Lightweight plastics composites are in increasing demand for automotive uses
by Liz White, editor
KraussMaffei AG launched its ColorForm in-mould coating process, — “an absolute world premier,” during K 2010.
The Munich-based machinery maker says the process gives parts a high-gloss surface inside the mould, in a one-shot process that can be used for mass production.
This also shows off a core strength of KraussMaffei: technology that can combine several processes into one to make plastic parts.
At the show KraussMaffei was moulding an ABS briefcase with a soft-touch surface of thermoplastic polyurethane, finished with a high-gloss blue coating . A RimStar Nano metering system applies the PU coating inside the mould.
ColorForm can replace conventional painting, including extra pre- and post-painting, said KraussMaffei board member Frank Peters, in a 27 Oct news conference at the exhibition.
Peters also noted that the company’s order books are full, in a period where its customers are struggling to meet cut-throat demands from the automotive sector and there is high cost pressure from all sides. In this atmosphere, innovations offered by KraussMaffei to raise efficiency and cut development time, are in high demand, he said.
Figures for the year ending 30 Sept 2010 show Krauss-Maffei’s sales (provisionally) up 2 percent over the previous year at €754 million, with orders 35 percent up at €869 million, said ceo Dietmar Straub.
And referring to a common theme at the K 2010 event, Peters noted that the current surge in demand for electric vehicles, to cut fuel use and reduce emissions, will inexorably lead to a rise in use of lightweight plastics composites in cars.
Currently plastics form some 15 percent of a car’s weight, but experts expect this to rise rapidly to 25 percent some time soon, he said.
Peters noted in a separate interview with UTI that, “Business is quite good for us — although injection moulding picked up faster than the PU machinery.”
Will composites demand stay the course?
“But we have some fields that are booming. I mentioned the lightweight yesterday … let’s hope that this time it’s a sustainable boom.” Peters is cautious because he has colleagues who recall a short-lived boom in composites, from the US about 30 years ago. “I think this might be more sustainable, because of the demand to really reduce weight right now,” Peters emphasised.
“This is not only about the E-mobility discussion,” and electric cars, because if fuel cells are the winner, or the internal combustion engine remains strong — all require use of composites to improve energy efficiency by cutting car weight, Peters said.
All the OEMs are “really driving development of lightweight composite parts ... [and] for the first time you can have the same price for a new composite part, compared to a metal part,” Peters commented.
“For us what is also booming is our doublebelt activities,” in presses for insulation panel lines, he said. And he spoke of use of the technology to produce SIPs (structural insulated panels) for prefabricated houses, where KraussMaffei and partner Lasselberger GmbH won an innovation prize from the German plastics foamers’ group, the FSK, recently.
Peters pointed out the potential for use of SIPs to provide much-needed shelter in crises such as the Haitian earthquake.
“I think also the appliance industry is picking up,” Peters added.
On its K2010 stand, KraussMaffei was also using high-pressure dispensing for low-output casting, making a PU casting encapsulating a polycarbonate LED light. A new PU system is used for these parts, which are “nothing spectacular, except if you look to the details. ...
We have reduced curing time,” from 50 mins to 5 mins, and this “comes from our cooperation with Rampf Group,” in casting, he said.
Peters also explained that KraussMaffei is also now making PU pumps in-house, “which gives much longer lifetime.” This contradicts the current trend to spend a lot of time outsourcing, he said, noting that “As one of the key components of the PU process mixing, we wanted to have it in-house.”