New Thermoplastic Composite Material Promises Increased Lightweighting

 As part of an ongoing search for new ways to reduce vehicle weight, SABIC Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, Mass. ) and Azdel Inc. (Forest, Va.

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 As part of an ongoing search for new ways to reduce vehicle weight, SABIC Innovative Plastics (Pittsfield, Mass.) and Azdel Inc. (Forest, Va.) launched a new hybrid thermoplastic composite on Sept. 16, trademarked IXIS 157 composite, a continuous glass-fiber-reinforced sandwich composite for automotive horizontal body panels. The announcement was made at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (SPE ACCE) in Troy, Mich., where the companies exhibited.

IXIS 157 composite is the first product launched using the partnership's high performance thermoplastic composite (HPPC) technology, which recently won the 2007 Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Technology award. With a 50 percent weight reduction compared to steel, IXIS thermoplastic composites are expected to provide automakers a body panel alternative that can enable more fuel-efficient models, say the companies.

"Together with Azdel, we have made tremendous strides with IXIS composites, including the commercialization of our first grade aimed at offline painting and the excellent progress toward an online-paintable product," says Greg Adams, vice president of SABIC Innovative Plastics, Automotive. "IXIS materials have been featured on two of the most successful 'green' concept vehicles: the Chevrolet Volt and the Hyundai QarmaQ." (The photo at right shows a concept hood.)

IXIS composite is composed of a random glass fiber-reinforced core with a glass content (by weight) of approximately 50 percent, together with a 0º/90º skins of continuous unidirectional fiber reinforced thermoplastic. The skin material enables a Class A paint finish and helps maintains the laminate's dimensional stability, while the core material aids processing and reduces overall cost.

Significantly lighter in weight than steel and thermoset resin-based materials, IXIS materials have the potential to make a large contribution to improved fuel efficiency. Moreover, they offer performance benefits, such as sound-deadening for a quiet ride, and better impact-resistance. The polypropylene-based 157 grade is designed for off-line painting, and the upcoming 200 grade is intended for online painting and processing through the e-coat process, and, Adams notes, both can be recycled.

"IXIS technology is a cost-effective, lightweight alternative to steel," said Mike Birrell, director, exterior composites at Azdel. "It is also significantly less expensive than aluminum. Further, because IXIS composites are designed for low-pressure compression molding- a low-energy process- less costly aluminum tools can be used."