Situation in automotive industry is changing rapidly, and the role of raw material suppliers is being redefined. With an increasingly competitive business environment, there is a strong trend to cut costs and reduce time-to-market for new models. Optimising environmental aspects is becoming a priority, while consumers expect enhanced safety and comfort standards and improved fuel economy. Basell, a global polyolefin leader, supplies state-of-the-art resins being an innovative solution for automotive industry
Unified standard for all regions
Be it bumpers, grilles, instrument panels, interior trim or the latest development of structural parts – the versatility and economy of polypropylene creates opportunities for quality and innovative design concepts corresponding safety and comfort standards. Polypropylene’s relatively low density has a share in improved fuel economy and reduced raw material costs. As a result polypropylene is becoming the most important thermoplastic material in an automobile, with an average utilisation of 50kg per vehicle. The world’s leading polypropylene producer, Basell, offers cost-effective products and services that can contribute significantly to the production performance.
One of the major needs in the global automotive industry is material consistency and supplies stability for customers. Basell’s global polyolefins network is strategically organized in a way to ensure uniformity of specifications – wherever in the world materials are bought. Lately Basell has expanded, for instance, its agreement with Hyundai Engineering Plastics (HEP) to a truly global scale by agreeing about resins supplies to numerous Hyundai productions located around the world. “We have the capability of producing compounded products for Hyundai in all major regions of the world responding to uniform specifications that were originally developed by HEP in South Korea,” says Alain Gourjault, Basell’s Business Manager Automotive Europe.
Potential of new technologies
The last two decades have seen growth in the quantity of polyolefin materials used in the automotive industry. This tendency is driven by technological breakthroughs that have dramatically extended polyolefins’ properties range. An example is Basell’s Hostacom TKC 782 N thermoplastic, selected by General Motors to produce new energy management pillars for GM 900 platform vehicles.
“This grade was selected for all energy management pillars of GM’s Chevrolet Tahoe, Yukon and Suburban trucks as we got assured we can produce strong and flexible parts viable even under extreme conditions,” explains Mr. Gourjault. Compared to other competitive resins, this material demonstrates better robustness . Hostacom resin is a mineral-filled, high impact thermoplastic polyolefin with high melt flow, showing an excellent balance of stiffness, impact resistance and processability.
Some of the most exciting opportunities emerge from Catalloy process invented by Basell. This process is used to make materials possessing much wider property spectrum and with a high degree of consistency. Well-balanced characteristics needed for successful processing make these materials particularly interesting to automotive designers.
Innovative resins stimulated making lighter weight compounds for scratch resistant dashboard grades and a broad spectrum of soft and rigid bumper materials that answer complex requirements for impact/stiffness balance, thermal expansion and paintability.
Today, polypropylene-based materials are used to produce over 90 percent of all bumper systems in Europe. Automotive concerns like Renault, Audi or Ford consider the modern bumper should correspond to a classic motto “less-is-more”. The latter is applied to materials, of course: the required mechanical performance is delivered using less material, thereby reducing production costs. Behind this evolution, one can see the development of materials with mechanical properties and processability.
By the way, new applications for Basell plastics include fuse box housings, front ends and soft parts replacing conventional synthetic leather or soft paints for automobile interior trim.
Basell’s Softell resins, based on the Catalloy process open new fields of application for polyolefins. It’s a new generation of resins with breakthrough properties for wide range of automotive applications. Outstanding tactile, softness and aesthetic qualities combined with excellent processing characteristics and flexibility are so ever desirable in automotive customers’ interior, under-bonnet and trunk applications! Materials are free of plasticizers, and compared with other polyolefins, have better visual characteristics and do not require high processing costs.
Making polypropylene car body panels is a separate sphere. Recent achievements in Spheripol, Spherizone and Catalloy technologies, along with developments in compounding, are raising the performance characteristics of Basell polypropylene and making the material an alternative for steel or competitive resins as polyamide in making construction parts.
“Replacing structural and semi-structural metal components with plastics we can reduce parts’ weight, as well as production costs. Glass-fibre reinforced polypropylene suits perfectly for manufacturing such components as door modules and battery supports. Practice shows that polypropylene can also perform well in certain bodywork elements, such as hatchbacks and fenders – it’s proved by making them for Ford Galaxy and the Citroen C2,” says Michael Pohl, Basell’s Business Development Manager Automotive.
Impact on initial design phase
The core of Basell’s mission is to make its customers in the automotive industry discover all the advantages of the polyolefin resins, including services even before a resin has been supplied. As the cost of new vehicles is determined in the initial design phase, Basell provides consultations for components and sub-systems producers about creating sustainable value for end-users.
A raw material producer can also assist saving time by developing component engineering and materials simultaneously. At Basell’s technical support centres, computer analysis systems simulate the behaviour of complex components before they are prototyped. For example, mould performance can be optimised by modelling melt flow paths.
During the development of the latest model of the Opel Corsa, Basell was requested by the OEM and tier-one supplier to advance Hostacom CR 1171G resin to give it specific performance characteristics, to be selected as a material of choice for the lower section of the instrument panel, centre console, door pocket, rocker panel, glove box and seat back.
“We were able to satisfy the requirements by careful selection and optimisation of raw materials – pigments, additives, matrix materials and impact modifiers,” explains Michael Pohl. “Through our ability to simulate all phases of the process, beginning with the filling and packing phase, continuing with the in-mould cooling process, and ending with post-extraction, we helped Opel to make the interior more comfortable at a favourable cost-performance balance.”