The future’s plastic

Every three years, leading plastics companies show off their latest breakthroughs at the K show in Germany. Julie Bieles reports on some of this year’s likely highlights

Kunststoffe (or “K”), held every three years in Düsseldorf, Germany, is the largest international plastics and rubber industry exhibition. Next month, from 24-31 October, the show will host more than 3,000 exhibitors – and around 250,000 visitors – showcasing everything from machinery and equipment, through raw materials and semi-finished products, to high-end technical composites. This is a small selection of highlights. Bayer Material Science (BMS) will showcase a number of products containing carbon nanotubes – which it calls Baytubes. The company has recently increased production capacity to 60 tonnes per year at its pilot plant, and announced plans to build a large-scale technical production facility with a capacity of 3,000 tonnes per year. “This should come on line by 2012 or 2013,” Martin Schmid, head of strategic innovation projects, carbon nanotubes, told Eureka. Items on the K2007 stand containing Baytubes will include skis, a baseball bat and, intriguingly, a flying camera. Schmid says: “It’s basically a drone – a remote controlled flying camera.” No further details were available at time of going to press, as the Bayer team had not yet got their hands on the device – but could be well worth a look at the show. The company co-operates with several third party companies, which modify epoxy resins with Baytubes and then supply the modified resins to manufacturers. “At the moment it’s a good handful of companies,” says Schmid. “This number will be increased over the next few weeks or months.” Current partners are mainly in Europe, with BMS also looking to Asia and the US. It has worked with Finnish partner Amroy to develop the modified resin used in the ski manufactured by another Finnish company Peltonen. This will be on display at K. The result is a stronger and lighter ski, which is also very flexible. “You can actually bend the tip of that ski so that it bends into a U-shape,” Schmid says. “It bends around like a loop – it’s incredible.” Future applications could include longer and lighter wind turbine rotor blades, says BMS. Baytubes could also be used to make stronger, more durable aircraft fuselages and car body parts – which are also incredibly lightweight. It says the carbon nanotubes could also increase battery storage capacity as they have a large surface area and high electrical conductivity. Slipping and sliding Meanwhile, Belgian company Quadrant Creative Moulding and Systems (Quadrant CMS) has developed a patented single step overmoulding process that bonds a PTFE strip with a thermoplastic carrier. It is called thin film fluoropolymer technology, or TFFT. PTFE’s has a low coefficient of friction, is self-lubricating, and has a wide operating temperature range and good UV and chemical resistance – but it cannot be melt processed, and has low structural strength. Quadrant CMS says its patented TFFT technology allows PTFE be stick to materials including PBT, PET, nylon 6 and 66, and ABS. The process involves the chemical modification of one side of a thin strip of PTFE to make it compatible. It is then used as an insert in an injection mould, behind which the thermoplastic carrier material is moulded. The PTFE bonds with the thermoplastic as a result of the heat and pressure of the injection moulding process. The resulting product has a top surface with the low-friction and chemically resistant properties of the fluoropolymer, on a mechanically strong thermoplastic base. The technology also provides the “design for assembly” freedom of an injection-moulded part, according to Quadrant CMS. Account manager Belvan Meersman told Eureka: “Typical applications include everything where low PVs [pressure/speed combinations] are shown – but where good sliding properties are needed without grease being allowed, and where stick-slip effect needs to be excluded.” Meersman adds: “For a lot of applications, PTFE-filled thermoplastic compounds will work. But some applications have higher demands on sliding properties. What is unique is the fact that this technique can also work with filled PTFE grades – bronze filled or carbon filled.” One of the first commercial applications was in a tumble dryer wear strip, which provides bearing properties without the need for lubrication. Originally the strip was machined from bronze-filled PTFE and mechanically held in place. Using TFFT technology Quadrant CMS produced smaller PTFE strips bonded to an injection-moulded ABS carrier, which included moulded-in snap-fit fasteners for insertion. Meersman says: “It was cheaper through its design – as less PTFE was used – and through its design for assembly, because no mechanical attachment was needed apart from snapfitting.” XHEAD: Soft interiors Chemical giant BASF is highlighting a new technique for producing soft-touch automotive interior parts. The Dolphin system – a joint development with Engel, Georg Kauffmann and P-Group – produces a part with a rigid polyester support and a soft foamed skin, made from another polyester, in a single step. One of the first prototype parts, which is near to series application, will be produced ‘live’ at the K show. The Dolphin system replaces the injection moulding, back foaming and film lamination process steps previously used in instrument panel production, according to BASF. The company has also developed a low-warpage version of its Ultradur thermoplastic polyester – Ultradur High Speed-Type has been explicitly optimised for making automotive instrument panels and is used in the dolphin system, says the company. BASF has also introduced three specific products for water injection technology (WIT) – which is particularly useful for injection moulding complex hollow parts. These include a hydrolysis-resistant PA66, Ultramid A3HG6 WIT, for cooling water pipes and Ultramid B3G10 SI (PA 6) and PBT Ultradur B 4040 G10 WIT. BASF and a Tier 1 company have developed a cooling water pipe made of the new Ultramid A3HG6 WIT. The component was scheduled to go into serial production in August. Future WIT applications could include bus seats or automobile seat backrests, it says. BASF has also extended its nano additive-based High Flow system for its Ultradur PBT range, and is looking to see whether the technology could be used in other materials. High Flow Ultradur typically gives twice the flow of comparable standard grades – meaning that cycle times can be made shorter. It also allows the production of thinner parts, as the material flows more readily into the mould. Around 20 ongoing applications are already using the technology, it says. At K, BASF will show thermally conductive and flame retardant versions, and a 15% glass fibre reinforced product. High flow grades are also on the menu from DSM Engineering Plastics. It claims that its Akulon Ultraflow, a PA6 for injection moulding, delivers a 25% cycle time reduction due to better flowability of the material. It can be used in applications such as automotive air bag containers, circuit breakers and contactors. At the same time, Stanyl Super Flow – a PA46 for injection moulding applications – has been developed with connector manufacturers as an alternative to high-flow LCP. Advantages of the material include no micro cracking, higher weld line strength, toughness for pin retention, and retention of strength after lead free soldering, it says. * Next month, Eureka will run an exclusive article on a brand new technology from DuPont – Plating in Plastics, which can coat plastics components with a stiff metal exoskeleton. Injection monitoring Kistler’s CoMo injection process monitoring system will be seen at K2007. Version 1.2 includes a new IP setup programme that allows simple and automatic detection and configuration of CoMo injection units on a network. The system analyses the in-mould cavity pressure curve, allowing automatic control of the injection process in the quest for zero defect moulding. Kistler Mould design Delcam will give particular attention to its Toolmaker mould design system. This uses in-built intelligence to ensure the most appropriate components are used. Together with the other programs, the system allows designers of injection mould tools to move from processes based on 2D drawings to more productive methods based on 3D models. This offers considerable savings, says Delcam, both during the initial design of the mould, and during component manufacture and assembly. Peek performance Victrex has opened a £1.5m Applied Technology Centre at its main production facility in the UK. It will provide customers with expertise and support in product development, as well as material specification and testing services. The company also recently opened a film extrusion plant at the site, to produce Peek film. At K, it will show a range of its latest products including its Vicote coatings and Aptiv films. Microcellular extension Trexel, the US company that owns the rights to the Mucell microcellular moulding process, is extending the use of the technology with its Series III system. The technology – which imbues plastics parts with tiny air bubbles to lower weight and increase part strength – is now aiming at smaller components, which to date has been difficult.