TROY, MICH. — The drive to extend plastics' presence in automotive windows is providing an opening for a variety of materials.
While laminated glass products typically have used a film of polyvinyl butyral between two thin sheets of glass, producers of PET and polyurethane also are looking for ways to have their products used as the protective film.
"There's going to be a variety of types of chemistry involved," Michael Sanders, automotive marketing manager for DuPont's glass laminating products and president of the Enhanced Protective Glass Automotive Association, said during an EPG association news conference May 9 in Troy.
The association, formed to help create a demand for laminated glass products, recently expanded its membership to include glass specialists and non-PVB producers such as Huntsman Corp., which is looking at future opportunities for a PU-based film.
"PVB is the film that has 50 years of exposure in the industry," said Tom Hayes, global market manager for Huntsman polyurethanes. "What I'm looking at [for PU] is in the next generation of laminates."
The biggest focus now is on getting wider acceptance of laminated glass in side and rear windows and sunroofs.
More than 45 million vehicles are made each year around the world. Nearly all of them have a laminated windshield, made with two thin sheets of glass sandwiching a PVB barrier.
Protective side and rear glass is fairly new, but is growing in acceptance, especially in Europe. It went into 400,000 vehicles in 1999. About 1 million vehicles will have enhanced glass products this year. By 2003, that number should hit 1.7 million, Sanders said.
North American carmakers have not embraced the system, with only one producer, General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division, using it in a limited production vehicle for police departments.
Sanders expects it to appear in some North American-produced vehicles sometime in the 2003 model year.
The plastic film makes windows harder to break, a big selling point for insurance groups that handle $8.5 billion worth of claims from car thefts annually, said Robert Vandal, global manager for laminated glass products for Guardian Automotive Products Inc. and secretary of the EPG association.
Occupants involved in a crash, meanwhile, are less likely to be ejected from a tumbling vehicle equipped with laminated glass — which interests highway safety officials.
Association members also point out that enhanced glass also can reduce road noise and decrease the amount of infrared and ultraviolet rays reaching the interior of a vehicle, helping to keep it cool on hot days.
The group began as a link for DuPont Automotive and Solutia Inc. to promote their PVB programs. But it has expanded, Sanders said. There are now seven members representing a range of resin providers as well as glass specialists Grupo Vitro Sa de CV, a Monterrey, Mexico-based automotive glass manufacturer; Guardian, an injection molder and automotive glass producer from Auburn Hills, Mich.; and even Tamglass Group, a glass processing machinery maker that is part of Helsinki, Finland-based Kyro Corp.
By the end of this year, Sanders expects the association will have 12 members.
"As we go forward as an organization, we will be working on commercialization [of laminated glass]," Sanders said. "The individual companies will deal with individual [automakers] on the specific type of material used.
"PET and polyurethane have different properties that are going to have to be a part of the value equation that drives their use."
As more automakers adopt a PVB-laminated glass, early adaptors will look for alternatives to differentiate their products, Hayes said. That includes PU, now used in specialty vehicles that require bulletproof windows.
"It's a perpetual evolution," he said. "There's a big critical mass out there ahead of us. I'll be there with my configurations."
In addition, GE Plastics and Bayer Corp. are backing a joint venture, Exatec LLC, that is looking at ways to replace glass with a coated polycarbonate.
Exatec will install plasma deposition technology later this year at its Wixom, Mich., headquarters as part of a program to provide PC with a thin film to help prevent scratches — an improvement required if the glass replacement is to ever take off.
Coated PC systems have had limited success so far, said Alan Power, president and chief executive officer of exterior automotive plastics specialist Decoma International Inc. of Concord, Ontario. However, the company is continuing to investigate the material's potential.
In the meantime, the mix of companies in the EPG association are pushing forward.
"Development is continuing to move forward," Sanders said. "The momentum is still growing very rapidly."