By Liz White, UT editor
Stuttgart, Germany-Innovation in polyurethanes is alive and well. But students in Germany need more knowledge of the versatile material in order to stimulate them to develop novel uses, concluded a meeting organised the German plastic foam association the FSK (Fachverband Schaumkunststoffe EV).
At its new technical conference, aimed at processors of all types of plastic foams, which attracted some 170 delegates to Stuttgart on 15-16 Nov, the association took the opportunity to award polyurethane innovation prizes for 2006.
This year's student prize winner was Eric Wend, who has developed a flexible sound-deadening panel made of polyurethane foam, suitable for office partitions, in noisy call centres for example.
Wend, who is nearing the end of his degree-sponsored by automotive flexible foamer Conti Formpolster GmbH-devised the easily movable room dividers from large sheets of 30-mm thick ribbed and convoluted flexible PU foam.
The foam units, with metal supports, can be set up as straight or curved partitions-and the conformation can be changed every day, if needed. In open-plan offices, the product separates desks and work-spaces and offers better sound and heat insulation than normal partitions, while being highly flexible, Wend said.
PU processors also recognised
Hauff-Technik of Herbrechtingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, won its award for a novel seal using two discs of thermoplastic with a PU gel between. When screwed together, with cables passing through, the gel expands forming a water and airtight seal. The new product, called Segmento, replaces an earlier much more complex system of separately assembled parts for sealing the points at which cables enter a building, said Ralf Kurz, head of development at the company.
Hauff-Technik was looking for a material which would work well in such applications and came across Techno-Gel, a PU material made by Otto Bock Schaumkunststoff Holding GmbH. "Would it work?" they asked, to give a very simple mechanism for sealing cables. The gel gave no waste and proved to be "a fantastic material to work with," said Kurz.
Segmento is very simple to assemble, and are simply built into the wall, the cables are pushed through and once the screw is tightened, no opening remains for any dust, air or water to get through, Kurz indicated.
Automotive supplier Faurecia gained its innovation award for its 'Giesshaut' technology for making polyurethane skins for instrument and door panels in vehicles, developed over five or six years.
Introducing the process to the FSK meeting, Claus-Peter Starey, leader of Faurecia's technology group for interior systems, thanked the group's strategic suppliers such as BASF/Elastogran for their "fine work" in this development.
This PU skin technology, in which the material is coloured by an in-mould coating, is now being used on a wide range of models, including an Audi Cabriolet and the Mercedes S-class, amongst others.
The method offers short processing times, uses a low number of tools, and processing at temperatures of about 80°C, offering high flexibility and high throughput system to automotive customers, said Faurecia interior developer Guido Benedix.
According to Benedix, the technology gives skins with high surface quality, good optical appeal, with different grain effects possible, and good "haptics" or feel, Benedix added.
Students need stimulating
The prize committee of the FSK was "a little disappointed" by the student entries, hence the single student prize this year, said Albrecht Manderscheid, FSK chairman. To tackle the difficulty of getting students involved in using polyurethanes in product design, the association may take a new approach, such as setting "a task to be solved," he added.
The problem here is that student education on polyurethanes is limited, and this year the committee has worked on a design project with forty students at the Hannover technical university, to give them some input on polyurethanes and hence stimulate them to develop ideas, explained Peter Gansen of Otto Bock Schaumkunststoff, chairman of the FSK's innovation prize committee.
Manderscheid made a plea for all members of the association to submit ideas on how to make the prize more widely known and so attract more student entries.
Pic: L-R Kurz of Hauff-technik, student Wend, and Starey of Faurecia."