3M Co. has exhibited its glass microsphere products before at NPE.
But this year, the St. Paul, Minn.-based firm also gave floor space to companies that have developed applications containing 3M's glass bubbles.
The idea, said Lou Lundberg, 3M market development manager, is to show a wide range of possibilities for the microsphere as a replacement for other fillers, because it is less dense and less prone to warpage .
The underlying theme of all of the applications exhibited near 3M's booth at NPE2009, held June 22-26 in Chicago, was a desire to reduce weight.
Noble Polymers LLC in Grand Rapids, Mich. a 3M customer developed a low density polyolefin resin formulation using 3M glass bubbles that can reduce the weight of polyolefin plastic parts by up to 20 percent.
At NPE, Noble business unit manager Tim Patterson demonstrated an office chair seat that Noble has used to show the formulation in action.
The microsphere-filled seat weighs just 2.05 pounds, compared with a previous talc-filled version weighing 2.25 pounds.
Patterson said another 3M project involves a toolbox molded in high density polyethylene that has seen an 11 percent weight reduction through use of the microsphere filler.
Another customer, Continental Structural Plastics of Troy, Mich., is dealing with much bigger parts.
That company makes sheet molding compounds used in John Deere tractor covers, where use of the 3M microspheres has cut 5 pounds from the weight of a part that had weighed 27 pounds.
Michael Siwajek, CSP manager of materials development, said in an interview at NPE that nanoclays had also been tried out, but the microspheres provide a superior surface.
CSP is working with engineers at various automotive groups to develop a specification for Class A surface materials that contain the microspheres, according to Siwajek.
Another automotive application on display at NPE was pillar trim molded by Hanil E-Hwa Co. Ltd., a Tier 1 supplier to Hyundai Motor Co. in South Korea. In the part, glass microspheres are optimized with talc and glass-fiber content to reduce weight by 10 percent.
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