SAO PAULO, BRAZIL — The all-plastic Ligier Ambra parked right in front of the Brasilplast booth sent out the message: When plastic body panels dethrone metal, sheet maker Senoplast Klepsch & Co. GmbH & Co. KG of Piesendorf, Austria, wants to be there.
The company is working with two of the Big Three auto manufacturers in the United States to develop plastic body panels for new car models, while its associate in Brazil, Waltap SA Industria e Comercio de Plasticos, is promoting the application with local carmakers.
Senoplast owns 20 percent of sheet producer Waltap, and was at its booth during Brasilplast, held March 8-13 in Sao Paulo.
The Ligier Ambra's body panels are vacuum formed from Senoplast ABS/acrylic coextruded sheet, said the firm's representative Nick Kraguljac.
``It's a perfect process for production scales between 20,000 and 30,000 units per year, but we also have alternatives for larger series,'' he said.
Senoplast had introduced the Paintless Film Molding System at K'98 in Dusseldorf, Germany, in association with German resin suppliers BASF AG of Ludwigshafen and Rohm GmbH of Darmstadt, and Austrian press manufacturer Engel Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH of Schwertberg.
The technology joins injection molding and thermoforming, but the main advantage is that it eliminates painting costs — which, said Kraguljac, represent roughly 70 percent of the cost of a body part.
Plastic body parts have become a strategic product for Senoplast, Kraguljac said. He said an Austrian research and development subsidiary is investing $4.5 million to build a 24,000-square-foot lab, which will be dedicated to developing new applications.
Meanwhile, in the Americas, Senoplast is preparing to open its Queretaro, Mexico, sheet plant by year-end. Initially, the $7 million investment will include a three-layer coextrusion line capable of processing 13 million pounds of resin annually.
Kraguljac said the plant will serve North American Free Trade Agreement customers, focusing on those that are transportation-related.
``The reason to open a plant in Mexico is, first of all, to create a local base in the region,'' he said. ``Later, if the materials we're testing with the U.S. automotive industry really fulfill its needs, we will have to install a plant close to our clients.''
Waltap Director Fernando Nicolosi said the objective of exhibiting the Ligier was to show clients from all markets the technological potential of ABS/acrylic sheet.
``With globalization, the development of new car models locally no longer exists,'' he said. ``The work we do with the automakers in Brazil is focused on divulging the material itself or on its use in a few parts that are designed on a local basis, such as spoilers.''
Waltap is based in Cotia, Brazil, near Sao Paulo. Last December, it added a second sheet coextrusion line, which increased capacity from 6.6 million to 26 million pounds per year. The $4.5 million investment enabled Waltap to export to other countries in the Mercosul trade region, Nicolosi said.