Autonomous driving, networking and customization drive demand for specialty films in automotive

The development of film technologies for car interiors has made great progress in recent years. "Trends such as autonomous driving, networking and individualization pose entirely new challenges, but also offer great opportunities for the use of polycarbonate and thermoplastic polyurethane films," explains Dirk Pophusen, film specialist at Covestro.

The number of displays and touchscreens in car interiors will increase substantially due to the digitization and networking as well as the trend toward autonomous driving. The display surface is becoming an increasingly important field of application for polycarbonate films from Covestro. The films provide a high-contrast image and clearly legible information—even in adverse lighting conditions.

A current top issue is the process of seamlessly integrating displays into the large, three-dimensional surfaces of instrument panels.

The number of displays and touchscreens in car interiors is set to increase dramatically due to progress in digitization and networking (connectivity), as well as the trend toward autonomous driving. Large-surface, three-dimensional screen designs that can be seamlessly integrated into the surfaces of instrument panels, center consoles, and door and seat panels are a current trend according to Covestro.

What is also important is a high-contrast image and clearly legible information—even in adverse lighting conditions. Displays must not reflect light or dazzle (requiring anti-glare performance). Covestro has developed Makrofol HF, a two-stage curable film that can be formed over a large area and is especially suitable for the edging and trimming of such displays. Depending on the optical requirements, the films can be adjusted from high gloss to fine matte, and are resistant to chemicals and scratches.

Touch displays with a filigree 3D surface are a new application for Makrofol films. They enable the driver to control the display and its functions simply by touching them without having to turn their eyes away from the road. This improves road safety.

In addition, Covestro notes that there is a wide range of possible applications for films based on thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) in car interiors. Oliver Hennig, another Covestro film expert, will talk about the role they already play today and what opportunities are opening up for them in this respect in a presentation, "The use of TPU films in vehicles—silent heroes," at the "Folien+Fahrzeug" conference with an accompanying exhibition on Feb. 6 and 7, 2018, in Hannover, Germany.

Platilon TPU films from Covestro are present—although not always visible—in many parts of the car interior, such as textile laminates in roller blinds for sunroofs, as air chambers for lumbar supports of car seats or as foam shrouds for noise-reduction components.

A new promising application are the so-called flexible electronics. The elastic TPU films are embedded with processors with electronic functions such as traces and sensor elements. "LEDs can also be integrated. The resulting film buildups can be formed into geometrically complex decorative parts that provide lighting effects," says Hennig.

Flexible electronics based on TPU films can also potentially be used in electric vehicles for panel heating of large surface areas in car interiors and could replace the expensive exhaust air heating of traditional combustion engines. Hennig says: "With their extreme flexibility and good adhesion to textiles, TPU films offer the best prerequisites for integrating the required conductor path electronics into door panels, for example."

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