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September 1, 2003

20 Min Read
Materials, colorants, additives

Materials suppliers paved the way for design innovation with new ways to decorate, enhanced properties, and a supply of ideas. DuPont Automotive presented its Catalyst series of innovative interior and exterior design, materials, and finish ideas. According to Larry Cole, executive product planning manager, interior systems for DuPont Automotive, Catalyst design elements were inspired mostly by sources outside the automotive design industry. They combine urban motifs, inspiration from nature, diverse textures, and seasonal elements into key themes.

A carousel of flasks in the LNP Engineering area of the GE Plastics booth illustrates the infinite possibilities available from the company’s compounding unit.
Using Lexan EXL resin in this patented service console for truck stop use allowed designers at manufacturer IdleAire to meet impact resistance and weatherability requirements. The material, a PC/siloxane copolymer, is part of GE Plastics’ X Gen series of enhanced property resins.

Even the economic dark clouds of the past several years have silver linings, and one example could be found in materials suppliers’ booths at NPE. It appears the reduction in economic activity helped focus suppliers’ energies on listening to customers’ needs and developing products that would improve productivity, design freedom, and the balance of cost and performance.

New grades that fulfill these requests (see “What are your material needs?”, opposite) nudge former barriers and eliminate some trade-offs for both designers and processors. In the materials world, innovations both incremental and not-so-subtle were the order of the day.

  • Engineering Thermoplastics

    When it came to ETPs, the news was almost exclusively about pushing the envelope. New grades of heavy-hitting resins in this category, including acetal, polyamide, polycarbonate, and polyphenylene sulfide, appeared at NPE as heightened and broadened versions of their predecessors. DuPont Engineering Polymers, for example, featured three paintable and two platable grades of its Delrin acetal, an R&D breakthrough, according to William Hsu, VP technology. Together with an etching solution (Delrin Etch) that prepares the surface, the material can be plated with standard equipment or coated with a range of paints and coatings from the newly created Delrin Decorating Solutions line.

    Thinking outside the box for polyamide as well, DuPont introduced two platable grades of its Zytel HTN aimed at replacing plated metal in heated appliances and automotive appearance parts that encounter heating. While these resins can be electroless-plated on existing ABS lines, they can also be electroplated with colored metallic coatings—a method ABS can’t survive.

    In addition, Hsu announced the world’s first thermoformable acetal, a Delrin grade that can be decorated similarly to the molding grades. As part of a system called Delrin Forming Solutions, targeted applications include housings, trays, and heavy-duty products that need resistance to chemicals, solvents, scratching, wear, and friction along with creep and fatigue resistance, toughness, and strength.

    Bayer Polymers introduced a copolycarbonate (Makrolon DP1-1848) that expands the popular material’s reach into lower- and higher-temperature applications. In comparison to traditional bisphenol A polycarbonate, it has greater notched Izod impact strength, Vicat softening temperature (156C), and chemical and hot water resistance. The transparent, colorable grade was launched in Europe 18 months ago, and is now available in the U.S. Copolymerizing with a proprietary bisphenol instead of using an elastomer for impact resistance eliminates the trade-off of reduced stiffness and heat resistance, according to James Mason, technology manager for Makrolon.

    What are your material needs?

    At times, it seems that what OEM designers and processors want from their material suppliers doesn’t exist. In an effort to close that gap, DuPont Engineering Polymers conducts surveys of those planning to attend trade shows such as SAE and NPE. At this year’s NPE, results of the survey showed that improved aesthetics, greater design freedom, and cost reduction topped attendees’ resin wish lists.

    Functional aesthetics led the pack as a top three choice for 57 percent of the 300 survey participants, followed by resistance to extreme environments, greater structural properties, and enhanced toughness. Gaining new ideas was the top reason to attend the show, cited by 44 percent of participants, with learning new techniques a close second.

    The survey was conducted by BRG Townsend (Mt. Olive, NJ), and included nearly 300 participants, with half being OEM designers and half representing molders.

    Foreseeable applications in the low-temp category include containers for cold storage, ski boot buckles and tops, slalom ski poles, ski goggles, safety covers, security glazing, telecommunication equipment housings, military face shields and goggles, and snowmobile windows. High-heat candidates range from lamp and lighting components to medical goods, thanks to dimensional stability and accuracy at temperatures greater than 100C.

    Three new grades of polycarbonate film (Makrofol) for film insert molding and thermoforming broaden the choices of gloss and improve productivity for auto interior parts, electronic housings, and appliances.

