With a growing focus on the lightweighting of parts, 3M Energy and Advanced Materials Division is finding increased interest for its glass bubble product line, and was at NPE2012 along with some of its customers showing what it can do.
It also brought along its newest glass bubble version, the iM16K for injection molding.
The use of the glass bubble line has provided five advantages for processors, according to Louis Lundberg, 3M global business manager. He listed lightweighting of products, improving resin throughput and stability in fiber fill, increasing design flexibility and contributing to environmental sustainability as a carbon-neutral additive.
The 3M glass bubbles have been used for a range of thermoplastics, composites and elastomers. Now, the next generation is able to survive use in injection molding and compounding processes. Yet it has a specific density of only 0.46 grams per cubic centimeter and provides significant weight reductions when used.
“Together with 3M, we've developed a handrail for use on the Airbus. It's underneath the luggage rack, and the weight savings was 12.6 percent and leads to significant fuel savings over the lifetime of the plane,” said Bernd Kupferer, business unit manager for industrial solutions at Rehau Industries LLC in Leesburg, Va.
Kupferer said the handrail was designed for the plane with 3M's first-generation glass bubbles. Now the companies plan to use the newer version once it runs through various approval procedures.
Another customer featured in the booth display, Hyundai Engineering Plastics Co. Ltd., of Dangjin, South Korea, created a center console for the Kia Optima. Kim Beom-Ho, senior manager of the polypropylene research team, said the glass bubbles reduced the console's weight from 3.44 pounds to 2.94 — about a 10 percent savings.
A reformatting of the Honda Ridgeline spare-tire tray resulted in a density reduction from 1.9 rams per cubic centimeter to 1.3 grams, said Lou Dodyk with Magna Exteriors and Doors of Troy, Mich. It also shaved more than 10 pounds from the truck's weight.
“We've actually been using 3M glass bubbles since 1980,” said Dodyk, who said Magna plans to use the new version as well.
With all the testimonials, the new product has a firm group of users. “People are motivated to do more new stuff even though the economy is not perfect,” said Doug Rowen, business director for specialty additives at 3M Energy and Advanced Materials.
3M first started using glass bubbles for injection molding and extrusion of products such as fuel-system roll-over valves, exterior vehicle cladding and home appliances, Lundberg said. Now the firm is finding that the properties of its glass bubbles, including iM16K, can help customers improve fuel economy and reduce CO2 emissions.
Lundberg added that injection molders with glass-fiber-filled systems can reduce warpage for improved fit and finish, as well as reduce cooling times of finished parts from 5-10 percent.
The glass bubbles are used in everything from finished talc-filled PP and glass-fiber-filled nylon parts in automotive applications to PVC foam-based fishing boots for thermal benefits and floatation.
The 3M division has expanded its capacity in the U.S. but the officials declined to disclose details. The firm announced it had expanded capacity in all of its plants, most recently in Brazil, and also in South Korea and France.
The newest iM16K production quantities will be available from the South Korean plant in the fourth quarter of 2012, followed by the other plants in 2013.
NPE2012 was held April 1-5 in Orlando.