A German research company is using explosives literally to blast the impression of nature, textiles, leather and other materials into the surfaces of steel molds.
The firm is looking for a partner to help make the concept commercial.
Fraunhofer Institut Chemische Technologie already has used the explosive texturing technique on flat and cylindrical mold surfaces, producing true-to-life impressions of everything from leaves to sandpaper and even photographs. The system should prove a tremendous time-saver compared to traditional etching methods, said Gunter Helferich, a polymer engineering researcher with Fraunhofer, during a presentation at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2002 World Congress, held March 4-7 in Detroit.
``It is a fast and economically viable method,'' he said.
The program places the object to be copied directly on the steel mold and covers it with a thin explosive sheet. A blast forces an impression of the object directly into the mold surface. It can be done with a standard steel or aluminum mold, Helferich said.
Fraunhofer, based in Pfinztal-Berghausen, Germany, typically works in concert with a manufacturer to develop new technologies. Feasibility studies completed so far have used polyolefins and thermoplastic olefins.
The idea, Helferich said, is one day to develop a texturizing program that can be reproduced on a three-dimensional mold - that could mean that the TPO surface of an instrument panel could carry the true-to-life pattern of leather in the plastic surface.
Fraunhofer is not alone in the research, noted Louis Papp, an industrial strategist with the Canadian Association of Moldmakers and executive director of the Canadian Tooling & Machining Association. Various groups have sought alternatives to creating mold textures for the past five years or so.
The German technology would offer a great improvement over the many hours it takes a specially trained worker to etch a mold, while also providing a consistent grain pattern. But there still is a lot of work the groups must do to come up with a true commercial operation.
``I think it will work eventually,'' Papp said. ``It has the greatest promise.''