New alliances test fast-cycle materials for automotive

Henkel/KraussMaffei, TenCate/BASF pursue automotive composites opportunities.

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Henkel (Düsseldorf, Germany and Rocky Hill, Conn.) reported on Sept. 24 that it has worked with machinery manufacturer KraussMaffei (Munich, Germany) to develop a one-minute curing time for Henkel’s matrix resin Loctite MAX 2 polyurethane in a resin transfer molding (RTM) process. The significant improvement on the original goal of five minutes reflects a first-time achievement on a high-pressure dosing unit, and, according to Henkel, signals a potential breakthrough in the development of composite matrix resins for the manufacture of lightweight automotive components.

Loctite MAX 2 is a recent Henkel development, a polyurethane-based composite matrix resin that cures significantly faster than the epoxy products usually employed for RTM. Moreover, due to its low viscosity, Loctite MAX 2 reportedly penetrates and impregnates the fiber material more easily and, therefore, with less preform fiber displacement than competing RTM resins, enabling fast injection times, says Frank Deutschla╠łnder, global market manager, automotive, at Henkel. The primary goal of the Henkel/KraussMaffei collaboration, going forward, is a greater reduction in the manufacturing cycle times for as wide a range of components as possible. “We are confident that, in the near future, we will be able to significantly further develop the high-pressure RTM process through our cooperation with Henkel,” says Erich Fries, head of KraussMaffei’s Composites/Surfaces business unit.

A month later, on Oct. 25, TenCate Advanced Composites BV (Almelo, The Netherlands) and BASF AG (Ludwigshafen, Germany) announced a cooperative alliance to rapidly develop, manufacture and commercialize thermoplastic (TP) composite materials suitable for high-volume automotive production. The goal is to offer car and light-truck parts manufacturers custom-engineered solutions for high-performance composite structures that will enable weight reduction (30 to 50 percent lighter than today’s metal parts) and mitigate carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
BASF reportedly will use its know-how in the formulation and production of thermoplastic resins to develop special variants of its trademarked Ultramid polyamide (PA), Ultradur polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and Ultrason polyethersulfone (PESU) product lines. TenCate Advanced Composites intends to contribute expertise in composites manufacturing processes, related to its trademarked TenCate Cetex product portfolio, which is currently used primarily in aircraft structures and aircraft cabin interiors.

“The next major advance in lightweight automotive constructions will not be possible without a dramatic reduction in processing costs. This can be accomplished by using continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic composites. The breakthrough for composites to mass production, however, has not yet been made. By working together with TenCate, we intend to jointly achieve this breakthrough,” explains Melanie Maas-Brunner, successor to Willy Hoven-Nievelstein and new head of BASF’s Engineering Plastics Europe business unit in Germany.

“TenCate Cetex laminates and prepregs have long been applied in commercial aircraft constructions, and are increasingly used in industrial manufacturing processes,” says Frank Meurs, group director of TenCate Advanced Composites EMEA. “Now, TenCate intends to expand its activities in the automotive industry. We are looking forward to this joint effort in making new materials rapidly available for automotive mass production,” Meurs continues. The partners say that the ease of thermoplastic processing will dramatically reduce production cycle times. In addition, TPs have no shelf-life limitations, making mass production more practical, and they can be recycled. Target applications are semistructural parts and primary structures in car bodies and chassis.