Regulation R43.
The vehicle also features a novel new concept for lighting, where illuminated surfaces with integrated LED ‘spots’ can display messages, which Covestro and HELLA say provides automotive designers with “fascinating possibilities” for enhancing safety, energy efficiency and functionality.
Looking to the future, the partners say holography will likely prove to be a top technology in automotive lighting. They have developed an innovative solution based on holographic films from Covestro’s ‘Bayfol HX’ range. This enables various lighting functions to be integrated into body components, requiring little space and opening up entirely new possibilities for using light as a design element.
It also featured technologies to enable autonomous driving, such as new polycarbonate materials to enable good transmission of LiDAR signals and the homogeneous integration of sensors, i.e. the ‘eyes’ of an autonomous vehicle, to enhance the safety of passengers and pedestrians.
Another one of Covestro’s highlights at the VDI congress was various film solutions for interior automotive display applications. The focus was on displays and operating panels that are protected by scratch-resistant, glare-free films. They support new lighting effects and the integration of functions into the instrument panel.
Borealis: New PP grades for continued weight reduction
Borealis and Borouge launched new ranges of polypropylene compounds in the Daplen family of PP thermoplastic olefins (TPO), and the Fibremod range of polypropylene fibre-reinforced compounds.
Borealis aims to use the new compounds to improve lightweighting in cars for interior, exterior, and under-the-bonnet (UTB) parts. Additionally, the grades are particularly suited for electric or hybrid vehicles, which will become more viable with lighter component materials.
“As we explore the new frontier of electric vehicles together with leading OEMs and their Tier One partners, we are committed to developing value-creating polyolefins that enable our customers to think about the material science of cars in a different way,” explained Nicholas Kolesch, Head of Automotive Marketing at Borealis. “But even more, we can see the potential for fundamentally rethinking automotive design, thanks to the wealth of PP-based solutions available today, and on the immediate horizon.”
The new grades launched at VDI include Fibremod GB416LF, a long glass fibre (LGF) reinforced polypropylene, which is a high-flow material with a 40 percent filler content, making it a new, lighter weight solution for a full polyolefin tailgate module as a lower-density replacement solution for conventional metal or engineering polymers.
Fibremod GB416LF is said to fulfil both emission requirements and mechanical performance criteria. It has good surface aesthetics, meaning the grade can be used for visible parts. Its sustainability is enhanced not only by its lighter weight, but by eliminating the need for one or more paint layers, or additional aesthetic parts.The second new grade, Fibremod GD577SF, is a new short glass fibre (SGF) grade with 50 percent filler. In addition to what Borealis describes as “outstanding” mechanical performance – even at higher temperatures – the grade is also said to offer pleasing surface qualities for visible structural parts. As a potential replacement solution for demanding metal and polyamide (PA) applications, GD577SF is suited for a diverse range of exterior, interior and UTB applications, including full plastic front end modules, clutch and gas pedals, external mirror structures, and more.
Finally, the product launched in Borealis’ Daplen family is ‘Daplen EE001AI’, a new material generation designed to serve as a “drop-in” solution. A highly pure grade, it is said to boast “excellent” mechanical properties and minimal filler content. With the similar shrinkage characteristics typical of grades with higher filler content (such as PP-T15), the new Daplen EE001AI can be used in existing tool geometries. The new material is easily processable and robust in large-scale series production and, whilst a lightweight grade, can be used to to achieve class-A surfaces free of tiger stripes and any other visible flaws typically affecting injection-moulded parts. Borealis says it is “highly suitable” for a wide range of injection configurations and tool layouts.
Clariant: New stabiliser for interior applications
Clariant chose VDI to introduce its new stabiliser for filled polypropylene (TPO) compounds used in interior applications.
New AddWorks ATR 146 is a heat and light shield that aims to create longer-lasting aesthetics and a healthier environment inside future vehicles due to reduced Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
AddWorks ATR 146 is proven to deliver exceptional heat stability to TPO compounds, with no surface cracking reported after 700 hours and beyond at 150°C when dosed as low as 0.3 percent. This performance level largely exceeds the standard requirements in the industry for such applications and outperforms the heat stability of currently available alternatives.
Moreover, it displays excellent light stability performance that protects long term against discoloration.The outstanding UV and heat protection, plus high resistance to extraction media like water or detergents, enable typical TPO-based parts such as dashboards, instrument panels, door panels, and pillars to maintain their aesthetics for longer than with traditional stabilisers.In addition, AddWorks ATR 146 has high compatibility with the PP polymer and high intrinsic stability that contribute to reduce blooming and VOC emissions from an injected part.
