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August 1, 2000

8 Min Read
Materials Trend: Bold materials, colors, designs steal the show

Good news abounded on both material and design fronts at the largest NPE to date. Overall, material and colorant suppliers have definitely been listening to designers and molders. Their responses, in terms of new products, are aimed at meeting challenges brought about by two major trends: 

• Design as differentiator. The iMac started it and now the rest of the consumer marketplace is brimming with ergonomic form and tinted, transparent, and frosted plastics. Industrial designers are at the forefront of marketing efforts now, as OEMs figure out that good design helps differentiate their products. Material and colorant suppliers, as a result, are proposing new special effects and quicker color matches. 

• Doing more with less. "Finally," said a molder, "something for us!" He was referring to easier-to-process resins being offered by many material suppliers. In addition, there are now resins with performance that far outpaces their cost, another big help to molders looking for cost reduction. 

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The design that started it all: Although no one who worked on the iMac can discuss his/her involvement (Apple demands strict secrecy), those who did unleashed a new era in consumer products that relies on ergonomic design and colorful plastic materials to catch the buyer's eye and stimulate enthusiasm.

This prototype car hood found in GE Plastics' booth consists of a Xenoy substrate back molded behind a coextruded film. The top layer of film is clear W-4 resin, a developmental material for automotive body exteriors. The resin offers weatherability and scratch resistance with high gloss and depth of color. Molding grades will be available in late 2001.

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Another prototype, this wheel cover illustrates a special-effect Lexan PC material GE calls Intrigue Angular Metamerism. Swirls of fine metallic particles give the base polymer a color shift when viewed from different angles. Still in development, GE is working on eliminating a tendency toward knitlines with this additive.

Doing more with PP: Montell featured a Black & Decker 4-hp electric mulching mower in its booth. The green shroud molded from ProFax SB891 (an unfilled polypropylene) withstands both chemicals and weather as required by the application.



It's About Style 
Bold forms and vibrant colors are the order of the day in consumer markets. Translucent colors, for instance, are showing up in everything from computers and their peripherals to desk chairs and cellphones. Seemingly overnight, the pressure is on to integrate highly contoured and strong industrial designs with attention-getting plastics to gain a marketing advantage. 

This shift has affected designers, molders, and their suppliers. Bob Fielding, Clariant senior vp, Americas, explains that the color and masterbatch giant is no longer just a manufacturer. "We are undertaking more design services now that iMac has shattered the paradigm of color," he says. "Taking on the role of color consultants, we are helping downstream customers to analyze color and use it to differentiate their products." 

Color is now a branding tool, according to Fielding, and it is global in nature. OEMs may have parts molded in several different countries, and all must have the same color, even if the resins being used are different. As a result, Clariant has combined its thousands of products into five families that are available worldwide. 

At Ferro Plastic Colorants Div., customer requests range from impact colors and neons to fluorescent and thermochromatic hues. Allen Virant, business development manager, is working more often with industrial designers to come up with the right colorant. "We have to start at the idea stage," he says, "because no one has the time to make mistakes on color. Having input early on, and being able to suggest tool designs that work well with specific colorants, can avoid delays and unnecessary costs." 

LNP's Colorcomp line now contains thermochromic colors in nearly every resin imaginable, except PVC and TPEs. Customers can specify what color the resin will take on before and after exposure to heat, according to Josh Blackmore, product manager. In addition to design possibilities, LNP developed these compounds for applications where heat-induced color change can be a safety feature, including teapots, infant feeding spoons, and medical devices. 

Shelf appeal can be both visual and tactile, says Walter Ripple of GLS Corp. Together with Kraton Polymers, GLS is developing custom-colored TPE compounds for overmolding based on Kraton's styrenic block copolymers. "Kraton is inherently transparent," says Ripple, "so we have a lot of coloring flexibility. We're even working on compounds that use metallic flakes." 

GE Plastics solidly echoes the new design mantra with a wider range of special effect and colored materials: a colored, transparent Ultem for food service applications; a color-shift Lexan PC (Intrigue Angular Metamerism); a translucent, tinted PC (Light Diffusion); and Diamond materials with a glass-like flake added to both PC and ABS resins. 

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Sparkling speakers and digital cameras may well appeal to the child in all of us. GE has added Diamond resin to its Visualfx line, available both in Lexan PC and Cycolac ABS. The glass-like additive imparts glitter and sparkle, and the material is currently available in eight colors, three of them translucent.

High gloss without paint: DuPont's Surlyn ionomer resin makes sure that this Arctic Cat snowmobile cuts a bold figure against the snow. Eliminating paint while retaining gloss are the cost-cutting goals attained by this material.

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New grades of Estaloc TPUs from BFGoodrich answer several needs—faster cycle times, a broader range of material hardness, better heat resistance, and more ductility at low temperatures. Overmolding this material onto Estane TPU provides adhesion 5000 times stronger than non-TPU pair-ups, with greater scratch and mar resistance.

Has anyone seen my mobile phone? BASF featured phone covers molded of Terluran ABS and decorated by various methods. The ubiquitous black mobile phone is disappearing quickly as colorful covers become the norm.



Getting More From Materials 
Eliminating trade-offs and improving processability was the theme for materials introduced or featured at the show. Rhodia Engineering, in its first global press conference, presented a new nylon called TechnylStar that achieves twice the spiral flow length in tests against standard nylon 6. With a semidendritic, nonlinear structure, the new material also reduces injection pressure by 30 percent, and allows for glass loadings up to 65 percent with excellent surface finish. Pilot production of five grades will ramp up for commercial quantities at the end of this year. 

E-BIZ REVOLUTION 

So, what's your e-business strategy?" It may not have been the question most often asked at NPE, but there certainly was a lot of buzz in this area. Omnexus, the multi-supplier site for injection molded resins, unveiled its new name along with plans to serve the needs of molders and simplify their lives with a one-stop shopping concept. GE Polymerland and Honeywell came to the show with news of their respective websites' increased emphasis on providing design solutions, predictive engineering, and better material selection tools. Online color matching is also on the rise. Stay tuned for details and insights on these and other e-developments in IMM's September NPE Showcase issue.

Lati USA featured a material based on Dow's syndiotactic polystyrene (SPS) called Laestra. Aimed at the E/E market, the 30 percent glass-filled compound received a V-0 rating and is antimony-free. Lati chose SPS for its low density (20 percent lower than nylon 6/6) and creep resistance above 60C, which is greater than both nylon and PBT. 

Polypropylene is a major candidate for doing more with less. At Ferro, combining scratch and mar resistance additives with a color concentrate produced a material for Visteon that surpassed a five-finger scratch test. "While 15N is the standard, we were able to reach 20N," says Ferro's Virant. "We're putting packages together based on our colorant and materials expertise to help replace engineering resins with PP." 

To make the McDonald's french fry, you have to grow the McDonald's potato. According to BASF, the same theory applies to products manufactured globally. Resins used by molders in different countries need to be the same, so BASF is producing global grades of Terluran ABS material to serve that need. It's all about production consistency—identical raw materials, process conditions, testing, and efficient compounding. 

At Eastman, customers' needs for higher productivity are increasing interest in its Durastar copolyester material, according to Doris Hobbs, business market manager. "PC and K-resin supplies are both tight, and pricing is driving customers to look for an easier processing, clear resin," she adds. Depending on geometry and process conditions, Durastar cycle times and scrap rates are lower than PC. Cooling the tool is critical, says Hobbs, but the material can be dropped into existing PC tooling as long as a chiller is added. Eastman provides strong technical support in this regard, and also helps customers to optimize processing.

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