    Bayer Polymers introduced three new grades of Makrofol polycarbonate film, each designed for greater design freedom and processing productivity for use in automotive interiors, electronic components, nameplates and panels, dials, point-of-purchase displays, and appliances.

    A Dyson vacuum at the GE Plastics booth gave testimony to the continued popularity among designers of differentiating consumer products through vivid color and special effects resins.

    Bayer also debuted an industry-first thermoformable and extrudable grade of polyamide that was previously introduced in Europe and is now available in North America. In sheet form, the new Durethan nylon endures 140C continuous-use temperature and is intended to replace metal and fiberglass.

    At BASF, the emphasis was on integrating its engineering polymers business with that of Honeywell, an acquisition that is still only months old. Together, the two units now make up BASF Performance Polymers, which is based in Wyandotte, MI at the same facility as the Plastics Application Center, R&D, and compounding operations. Jay Baker, group VP for performance polymers, explained that the current objective is to ensure that customers of both Capron (Honeywell’s polyamide) and Ultramid (BASF’s) do not see any interruption in service as the combined company moves toward integration.

    While three-quarters of BASF’s engineering resin sales are automotive, the same portion of Honeywell sales was in nonautomotive markets. “From this standpoint, it is a great fit, because the two businesses complement one another,” said Baker. Future development programs aimed at finding new applications and hybrid technologies are fully on course, he added.

    New products acquired via Honeywell include all of the Capron polyamide grades—based on PA6, PA66, and PA66/6—along with Nypel recycled injection molding and extrusion grades based on post-industrial recycled nylon feedstocks.

    As it promised when Lexan SLX polycarbonate film was first introduced as Sollx late in 2001, GE Plastics has developed an injection molding grade (SLX 2431) of this material. Thanks to copolymer technology, enhanced properties are integrated into the resin’s molecular backbone for clarity, heat, weathering, and impact, according to Kurt Schuering, SLX global product manager. Lighting applications such as covers, refractors, and lenses are an initial target market. Schuering also announced plans for additional injection molding grades in translucent colors in early fall.

    Other X Gen resins, GE’s term for extreme environment/enhanced property products, included clear Lexan EXL (introduced several months prior to NPE); Ultem HTX, a polyetherimide with heat resistance to 247C; and Xylex XCC, a blend of polycarbonate and aliphatic polyester that offers high clarity, chemical resistance, and impact strength.

    Together with Bulk Molding Compounds Inc. (BMCI), GE added the first thermoset plastic to its product line. Noryl ETX (using PPO resin characteristics in a thermoset) features toughness and ductility, strength and modulus at high temperature, high heat resistance, low moisture uptake, low shrinkage, high dielectric strength, and inherent FR performance. BMCI will toll manufacture the material, with GE marketing and distributing it.

    BMCI also announced a solo development at NPE 2003 called BMC-X-Cel, a phenolic bulk molding compound. Unlike traditional unsaturated polyester and vinyl esters used in thermoset BMCs, phenolics push the limits of high-temperature performance while retaining inherent flame and chemical resistance.

    X-Cel retains its mechanical properties at high temperatures, a quality BMC calls “unprecedented storage modulus.” Specifically, the compound retains more than 85 percent of ambient properties at 200C and more than 60 percent at 300C. Like most phenolics, a post bake is required to achieve these property levels. Initial markets include fuel cells, underhood automotive parts, automotive exhaust systems, and appliances.

    Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. introduced a new family of elastomer-modified polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) alloys called the Xtel XE Series. Two new grades are currently available—XE 3035 for injection molding and XE3200 for extrusion. Adding these alloys to the Ryton PPS line of products broadens the reach of this material. Xtel resins, for instance, withstand harsher chemical exposure at higher temperatures with more ductility and strength retention than conventional PPS grades. In the past, adding flexibility and strength meant giving up heat resistance, but a proprietary olefinic copolymer technology developed at the corporate R&D level eliminated that trade-off.

    Polyphthalamide (PPA) from Ems-Chemie is now available in combined mineral-and-glass-reinforced grades for better surface quality, reduction of warpage, and more uniform thermal expansion. These new grades in the Grivory-HT product line include XE3844, XE3845, and XE3853.

  • Polyolefins

    Hard hit by wild swings in oil markets and an unclear economic picture, olefin producers appeared cautiously optimistic at NPE. Chuck Platz, president of Basell North America, sees signs of recovery in demand for polypropylene, but believes rapidly rising and falling feedstock prices have significantly hurt producers’ profitability. As the leading global PP producer, Basell will restart two plants next year for added capacity of 880 million lb to meet predicted increases in demand. “The balance of supply and demand is now tighter, and as a result, recovery is now possible,” he said.

