Brent Gawne, polyurethane business manager at Frimo, gave delegates at the UTECH North America Automotive and Sustainability conference an insight into some of the work his firm has done to keep polyurethane used in a number of interior components.
Frimo makes a number of components for many OEMs. “Our business is doors and IPs (instrument panels) in automotive vehicles,” explains Gawne.
He continues: “For the past 20 years, most IPs were made with vinyl covering foam and a substrate below it. A typical IP cross section in the past would have been about 8-10 mm in thickness, he said.
“But, because of the big stress in the past five years to reduce weight, slowly OEMs are taking foam out of the vehicle.
“In the past this was a very easy thing for the OEM to do, because you get a certain feel with foam at 8 or 10 or 12 mm. Now they’ve gone to foam-backed vinyl with a PE foam at maybe 2-3mm thickness and the same feel as 10 mm PU foam,” Gawne said.
This is forcing foam suppliers and raw material makers to develop foam materials that flow with the same characteristics as it did at 8-10 mm. Now foamers are having to develop highly resilient materials with no resistance to flow through gaps which are 2-3mm thick.
“They have made great strides in the past two years, we’re working with OEMs bringing tools back into our hose, modifying tools to go to cross-sectional thicknesses of 3-4 mm and letting the OEMs test it out for deployment,” Gawne said.
“We’re producing a lot of vehicle parts for testing now with 50, 60, 70% reduction in foam. But it’s keeping foamed urethane in business,” Gawne added.