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January 1, 2002

6 Min Read
K 2001: Looking to the future through materials and design

Suppliers introduced fewer, more application-specific grades at K 2001 while taking a grin-and-bear-it attitude toward the present economic downturn and price pressures. Current goals for major resin producers include customer-focused development and improved service. In other words, it's a buyer's market. 

0102i46a.jpg The recent K 2001 show reflected not only the effects of Sept. 11, but also the economic downturn taking place on a global scale. Still, the buzz at material supplier stands remained cautiously upbeat. After years of relative prosperity, it appears these firms are willing and able to weather the current storm. 

On the other hand, resin makers have significantly reduced the number of new grades and alloys being introduced compared to past years. Instead, the strategy seems to be one that attempts to match an existing resin to a particular application. Suppliers are also creating a blend or alloy that works best at the lowest cost in a specific application. 

This may, after all, be a function of the maturing plastics industry. With more than 25,000 materials already on the market, how many new polymers do we really need? In many cases, however, it also signals reduced spending on research and development. While some of the savings may go directly to the bottom line, it appears the major resin suppliers are also diverting some funds to beef up customer services, including a more fine-tuned approach to application development. 

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In the future, plastics may help soften the visual impact of telecom equipment in the environment. A concept model at the GE stand (left) is meant to enclose a data transfer unit for high-speed mobile Internet services. Another futuristic option, the Aero Rider (right), incorporates several plastics from GE and aims to revolutionize transportation with its design.


Targeted Applications 
While the quantity of new product introductions is down, these materials remain significant for molders and designers. New grades and alloys tend to be developed for a specific application or group of applications that share performance requirements. As such, these materials address critical issues for the design and molding of targeted parts. Equally important, the newer resins attempt to eliminate traditional trade-offs. Not surprisingly, the majority of new products aim directly at the demanding high-volume automotive market. 

For instance, GE Plastics introduced Noryl PPX at the show as a PPO/PP alloy aimed at automotive bumper fascia and front-end modules. Intended to replace glass-filled TPO, the resin is an alloy of PPO (polyphenylene ether) and PP, a previously incompatible mix. By combining the two polymers, GE has increased rigidity at elevated temperatures and improved creep and scratch resistance compared to traditional TPOs. At the same time, the material is said to process just as easily, and molders should be able to substitute it in tools made for TPO. 

BASF capitalized on its leadership position in supplying materials for air intake manifolds by unveiling a new nylon 6 grade, Ultramid HP (high performance). It is designed specifically for so-called active intake manifolds, which contain switching valves or cylinders that can vary the length of duct used, thus improving an engine's performance. The material also answers automotive needs for higher heat resistance underhood. Toughness and stiffness are 50 percent higher than 30 percent glass-filled nylon 6 after exposure to temperatures up to 170C for 5000 hours. In addition, burst strength is 30 percent greater. 

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One concept for body panels includes the iMac-inspired translucent look shown on this Smart Car.

DSM's StaMax nylon material was used to mold this underhood component for the BMW Mini.


For automotive fuel systems, DuPont offered two new antistatic grades of acetal, Delrin 300 AS and Delrin 300 AT. The AS version is optimized for stiffness, low creep, and fuel resistance to meet requirements for parts that see mechanical stress within the fuel tank. AT has better impact resistance and is designed for the fuel filler cap and neck. 

Building on its nylon 66 expertise, Rhodia Engineering Plastics launched two new grades of Technyl focused on resistance to glycol and water at high temperatures for automotive cooling and heating parts. One grade shows a 25 percent increase in tensile stress at 130C in a 50-50 water and glycol environment, while the second has a 40 to 50 percent increase over standard Technyl nylon 66. 

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At K, material suppliers' stands are not generally understated. No one could miss Bayer's expansive booth in Hall 6. And was it the Blue Man Group at BASF? No, it was a blue man and a red woman entertaining attendees outside the company's stand.


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Soft-touch coatings from Bayer give the Artico, a high-end vacuum from Miele, a velvety feel that helps to differentiate it from its competitors.

Technology Trends 
Resin suppliers and custom compounders alike are focusing fewer technical development dollars more carefully in light of softening demand. Exhibitors at K 2001 offered a glimpse at where these precious resources are being directed. 

For one, as thermally conductive materials begin to play a more prominent role in E/E and IT markets, their development is accelerating. During a press conference, Jim Miller, product manager for Cool Polymers, explained why. "Designers of applications that currently require metal to manage heat also want to take out weight and cost. A thermally conductive, injection moldable plastic can achieve all three objectives," he said. 

In the past, plastics had a thermal conductivity of .2 W/m K, while aluminum reached 200 W/m K. Thermally conductive resins such as CoolPoly materials (olefins, styrenics, and engineering thermoplastics) are rated from 2 to 100 W/m K and cost $4 to $40/lb. Along with the improved conductivity, these materials also give up heat faster in the mold for cycle time savings of up to 50 percent. 

Plastics suppliers are also using resources to improve customer service, both on the Web and in the application development lab. At PolyOne, the emphasis is on building up its Centers of Manufacturing Excellence, a network of manufacturing facilities geared to specific customer needs. Investment is estimated at $45 million for new technology and equipment. The company plans to use this foundation to support new market-focused teams to improve customer service and reliability. 

From a software perspective, integration appears to be the goal for Moldflow Corp., which released its Moldflow Plastics Insight 3.0 package. This is the long-awaited marriage of MPI 2.0 and C-Mold 2000 into a single product, and includes the largest materials database in the world for simulation. For the manufacturing side, the company also announced that Moldflow Plastics Xpert 3.1 and Shotscope 2.4 are now integrated on one hardware platform. 

Ticona came to K with a renewed commitment from parent Celanese to continue its support. No longer up for sale, Ticona has focused on expanding capacity for acetal, LCP, and UHMWPE. In addition, it became the first global materials supplier to purchase a MuCell licensed and equipped molding machine earlier this year, and is now focusing development efforts on this technology at a facility in Kelsterbach, Germany. 

Custom compounder RTP Co. believes telecom products based on Bluetooth wireless technology will be the next revolution in that market. The company showcased a family of engineering thermoplastic compounds designed to help optimize this technology. The resins, which span several polymer families, feature modified electrical and dielectric properties to improve signal transmission and reception. 

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