An injection press originally created to mold PET preforms now is turning out two-component automotive parts.
Husky Injection Molding Systems Ltd. has adapted its revolving-mold Index technology to the car and truck business, as the Bolton, Ontario-based machinery maker continues to diversify beyond the packaging market.
Lear Corp. has purchased a 3,500-ton press, equipped with Husky's QTI system - for Quadloc-Tandem-Index - to mold instrument panels with two components. The outer layer is a thermoplastic elastomer, giving the IP a soft touch. Other potential automotive applications include door panels, sun visors, consoles and inner fender walls.
Husky and Lear officials showcased the QTI machine during a June 29 news conference at Husky's technical center in Novi.
The two injection units are set up in a straight line, each aimed toward the mold area. One injection unit molds the instrument panel's substrate. Then the revolving Index mold block flips another mold over to the second, opposing injection unit, where the TPE skin gets injected.
Lear earlier purchased one of the indexing Husky machines, and officials said it will go into full production later this summer on a door for a North American car. That machine has both injection units on the same side of the press.
Multimaterial molding can, in a single step, replace the seven to 10 manufacturing steps it takes to make instrument panels the traditional way.
That efficiency prompted Kenneth Shaner of Lear, a veteran of car interiors, to call the QTI a type of ``new horizon technology.''
``I'm awestruck when I see this machine. It is, to me, that much of a game-changing product that's going to come out of this machine and that type of process,'' said Shaner, vice president of instrument panel cockpits and door systems at Lear's Interior Systems Division in Dearborn, Mich.
Right now, two-shot molding is a hot area for large auto parts. The technology has a bright future, Shaner said.
``Ten years from now you'll probably see a lot different [applications] than what you're seeing today,'' he said.
Multishot is an important part of what Shaner called Lear's OSMP, for one-step manufacturing process. The idea is to cut costs by reducing assembly outside the press, and delivering higher-quality parts.
Lear has won three contracts so far - a TPE skin on a talc-filled polypropylene door for a car launching production this year; TPE over a thermoplastic olefin-substrate door panel; and TPE over a TPO-substrate instrument panel in 2006.
The 3,500-ton QTI was molding instrument panels during the press conference. Lear officials declined to say which of their company's plants will house the machine. They would not disclose many details on the type of TPE to be used on the instrument panel.
Bob Adams, Lear's director of advanced engineering for IP and cockpit integration, said the Tier 1 supplier has co-developed the TPE materials for high-flow applications. Lear is working with more than one TPE supplier, he said.
Adams and Shaner said two-shot molding gives Lear the ability to ``fine-tune'' the skin material to create interiors with a specific tactile feel. For example, one supplier helped Lear solve a customer's problem with a TPE armrest that was too ``sticky.'' That helped Lear move ahead with even bigger parts from the material.
Because the part is one piece, it removes the annoying problem of noise that can happen when two plastic parts rub together. ``It's flush, no gaps. That's a key driver in the automotive interior area,'' Shaner said.
The TPE skin can cover up sink marks in the substrate - allowing designers to use larger ribs. Also, making matching left-hand and right-hand parts on the same machine, door panels for example, ensures a perfect color match and precise inventory control.
Shaner expects the real growth for two-shot molding to come in midlevel cars and trucks. Luxury vehicles likely will stick with the multisystem panels of foam and a urethane skin already used on those autos. Low-end cars will continue to have less-expensive hard-plastic interiors, he said.
The term QTI covers: Quadloc, Husky's large two-platen injection presses; Tandem stack molding machines that hold two large stack molds on a single press; and the Index, which features a revolving mold block.
The original Index was designed to cycle PET preforms through injection and several cycles of cooling on the mold core. In the automotive application, the mold moves around to take the second shot. The machine uses standard molds.
The QTI system is Husky's first indexing-platen multishot machine.
Sam Michael, Husky's automotive-area manager, said the QTI offers more flexibility than the Tandem press, which runs a single material on two molds. You can turn off the indexing feature and run it as two presses, with one resin on one side and a second resin on the other side. Mike Diletti, vice president of sales and marketing, said making large automotive parts by the multishot process will continue to grow.
``I think that the conversion is in its infancy,'' he said.
Automotive suppliers are under economic stress. Just two days before its news conference with Husky, Lear announced plans for a major restructuring to eliminate excess capacity.
Economic forces are pushing auto molders to invest in new technology, but it has to be flexible, Diletti said. ``You can do so many things with this [QTI] machine that five years from now it will not be obsolete,'' he said.
Diletti said Husky has sold about a dozen standard, large-tonnage Tandem presses to automotive customers in the past year.
Rich Sieradzki, general manager of Husky's Novi technical center, referred to a ``constant squeezing going on'' and said: ``The idea is to try to stop the squeezing.''
Husky is beefing up the 6-year-old tech center to work more closely with auto applications. Sieradzki said Husky finished an 11,000-square-foot expansion this spring, to add a training center with a classroom and machine area. The Novi center now totals 110,000 square feet.
Husky also is adding hot-runner system designers in Novi. Michael said the center has seven hot-runner designers and plans to add three more. All design work previously was handled only from Husky's hot-runner production site in Milton, Vt., but Michael said automotive customers needed a quicker response.