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3M using glass bubbles to save part weight

By: Frank Antosiewicz

April 3, 2012

ORLANDO, FLA. (April 3, 8:15 p.m. ET) — With the growing focus on the light-weighting of parts, 3M Co.’s Energy and Advanced Materials Division (Booth 35000) is finding increased interest for its glass bubble product line, and was at NPE2012 — along with some of its customers — showing what it can do.

It also brought along its newest glass bubble version, the iM16k for injection molding.

The use of the glass bubble line has provided five advantages for processors, noted Louis Lundberg, global business manager for specialty additives for the 3M Energy and Advanced Materials. He pointed to light-weighting of products, improved resin throughput, improved stability in fiber fill, more design flexibility and as a carbon neutral additive, it contributes to environmental sustainability.

He said that the 3M glass bubbles have been used for wide range of thermoplastics, composites and elastomers. Now the next generation is able to survive use in injection molding and compounding processes. Yet it has a specific density of only 0.46 grams per cubic centimeter and provides significant weight reductions when used.

“Together with 3M, we’ve developed a hand rail for use on AirBus. It’s underneath the luggage rack and the weight savings was 12.6 percent and leads to significant fuel savings over the lifetime of the plane,” said Bernd Kupferer, business unit manager for industrial solutions at Rehau Industries LLC in Leesburg, Va.

He said that it was designed with the plane with 3M’s first generation glass bubbles and now is planning to use the newer version once it runs through the various approval procedures.

Another customer with the display in the booth was Hyundai Engineering Plastics, of South Korea, which created a center console for the Kia Optima. Kim Beom-Ho, senior manager of the PP research team, noted that the glass bubbles had reduced the console’s weight from 3.44 pounds to 2.94, about a 10 percent savings.

A reformatting of the Honda Ridgeline spare tire tray resulted in a density reduction from 1.9 to 1.3 grams per cubic centimeter, according to Lou Dodyk, of Magna Exteriors and Doors of Troy, Mich., and shaved over 10 pounds from the truck’s weight.

“We’ve actually been using 3M glass bubbles since 1980,” said Dodyk, who admitted that they plan to use the new version as well.

With all the testimonials, the new product has firm group of users and “people are motivated to do new more stuff even though the economy is not perfect,” said Doug Rowen, business director for specialty additives at 3M Energy and Advanced Materials.

Lundberg noted that 3M first started using glass bubbles for injection molding and extrusion of such products such as fuel system roll-over valves, exterior vehicle cladding and home appliances. Now it is finding that the properties of its glass bubbles such as IM16K  can help customers improve fuel economy and reduce co2 emissions.

Lundberg also said that injection molders with glass-fiber filled systems can reduce warpage for improved fit and finish, and can also reduce cooling times of finished parts from 5 to 10 percent.

He said that the glass bubbles are used in everything from finished talc filled polypropylene and glass fiber filled nylon plastic parts in automotive to PVC foam based fishing boots for thermal benefits and floatation.

They even had a display of a pair of boots that the use of the glass bubbles had created a better product. Keiji Nakayama, senior marketing manager for the 3M Japan Group displayed a regular PVC boot that sank in a fish tank. A glass bubble version had a 15 percent weight reduction and floated. Thereby, a new boot product is being readied for sale by the end of the year.

The 3M division has expanded its capacity in the U.S. but declined to disclose details. However, it did say that it expanded capacity in all of its plants, most recently in Brazil and also in South Korea and France.

The newest iM16K production quantities will be available from the Korean plant in the fourth quarter of 2012, followed by the other plants around the world in 2013.