DETROIT — The Plastics Division of Teknor Apex Co. has produced a new, pre-colored thermoplastic elastomer compound for automotive air-bag covers that could eliminate the need for costly painting.
The Pawtucket, R.I., compounder developed the material in response to carmakers' requests for a pre-colored air-bag cover that would resist scuffing and marring, said Teknor automotive industry manager Charles Gates. He spoke in a Feb. 25 interview at the Society of Automotive Engineers International Congress & Exposition in Detroit.
The material, a mix of thermoplastic polyolefins, including polyethylene, is currently undergoing scuff- and mar-resistance testing by automakers in North America and Europe, Gates said. Initial results of some of the evaluations are expected within 90 days.
``Scuffing and marring have for years kept us from proceeding with pre-colored air-bag covers,'' he said. ``The industry has never before been able to get around that problem. But we think we might have found a way to move ahead with it.''
Carmakers reluctantly have continued to paint air-bag covers, to protect them from scuff marks and scratches, Gates said. Currently, most air-bag covers are molded in black, and painted.
Teknor estimates that a pre-colored cover would save a carmaker between $1 and $2 per unit. With an average of two covers used per vehicle and about 15 million North American vehicles sold last year, that could yield an industry savings of $30 million per year.
However, Gates warned that other solutions have failed carmaker tests during the past several years.
``We think we have the right compound, but we also know that a carmaker's judgment can be subjective,'' he said. ``We can't predict what they'll say.''
Teknor is a supplier of custom and standard PVC and TPE compounds with five plants serving a variety of markets. The company also operates Teknor Color Co., an in-house subsidiary that supplies color concentrates.