    Packaging applications are up, according to Seetha Coleman-Kammula, senior VP at Basell, as PP continues to replace other materials in this area. Two new products were introduced to meet the needs of this industry—Metocene PP for injection stretch blowmolding and precision injection molding; and Adstif PP for extrusion blowmolding, sheet/thermoforming, and cast film processes. Oxypolypropylene, another new development, can be used as a dispersant for nonhalogenated FR additives and as a component in engineering thermoplastic blends for better strength, melt flow rate, and coloring. This additive is compatible with PC, polyesters, and other ETPs. Basell will sell oxypolypropylene as a component to compounders, who will then create these blends.

    Is it possible that we will see a polypropylene exterior automotive part in the near future? Platz estimated that it may be four or five years away from reality, but that it will come to pass. “We are pushing property ranges to make headway into applications that previously would never have considered PP,” he added.

    Combining PVC with olefinic elastomers (POEs), Teknor Apex introduced its plasticizer-free FreeFlex 4002 grades with Shore A hardnesses of 81, 82, 85, and 90. The new alloys eliminate plasticizer migration problems in outdoor applications and those that see temperature extremes.

  • Thermoplastic Polyesters

    Shine-E Rynite, a high-gloss addition to DuPont’s PET line, was developed to replace painted metal and SMC parts in automotive, appliance, and consumer applications. Unpainted parts reach scores of up to 100 units in 60° angle gloss testing. The material can also be painted on existing OEM lines, including spending up to 30 minutes in 200C E-coat ovens, for automotive class-A surfaces, says Rynite global business manager Dave Ritchey.

    Five patents protect the underlying technology of this new material, which is currently available in two unpainted grades. Painted grades are still being tested for automotive applications, a two- to three-year project. Unlike Surlyn, a high-gloss ionomer/

    PA6 alloy for low-temp applications, Shine-E Rynite can withstand higher temperatures while maintaining toughness and dimensional stability. It also has good adhesion to coatings and epoxy potting compounds, with no need for special pretreatments.

    Bayer developed a new family within its Pocan PBT line called EasyFlow, which reduces the amount of filling pressure needed by up to 30 percent. Combined with lower melt temperatures, the material can shorten cycle times by 15 to 20 percent for thin-wall electrical/electronic parts with long flow paths.

    Polytrimethylene terephthalate, or PTT, is a semicrystalline polyester closely related to PET and PBT. PTT compounds from RTP Co., called RTP 4700 Series, were featured as a cost-effective replacement for metal brackets in automotive applications. With both UV protection and glass-fiber reinforcement, the compounds cost-effectively meet tensile and flex modulus requirements in these applications.

    An impact-resistant copolyester called Optimum was introduced by compounder Engineered Plastics Corp. in extrusion, blowmolding, thermoforming, and injection molding grades. The material is highly colorable, with both scratch and chemical resistance, and is available in tensile strengths up to 8500 psi with a temperature range of –40 to 300F.

    Shine-E Rynite, an ultrahigh-gloss PET from DuPont, is targeted toward automotive exterior body panels in its painted form because it can be mounted on a body-in-white and cured in E-coat ovens to produce a Class A surface.

  • Polyurethanes

    Noveon’s Estane ETE TPUs were featured at the show, with the ETE designation standing for easy-to-extrude. Available in extrusion, film/sheet, and injection molding grades, these products take aim at overcoming typical processing problems associated with higher-hardness TPUs, such as rapid crystallization and a resulting tendency to freeze off too early.

    These harder TPUs also show higher mechanical properties, and Noveon developed the ETE line to eliminate the processing trade-off while maintaining property benefits at hardnesses of 50 Shore D and higher. Both polyether- and polyester-based grades offer significant cost savings and performance similar to PA11, PA12, COPE, and COPA, according to Elliot Pritikin, senior marketing manager.

    Using natural fibers to replace glass in reinforced polyurethane parts is becoming increasingly popular among automotive OEMs, according to Bayer. In response, the company now offers a system called Baypreg F that combines material and processing technology to create natural fiber composites for interior applications that are cost-competitive with traditional materials. In addition, soft-touch TPUs introduced at the show but still in development should be available by the end of this year.

  • Polystyrenes

    A business-oriented news item in this category involved the creation of a Plastics Distribution unit within BASF’s Styrenics business to be led by Edward McKenna. The new unit is intended to provide support to customers who purchase BASF styrenic products through distributors such as Amco, Ashland, Entec, and Prime Alliance. In a related announcement, the Styrenic Copolymers business has licensed Entec to compound Luran SC (ASA/PC) resins for automotive exterior trim, electronic housings, and industrial applications.

