BASF and partners developing injection-molded plastic parts with steel cord reinforcements; EASI materials for lightweight automotive applications
|Injection molded plastic parts with steel cord reinforcement. Source: BASF. Click to enlarge.|
BASF, Bekaert (Belgium) and voestalpine Plastics Solutions (Netherlands) are developing thermoplastic components that are reinforced with steel cord fabrics and produced by means of injection molding. The three companies have joined together with the objective of employing and further developing this new EASI technology with partners in the automotive industry. The abbreviation EASI stands for Energy Absorption, Safety and Integrity.
In contrast to known types of reinforcements such as continuous fiber-reinforced laminates or other carbon or glass fiber fabrics, the steel cord inserts ensure especially the integrity of the molded part’s function in a crash situation. This creates an entirely new performance class, according to the partners.
Bekaert, voestalpine Plastics Solutions and BASF have been investigating steel cord reinforced injection molded parts since 2010. The first production part using the predecessor technology was based on compression molding with GMT (glass mat reinforced thermoplastics), and received the AVK Innovation Award in 2008. Working together, the three companies are now focusing on classical injection molding of parts with steel cord reinforcement.
Bekaert contributes its expertise in the manufacture of steel cord fabrics to the cooperation, while voestalpine Plastics Solutions is responsible for the processing technology and part production in injection molding. BASF, for its part, is continuing to develop its crash-optimized short or long fiber-reinforced polyamide specialties in the Ultramid product line for use in combination with the steel cord inserts.
At the same time, the company is expanding its expertise in the prediction of part performance by enhancing the capabilities of its Ultrasim simulation tool through incorporation of representation methods and material models for the new composite materials.
By using polyamide as matrix material it is not only possible to access attached or semi-structural parts but also gain entry to components of the body-in-white (BIW), which need to run through the e-coating process.
The steel cord reinforcement employed in the EASI concept ensures that an injection molded part retains its structural integrity. Thus, while EASI parts may be damaged in a crash, they are still able to absorb energy and lead it further into the structure.
By contrast, molded plastic parts with conventional reinforcement usually fracture upon failure. The EASI material is thus targeted for regions that are intended for absorption and harmonic distribution of crash energy. (Video)
The resultant level of performance cannot be attained with other types of reinforcing technology, according to the partners. Vehicle components where these characteristics can be exploited include structure-relevant attachments such as bumper beam carriers or front ends as well as BIW components.
Injection molding of thermoplastics such as Ultramid permits even complex shapes to be produced easily and is an established, highly automated plastic processing method for high-volume production. The three companies believe that combining polyamide injection molding and steel cord reinforcement provides optimal access specifically to parts that must retain their supporting function and structural integrity in order to further distribute forces in a crash.