DUSSELDORF, Germany—A collaboration between South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co., Austria's Engel GmbH, Germany's Hennecke GmbH and Germany's GK Innovation Concept Tooling has developed a process for producing padded, soft-touch automotive interior components.
Roger Kaufmann, director of GK Innovation, said the process, called Varysoft, started six years ago, but gained traction once Hyundai inquired about it.
"About 18 months ago, we were approached by an IP expert at Hyundai Engineering's to look at the concept, to see if we can make it cost effective," he said.
The idea grew out of earlier work that GK Innovation had done around applying copolyester thermoplastic elastomer foils to PC/ABS structural components. In this process, the PC/ABS armature is molded, then the copolyester foil is added and the mold closed. A short time later, the mold is opened slightly, giving the copolyester room to foam, producing a soft touch finish.
The new process uses polyurethane from BASF Corp. to weld the foil to the armature. This gives the option for a softer-touch component than the earlier process, said Kaufmann.
The Varysoft workstation comprises an Engel injection molding machine, producing the armature in PC/ABS, a thermoforming station. This grains and trims the foil to fit into the mold, and a Hennecke polyurethane dispensing machine.
The mold set-up is slightly complex and is made of a number of zones. Yet Kaufmann said it is relatively inexpensive
"High pressure is only used on the injection side of the mold. The rest is low pressure processing," he explained.
In the process, the armature is molded at the same time as the foil is formed and shaped. Once the molding is ready, the foil is placed in the second part of the molding setup, and the armature side rotates to sit behind the foil. Polyurethane is then injected into the void between the armature and the foil, bonding the components together.
Kaufmann said his firm has no previous experience of polyurethane molding, so Engel spoke to Hennecke. He explained that Hennecke bought its parent, BASF, into the project to supply polyurethane. Hyundai introduced Moltex as the thermoforming components company. Foils are supplied by a third party from Korea. The PC/ABS blend is supplied by Ria Polymers.
Although capital costs may be involved in setting up the system, said Kauffman, automotive component suppliers could save money in several areas. This process would reduce inventory and simplify component supply because there is no need to keep track of individual sub components. Production steps are reduced, as all of the processes needed to produce the component in a single space.