    BASF also launched a new grade of Luran S (ASA) capstock resin for building and construction markets. Called 797 SE Q440, the material is a low-gloss acrylic copolymer that promises long-term color stability in a wider range of colors with no chalking. It is currently targeted for siding, decking, and fencing products to be used as capstock over vinyl.

    Another new styrenic resin, HIPS 486N extrusion grade, was introduced as a solution for packaging applications. Optimized for printability and chemical resistance, the material’s potential end uses range from printable extrusion sheet and film to plates, bowls, cups, and containers.

    The new Vision Blood Cardioplegia system from Gish Biomedical is molded from a medical grade of Bayer’s Makrolon PC. The fist-sized device is used in cardiac surgery to cool and warm blood. Designers chose the material for its clarity, sterilization endurance, dimensional stability, and processibility.

  • Thermoplastic Elastomers

    Soft-touch applications using TPEs are still on the rise, according to custom compounder GLS Corp., which introduced three new compounds. Versalloy 8000 alloys, a product of a technical joint venture with DSM, are based on TPV chemistry to broaden both performance and processibility. According to marketing director Walt Ripple, the alloys flow better than SBC to fill complex, lengthy parts and can be dropped into existing PVC and TPV tools. Heat resistance to 125C and better colorability are additional benefits.

    Versaflex CL 2003, a gel-like, water-clear TPE, eliminates oily and sticky surfaces at hardnesses of 30 Shore 00, equivalent to 0 Shore A. Versollan RU2203, a 45 Shore A TPU, was developed in conjunction with BASF for a rubbery look and feel in a softer, easy-to-mold material.

    Leading styrene-butadiene copolymer manufacturer Kraton debuted its new line of high-performance elastomers called Kraton A. Tailorable for specific applications, these materials also boost flow rates, low-shear processing, dimensional stability, and mold definition.

    Not only did NPE serve up new colorant technologies, but it also introduced several new equipment systems designed to manage color in QC and design departments.

    The new MultiFx10 from Datacolor is equipped with 10 sets of illuminating/viewing angles, instead of the traditional four angles, which helps to get a more accurate reading of the newest special-effect colors—metallic-flake and pearlescent pigments. And to ensure the quality of the readings, QC software is included.

    If you’re looking for simplicity and mobility, Minolta introduced its handheld Color Reader CR-10, designed for use by nontechnicians for measuring the difference between two colors.

    GretagMacbeth updated its Web-based NetProfiler system. NetProfiler version 1.5 is an Internet application that remotely monitors, calibrates, adjusts, and certifies a network of spectrophotometers. The company also featured its midsized Color i5 spectrophotometer, which is designed to aid in supply chain color management by bridging the gap between legacy color data and high-precision instrument data.

    Not to be left out of the e-race, X-Rite has also updated its Web-based color management software. The X-Rite Color Master Web Edition allows users to access color data files via the Internet. The software comes in two versions: QA-Master II for users requiring quality assurance but not formulation, and Formulation-Master III for users requiring full QA and formulation capabilities.

    A new grade of Multi-Flex TPE, a 60 Shore A version from Multibase, a Dow Corning company, was showcased in an automotive armrest application as a PVC alternative. Based on Kraton-G SEBS, the material reportedly provides UV stability, uniform flow, and low fogging.

    Kraiburg TPE, a division of German producer Kraiburg Group with offices in Europe and Asia, now has a production site in Atlanta, its first in the Americas. The company brought its line of Thermolast K TPE compounds to NPE for the first time. These materials feature rubber-like characteristics, grades as soft as 5 Shore A, and tailorable chemistry.

    Mediflex TPE compounds for medical product and tubing applications were launched by Star Thermoplastic Alloys & Rubbers. These materials will be available in hardnesses from 8 Shore A to 60 Shore D and in colored, translucent, or clear grades.

    The Thermoplastic Elastomer division of Teknor Apex previewed three grades in a new line called Uniprene 2000. These TPV elastomeric compounds promise softness of 15 to 35 Shore A with better performance at both temperature extremes than non-crosslinked TPEs.

  • Additives and Colorants

    In the additive category, PolyOne launched Nanoblend Concentrates, a total-package replacement for both mineral and glass reinforcements as well as FR additives based on nanocomposite technology. Currently available for PP and PE resin families, the Nanoblend line will expand to include a wide variety of resins, according to strategic technology commercialization director Sally Kline. This line is the result of an alliance between PolyOne and Nanocor Inc., a leading supplier of nanoclays for plastics.

