Continuous fiber TPCs are smart for world’s largest appliance manufacturer

Unveiled on March 8 at the China Household Electrical Appliances and Consumer Electronics Fair (AWE, Shangai), Haier’s (Qingdao, China) “smart” Tianxi air conditioner is the world’s first AC unit to feature continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) materials. in its high-end Casarte line (Italian “Casa” for home and “Arte” for art), The relationship holds much promise for CFRTP supplier Covestro (Leverkeusen, Germany; Pittsburgh, PA, US; Shanghai, China). The world’s number one appliance manufacturer, Haier’s products can alread be found in 1 million households.

Unveiled on March 8 at the China Household Electrical Appliances and Consumer Electronics Fair (AWE, Shangai), Haier’s (Qingdao, China) “smart” Tianxi air conditioner is the world’s first AC unit to feature continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic (CFRTP) materials.

in its high-end Casarte line (Italian “Casa” for home and “Arte” for art), The relationship holds much promise for CFRTP supplier Covestro (Leverkeusen, Germany; Pittsburgh, PA, US; Shanghai, China). The world’s number one appliance manufacturer, Haier’s products can alread be found in 1 million households. The Tianxi conditioner is part of Haier’s Casarte product line, which also include refrigerators, washing machines, water heaters and many other appliances. “Smart” air conditioners, however, are a high-growth, strategic market. The Casarte Tianxi stands at 1.8 m tall and uses CFRTP in the air conditioner’s twin cylinder housing. Developed in partnership with Covestro. The composite material combines unidirectional glass or carbon fiber with polycarbonate (PC) thermoplastic resin in thin tapes. These are cut and stacked to form tailored laminates and then thermoformed with existing tools at high yield rates and short cycle times, according to Michael Schmidt, co-CEO, with David Hartmann, of Covestro CFRTP.

“Up until now, we have been quite limited in terms of material selection, typically relying on metal to provide the performance and aesthetics that we require,” says Shao Qingru, one of the color, material, finish (CMF) designers in Haier’s Casarte design team. “CFRTP is a very attractive material for us in that it has a natural, unidirectional surface pattern right from the start, unlike metals such as aluminum that requires some combination of finishing processes, like sandblasting, brushing and anodizing, before it is ready to go into the product. For CFRTP, the finish is all natural and has a beauty to itself.”

Covestro material scientist Yilan Li, who helped to develop CFRTP for use in the Tianxi unit, explains the material’s appeal: “Unlike metal, CFRTP is light; unlike plastics, it’s stiff; and unlike thermosets, it’s fast [in cycle times].” She adds that the material is easy to form, offers design flexibility and has high temperature and impact resistance as well as good strength properties.

The Casarte Tianxi housing is molded by Suzhou Yichangtai Plastic Co., Ltd, which has been in the plastics processing industry for over two decades. “I see huge potential from unidirectional carbon fiber composites,” says Suzhou Yichangati general manager Chen Jinming. “UD allows designers and engineers the basic ability to tune the material to perform differently based on fiber orientation. As a thermoplastic material, it shortens cycle times and reduces costs compared to thermosets. I think the time for thermoplastics has come. Whoever invests in the technologies now will have a competitive advantage in the future.”

Again, the supply chain is being engineered to perform, led by the materials supplier with key partners. Covestro and Haier signed a global strategic agreement in Oct 2017 to expand their partnership to a global scale, aiming to continuously develop advanced products featuring the latest materials to address the demands of the global home appliances market. “As a raw material supplier, we don’t just sell our materials and sit back and watch,” says Covestro’s Yilan. “To bring a new class of material to the market, we need to get the value chain to adopt it. If the value chain is not there, we build it.”