DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. has given the green light for its suppliers to test a new, stain-resistant PVC color compound from Lynn Plastics Corp. of Lynn, Mass., for use on automotive exterior trim components. If the material is accepted, PVC materials could regain some lost ground in a continuing battle with thermoplastic olefins and urethane-based materials for body side moldings.
Suppliers could accept the PVC compound as early as the end of July, and begin using it in production this fall.
Use of the new material also would continue a rebound for Lynn Plastics, a 30-year-old PVC compounder. The privately held, family-owned business was gutted by fire in 1981 and rebuilt from the ground up. Since then, the compounder has developed several new PVC materials in the automotive and wire and cable markets and expanded its PVC business, said Charles Davis, Lynn marketing vice president.
While vinyl is considered by some as a lower-cost alternative to other resins, the material has struggled to retain its once-dominant market share. A major factor has been the tendency for PVC-based trim pieces to weather prematurely or yellow from contact with road asphalt, chemicals or other substances.
To prevent that, exterior trim either must be painted or sprayed with a clear coat. Unfortunately, that process also adds considerable cost, Davis said.
The new compound, which features the same appearance and properties as other PVC resins, resists staining and yellowing, Davis said. The color-matched material can be molded into a trim piece during production.
``Painting is very labor-intensive,'' he said. ``This compound will allow our customers to mold body-matched color [trim pieces] and avoid secondary painting processes altogether. We think it's a big breakthrough for the industry.''
The compound still must pass muster with Ford suppliers. One of those companies, Automotive Moulding Co. in Warren, Mich., currently is testing both the material and prototype trim parts made from the stain-resistant compound, said research and development manager Joseph Randazzo.
The molder, a division of Guardian Industries Corp. of Auburn Hills, Mich., has tested similar formulations in the past without much success, Randazzo said. However, he did not expect the same difficulties from Lynn's compound.
``Staining has always been a problem,'' Randazzo said. ``But from what I've seen so far, the lab results have been very promising. We should know whether this works within the next 30 days.''
Lynn developed the compound, which has the same appearance and properties as other PVC materials, during the past three years, Davis said. The compounder then submitted test results and other data to Ford for approval. Three weeks ago, the carmaker gave its authorization for suppliers to use the compound for prototype evaluation.
Lynn supplies PVC compounds for a variety of Ford vehicles, including the Ford Windstar minivan and F-150 light trucks. The company also serves suppliers to other Big Three automakers and Japanese transplants.
Lynn also plans to offer the compound to other automakers. Davis estimated that about 40 percent of the North American automotive market uses PVC-based painted or exterior trim. Those products include body side moldings, bumper trim and roof panels.
The 100-employee company conducts all manufacturing work at its 250,000-square-foot plant in Massachusetts. Among its new products is an extruded foam PVC material that offers weight savings, Davis said.
Lynn does not disclose its sales figures.