    For packaging applications, Milliken Chemical debuted Hyperform HPN-68, the first in a new class of nucleating agents for PP. By helping to solidify the polymer faster in both injection and extrusion processes, this product increases production speeds, throughputs, and yields to reduce manufacturing costs. Warpage problems are also reduced, while modulus and the balance of stiffness and impact are boosted.

    The changing world of e-business

    After the bust following NPE 2000, the word “dot-com” has become almost taboo when describing a company that operates primarily online. In fact, websites are so commonplace now that it takes the absence of a conventional storefront to merit mention here. Three years ago online marketplaces, information portals, and service providers dotted McCormick’s aisles; IMM’s Showcase coverage listed 20 e-firms offering everything from collaborative product development to supply chain management. In June 2003, a mere four Web-based companies took their place among the machinery and materials stalwarts at the show, although Web-based solutions to procurement, production monitoring, personnel, diagnostics, and other needs were a significant focus of many brick-and-mortar exhibitors.

    That’s not to say those e-firms are no longer around. A quick check of the websites showed that roughly 75 percent still exist and serve the plastics industry. However, ThePlasticsExchange.com is the only one of the 20 that came back to NPE three years later. The company, which provides an online spot marketplace for anonymously buying and selling commodity-grade resin, trotted out a new product called Forward Market. This tool allows buyers to purchase resin up to 24 months in advance at a fixed price, enabling a processor to bid accurately on a job without the concerns of material price fluctuation.

    On the other hand, one of the big announcements at NPE 2000 was the founding of Omnexus by Bayer, BASF, Dow, DuPont, and Ticona as a standardized platform for e-commerce in the plastics industry. Omnexus has grown to represent products and services from more than 20 plastics companies worldwide. In 2003, in addition to its e-Marketplace transaction services, Omnexus was touting its additional services of e-Marketing (leads and marketing tools) and Leveraged Technology Solutions (online procurement and website development).

    Other e-exhibitors included MfgQuote, which connects buyers and sellers of contract manufacturing services; PlasticsJobsForum.com, a recruitment and job-seeking tool for plastics professionals; and Plastic Domains, which sells domain names related to plastics.

    In addition, the company offered its ClearShield additive for PET beverage and food containers as a powerful UV absorber. The liquid additive can be introduced at either the resin stage or during preform injection molding, and is FDA compliant. Company-conducted research shows that even limited exposure to UV rays can fade food and beverage colors and reduce vitamin content.

    Hollow glass microspheres called Scotchlite Glass Bubbles from 3M Specialty Materials are now available in a high strength-to-weight-ratio formulation called S60/HS. The bubbles allow for higher loading than conventional fillers with less impact on viscosity, according to Lou Lundberg, marketing development manager. With an isostatic crush strength of more than 18,000 psi, the new bubbles can survive the injection molding process right along with the high-performance thermoplastics in which they are dispersed.

    Colorant news focused on vivid colors, special effects, and iridescence. Teknor Color Co., a division of Teknor Apex, showcased its recently developed line of Magic Color Concentrates, based on Variocrom pigments from BASF. Available for sheet, film, bottles, or injection molded parts, the colorants produce a play of bright colors that shift or merge into one another as the viewing angle changes, according to marketing manager Stephan Pronovost.

    To generate intense color in TPEs, the company offered its Teklite TPE concentrates, compatible with most styrenic and olefinic TPEs, including TPOs and TPVs. Packaged in a polyethylene carrier resin and formulated for high pigment loading and dispersion, the concentrates promise vivid hues for consumer appeal in soft-touch applications.

    At Ampacet, several new colorants were developed based on “exhaustive research into consumer buying habits and color trends across numerous industries,” said Linda Carroll, market development manager. In the blue palette, Cirruscape provides luster, Spaqua is a sparkling shade with silver-white particles, and Bleu Energie offers complexity. Greens range from Zensation, a silvery tone, to SubLime, a more vibrant version.

    In addition to color innovations, the company launched its Total Color Solutions Plus system, designed to give injection molders and thermoformers cost savings, process enhancement, and wider masterbatch choices along with added technical services. According to injection molding manager Rich Novomesky, the TCSP system now allows Ampacet to produce small-lot custom colors with a new level of service.

    Color matching gurus may find PolyOne’s new OnColor Virtual Color Technology System to be a major leap forward. The patent-pending system allows color chip data to be stored electronically to eliminate the need for physical exchange of color chip standards. In 2-D mode, users can perform QC and search functions, with results displayed for comparison in a true color swatch. The 3-D mode lets designers see how a color will appear on a 3-D object or part in a virtual environment such as a drug-store shelf, and allows e-collaboration on part design.

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