MONACO (June 11, 1:05 p.m. ET) — A project involving injection molder Mecaplast International and other companies based in France is seeking to commercialize a new technology for producing foamed polypropylene parts for automotive interior and exterior trim.
Mecaplast, headquartered in Monaco, said it has patented the process, which relies on a combination of moving mold cores, a chemical blowing agent, and lightweight reinforcing fillers. The technology can cut the weight of interior and exterior trim parts by between 30 and 50 percent, it said.
The project to industrialize the process is sponsored by the French government and is called Plume (meaning “feather” in French). The two-year project starts in September and will have a total budget of 2.4 million euros ($3 million).
Elsa Germain, research and innovation engineer at Mecaplast, said: “Incorporation of parts made by the Plume process could lead to a total vehicle weight reduction of between 5 and 7 kilograms. This will have an important knock-on effect on fuel consumption, with resulting carbon dioxide emissions falling by around 0.5-0.7 grams per kilometer.”
Mecaplast said the process is similar to one already used in Japan for production of parts used by automotive companies including Honda and Toyota. It said: “However, that process has some limitations, especially in terms of surface finish, since the parts are made with talc-filled polypropylene. The Plume process will use newly-developed compounds that contain little or no talc.”
Sumika Polymer Compounds, part of Sumitomo Chemical Group, will partner Mecaplast from its base in Saint-Martin de Crau, France.
The compounds developed exclusively for the Plume process will incorporate new reinforcing fillers that provide an improved surface quality and help reduce part weight by up to 7 percent, without loss of mechanical properties. Compounds with various fillers will be trialed during the Plume project.
The company described its new process: “In the Plume process, material is injected into a mold with moving walls that are initially in the forward position. Once all the material has been injected, and the skins of the part have solidified, the walls retract.
“This lowers the pressure in the mold cavity, and chemical blowing agent, until now dissolved in the melt, comes out of solution in the areas of the part that are still fluid to create a cellular structure that fills the newly created space. The foaming process on its own (disregarding compound formulation) enables a weight reduction in the part of at least 30 percent, compared to a conventional solid molding.”
The other project partners are: mold maker Cero, based in Nantes; polymer science research laboratory IMP at the University of Saint-Etienne; and Sophia Antipolis-based Cemef, a research laboratory from Mines ParisTech, associated with CNRS, with expertise in process simulation.
Cemef will look at melt rheology and its effects on the process and it will also carry out analysis of the microstructures created by the chemical foaming. IMP-UJM will study the mechanical behavior of parts made under various conditions.
Mecaplast said process trials will focus on two components, a tailgate interior trim and exterior beltline moldings. The beltline moldings will be produced in two versions, one with a grained surface that will require no painting and another that will be paintable.
Mecaplast has annual sales of 692 million euros ($865 million) and employs more than 5,500 in 15 countries. It ranked 15th in the 2011 European Plastics News report on Europe's 50 top injection molders.