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PU in the middle of a one-step to soft-touch automotive components

By: Simon Robinson
URETHANES TECHNOLOGY INTERNATIONAL

November 14, 2013

DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY — A four-way cooperation between South Korea's Huyndai Motors, Austria's Engle, Germany's Hennecke and Germany's GK Innovation Concept Tooling have developed Varysoft, a process that GK Innovation calls a unique method of producing padded, soft-touch automotive interior components.

Speaking on the side-lines in Hall 15, Roger Kaufmann, director, Innovation explained how the innovation happened: "We started thinking about this process six years ago, about 18 months ago we were approached by an IP expert at Hyundai Engineering's to look at the concept, to see if we can make it cost effective." He added: "we have a relationship with Huyundai, which goes back about eight years."

The idea grew out of earlier work that GK Innovation had done around applying copolyester TPEE foils to PC/ABS structural components. In this the PC/ABS armature is molded and then the copolyester foil is added and the mould is closed, a after a short period of time the mold is opened by a few mm. This gives the copolyester room to foam and produces a soft touch finish.

The new process uses polyurethane from BASF to weld the foil to the armature. This gives the option for a softer-touch component than the earlier process, says Kaufmann.

The Varysoft workstation comprises an Engel injection molding machine, producing the armature in PC/ABS, a thermoforming station. This grains and trims the foil to fit into the mold, and a Hennecke polyurethane dispensing machine.

The mold set-up is slightly complex and is made of a number of zones, despite this, it is relatively inexpensive, said Kaufmann. "High pressure is only used on the injection side of the mould, the rest is low pressure processing," he explained.

In the process the armature is molded at the same time as the foil is formed and shaped. Once the molding is ready the foil is placed in the second part of the molding setup and the armature side rotates to sit behind the foil. Polyurethane is then injected into the void between the armature and the foil bonding the components together.

"We worked with Engel on the project because we share patents around the Dolphin injection molding technology. Their head of automotive applications, Michael Fisher is a very forward thinking person."

Kaufmann said his firm has no previous experience of polyurethane molding and so Engel spoke to Hennecke. He explained that Hennecke bought its parent, BASF into the project to supply polyurethane. Hyundai introduced Moltex as the thermoforming components company, foils are supplied by a third party from Korea. The PC/ABS blend is supplied by Ria Polymers.

Although there could be capital costs involved in setting up the system, said Kauffman, automotive component suppliers could save money in a number of areas. This process would reduce inventory and simplify component supply because there is no need to keep track of individual sub components. Production steps are reduced, because all of the processes needed to produce the component in a single space. Additionally there can be space savings: "we're going up against slush molding with this, said Kaufmann, the footprint of this setup is small in comparison."