Customising automotive interiors easily and cost-effectively

In virtually no other industry are the demands regarding the quality and diversity of surfaces as high as in the automotive industry. Customers value diversely and attractively decorated elements and individual appointments, particularly in the interior. To accommodate this wish, car makers are developing short production runs with numerous variants on the basis of high-volume base platforms. The focal point here is on the efficient and cost-effective production of components for the respective vehicle class.

At the K2013 plastics trade fair last year, Germany-based Bayer MaterialScience presented a complete, polycarbonate-based material concept that is oriented on the future design of automotive interiors and satisfies all of the aforementioned requirements. The company is showing numerous variants of a decorative strip that is the latest development within this concept at the VDI conference Plastics in Automotive Engineering April 2 and 3 in Mannheim, Germany. The exhibits express the potential harboured by the use of Makrolon and Bayblend products in this application.

The concept components were created in close collaboration with Gerhardi Kunststofftechnik in Lüdenscheid, Germany. The processing specialist developed an innovative mould concept in which a diverse range of surfaces and design variants can be efficiently produced, with a single mould frame to be used for a wide range of decorating options.

"These include matte and high-gloss structures, attractive shades with deep lustre and also coated, film-decorated and metallised surfaces," says Dirk Kieslich, Head of Product and Process Development at Gerhardi. "This near-series mould can be used to replicate the most common surface design techniques and thus produce a wide array of variants without further processing steps."

"One simple, but effective possibility is the production of three-dimensional laser-engraved graining with two different levels of gloss," says Philipp Möller, project manager and application developer at Bayer MaterialScience’s Polycarbonates Business Unit. In this application, the high flowability and processing temperature of the PC+ABS blend Bayblend HG allows for the reproduction of the graining. The glossy surface can then be coated in a particular colour using coatings formulated with polyurethane raw materials from Bayer MaterialScience, for instance.

The use of the metallisable product Bayblend T65 PG also expands the spectrum of design possibilities. Attractive chrome surfaces can be produced on the component by means of galvanic plating. Furthermore, structures with matte or high-gloss designs can be produced using the StrukturChrom process, a decorating technology developed by Gerhardi. Components with integrated lighting provide a look at the plastic surface below. Three-dimensional laser engraving is also possible.

Polycarbonate films such as Makrofol HF open up further prospects for the visual design of automotive interiors. These scratch-resistant, coated films are robust and thanks to new processing technologies can also be shaped three-dimensionally. The result is components with a customised appearance.

One interesting variant are surfaces with daytime/night time designs that are a good fit with the current infotainment trend. The optical display is only visible when switched on and is produced by means of LEDs behind the film. Otherwise the driver sees only an elegant, matte-black surface. Bayer researchers developed the black panel technology behind this a couple of years ago.


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