“Today, over 50 percent of plastics in vehicle interiors are made of polypropylene. With AddWorks ATR 146, we are excited to offer Tier Ones and OEMs the opportunity to go beyond the most stringent requirements for heat stability, light stability and VOC emissions with a low dosage solution,” said Emilie Meddah, Global Segment Leader for Automotive Applications at Clariant.
“Such advanced performance responds precisely to the emerging trend in the segment for durability and lower VOC environments, setting the new benchmark for the next generation of automotive interiors.”
Trinseo: Investing in ABS for automotive industry
Underscoring its commitment to producing premium ABS products for the global automotive industry, Trinseo announced the start of production of its ‘Magnum’ ABS resins in Zhangjiagang, China, in 2017.
Making the announcement at VDI, the company said the move was a “key development” in terms of reinforcing its position as a sustainable partner for global product supply and consistency. Trinseo’s Magnum ABS resins have a successful history in automotive exterior and interior applications for OEMs in North America and Europe. Now the same product range will be produced in China.
“This growth strengthens our existing collaborative relationships with our customers, delivering on our commitment to provide premium ABS products worldwide,” commented Thomas Mettler, Trinseo’s Global Product Director, Performance Plastics.
Trinseo says its Magnum ABS resins portfolio differentiates itself from competition due to proprietary mass polymerisation technology, which provides a number of functional qualities tailored to the automotive industry, incluing low gloss, low odour and excellent consistent material quality. This versatility, it says, means that Magnum ABS can cater to the individual needs of Tier suppliers and OEMs, and enable significant cost savings on colouring without a loss of quality. The portfolio is available globally for use in a wide variety of interior automotive applications, and is increasingly being used for exterior applications.
Radici Group: Advanced method for structural calculation of plastic components
In partnership with Politecnico di Milano, at VDI RadiciGroup Performance Plastics presented an advanced method for the structural calculation of components made from plastic combined with fibres or other substances, which it says is potentially “very precise” compared to the traditional method. This new approach aims to make structural calculation more reliable when replacing increasingly critical components which must be sized accurately.
“The world of automotive needs to find increasingly innovative, high performance and low cost solutions to achieve the objectives of reducing environmental impact, improving safety, aesthetics and comfort. In recent years, the innovative polymers offered by RadiciGroup Performance Plastics for the automotive sector are undoubtedly heading in this direction,” commented Erico Spini of RadiciGroup Performance Plastics.
“Nowadays however, along with suitable polymers, it is necessary to provide designers with a more reliable calculation approach and characterisation of the materials compared to the past. In using advanced calculation instruments it is necessary to always focus on the correspondence of the results achieved with the experimental data. For this reason we collaborate with Politecnico di Milano, so that everyone, in their responsibility and role, can give the best contribution to the development of calculation instruments and approaches that are better suited to the requirements of our partners.”
SABIC: Lightweight PP and plastic-metal hybrid solutions
SABIC’s showing at VDI centered around reducing emissions and increasing fuel efficiency, with a range of solutions that crossed a range of application segments.
This included a plastic-metal hybrid (PMH) structural reinforcements for the vehicle’s body-in-white (BIW). A PMH floor rocker reinforcement, says SABIC, can help reduce weight by up to 45 percent vs. an all-steel alternative. In the component, NORYL GTX resin (MPPE/PA) from SABIC was combined with steel to form a very efficient energy-absorption crash box structure. This saves one kilogram (kg) in weight and maintains the required level of crashworthiness.
The component is an industry-first use of plastic in a BIW reinforcement without the use of structural adhesives or foams. Use of the NORYL GTX resin allows the part to go through the automaker’s e-coat process with the rest of the BIW. Additional opportunities across the BIW means that a manufacturer could save up to 8 kg of weight with these hybrid solutions vs. all-metal reinforcements.
SABIC also featured an injection-moulded, foamed instrument panel carrier. The part uses the company’s STAMAX resin (LGFPP; 60YK270E grade) with SABIC PP resin (612MK10EE grade) in a structural foaming process.In this approach, the manufacturer injects the material into the mould with a foaming agent. Immediately afterwards, the mould is opened a few millimeters (mm), controlling the final density of the part. During the process, the foaming agent produces CO2 bubbles that create a foamed core. The final produced part is both light and stiff. SABIC says the solution is emission-optimised and meets the VDA278 industry standard. Other potential benefits from this foamed STAMAX resin solution include the need for less material during processing, shorter cycle times, and a better balance of impact and stiffness.