Düsseldorf — For the past nine months, 3M and Trexel have been collaborating on a development that the companies described today at the international K Show as "revolutionary" and "game-changing."
3M, a manufacturer of high-strength glass bubbles, and Trexel, the exclusive provider of MuCell Microcellular Foam injection molding technology, announced that by combining their two technologies, they were able to realize 20% density reduction of finished plastic parts with mechanical properties comparable to standard solid molded parts.
Moreover, manufacturers can also reap improvements in dimensional stability, process throughput and sustainability. The achievement signifies one of the world's largest advancement in the lightweighting of plastics. The breakthrough is especially significant for the transportation industry and namely, automakers, as reducing overall vehicle weight is a key initiative as they face increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, and carbon emission reduction targets.
"It's unprecedented in the industry," said Steve Braig, president and CEO, at Trexel. "Normally, mechanical properties of foamed products are similar to solid-molded ones up to a density reduction of, say, 10%. Above 10%, the mechanical properties start to decline. What we've found is that when we combine both our processes - Mucell foaming and 3M's glass bubble technology - we can achieve a 15-20% mass reduction while maintaining mechanical properties at acceptable levels. What was very surprising is that we could do this at a 5 -10% lower total part cost."
Doug Rowen, global business director for 3M Glass Bubbles, added: "Combined, the technologies complement each other, resulting in significantly increased weight reduction, cycle time reductions and improved dimensional stability of finished parts, without sacrificing critical performance requirements."
According to Trexel and 3M the new process can be replicated at any facility around the world for plastic parts, such as automotive under the hood, interior and exterior and other molded parts. Braig went on to explain that significant weight savings can be achieved in a variety of resin systems including both filled nylon and filled polypropylene, especially significant to automakers as even a small weight reduction can make a difference as incremental design and parts adjustments can add up quickly.
The combined 3M and Trexel technology also offers several additional benefits including lower cavity pressure resulting in reduced clamping tonnage, no sink marks, and increased sustainability resulting from the use of less petrochemical feedstock.
Initial applications that are being targeted are mainly automotive: engine covers, fan shrouds, door carriers, trunk liners, center consoles, battery trays, and the like. However, Braig emphasized that it definitely won't be limited to the automotive industry. "Power tools and household appliances are areas we're looking at. But automotive is where the demand is."
"We still have a lot of runway for optimization," said Rowen. "By optimizing tool design and material, we're confident we can reach 20% or higher density reduction. We're still just at the beginning."
3M and Trexel said they are already in discussion with various OEMs, who have expressed interest in the new process.