MADISON HEIGHTS, MICH. — The increased need to reduce weight in the auto industry, while also building on in-car electronics to keep consumers interested, is leading some suppliers and carmakers to consider new ways to make parts.
Low-presssure molding already has a 30-year history in other industries, and now Henkel Corp. has set up a prototyping center in the heart of the North American auto industry to help firms explore its potential in cars and trucks.
“There's a whole new customer base that hadn't been talked to previously,” said Jeff Koehler, business development manager, powertrain solutions with Henkel's U.S. operations.
Henkel set up one of its Technomelt low pressure injection molding units at its North American headquarters in Madison Heights, and has been using the machine to allow potential customers to understand the process and decide whether to invest in it.
The auto industry has a long history with standard injection molding as well as using it for overmolding of electronics and other parts, Koehler said, but some key components are not sturdy enough for routine processing. The low pressure system operates using 200 pounds per square inch of pressure, while the resins used in the process can be fine tuned and selected to stand up heat, sunlight and chemicals.
For instance, the low pressure is ideal to create a frame for the film inside of lithium-ion battery cells, or to enclose sensitive electronics used in fuel pumps, said Bill Brown, senior application engineer.
Henkel's long-time partner in low pressure molding, Cavist Corp., has had prototyping equipment available at its headquarters in Reno, Nev., but that is a long way for the auto industry to go to try out something new, Koehler pointed out. In Madison Heights, potential buyers can stop in during the course of their regular business day.
The company has molds it runs regularly for demonstrations, overmolding LED lights and electronics, but Brown said Henkel also can provide its machine to companies who want to test specific parts or train workers.