NEW YORK — GE Plastics has seen the future of plastics, and that future is spelled W4. That's the name of a new amorphous polymer that the Pittsfield, Mass., company will formally name and introduce at NPE 2000. The material — GE Plastics' first new product launch in more than a decade — will be fully commercialized in 2002 at GE Plastics' Mount Vernon, Ind., site.
GE Plastics officials offered little detail about W4's makeup, other than that it is not an alloy and is not part of the firm's Noryl-brand polyphenylene oxide product line.
W4 offers extremely high gloss with depth of image, excellent resistance to gas and other chemicals, and long-term retention of gloss and color after outdoor weathering, GE officials said.
Initially, the company expects W4 to impact the automotive market in body exteriors, truck tonneau covers and recreational vehicle panels.
GE Plastics has talked with MicroCompact Cars of Geneva, Switzerland — and its majority owner, DaimlerChrysler AG of Stuttgart, Germany — about using W4 in future designs of the Smart car, the super-compact vehicle unveiled in Europe in 1999. The car already uses GE Plastics' Xenoy-brand polycarbonate/polybutylene terephthalate resin in body panels.
W4 also will allow automakers to eliminate painting, removing that expensive step as well as doing away with the problems of paint-solvent emissions and paint recycling.
"With exterior bodies and fascias, this could be a billion-pound market," said Mike Brown, GE Plastics general manager of marketing. "It has to be the Holy Grail of what's been asked for in automotive."
Replacing metal with plastic in exterior auto applications also will give designers more options while lowering vehicle weight, Brown added.
"W4 really could be used anyplace where you need stringent UV qualifications and gloss retention," said Nani Beccalli, vice president and general manager of GE Plastics Americas. "Exterior auto applications have very stringent requirements, so if we can meet those, we can meet most other applications."
A film grade of W4 will be available in late 2000, with several injection molding grades set to follow. W4 is expected to sell for more than $2 per pound.
W4 was developed by chemists at the GE Corporate Research & Development Center in Schenectady, N.Y., after five years of research and testing.