Composites – strong, yet lightweight

Bayer MaterialScience is presenting polyurethane (PUR) systems and technologies for manufacturing composite materials under the motto “From Megatrends To Business” at the 2011 JEC trade fair in Paris from March 29 to 31. With their high strength and low weight, composites are perfectly suited to highly diverse uses in a variety of applications and industries. What’s more, process simplification and the integration of added functions offer potential for cutting costs.

In the automotive industry, the current climate debate has given new weight to the subject of lightweight construction. According to estimates by Daimler AG, reducing vehicle weight by 100 kilograms decreases fuel consumption by 0.3 liters per 100 kilometers and leads to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 750 gram. The potential for reducing weight is particularly high in the body, because it makes up over 40 percent of a vehicle’s total weight.

Bayer MaterialScience has developed a variety of technologies for using polyurethane composites to reduce the weight of body parts while simultaneously enabling efficient manufacturing. “With this technology, we are contributing to climate protection and offering opportunities to increase productivity,” says Claudio Pauler, polyurethane systems specialist at Bayer MaterialScience

One example is the design of roof modules and antenna covers based on a pre-coated thermoplastic film, which is backmolded with a polyurethane foam system reinforced with long glass fibers. The coating system is not fully cured until after thermoforming, and lends the component a Class A surface.

Another technology, PU sandwich construction, even enables weight reductions of up to 80 percent in trunk floors and cargo beds. In the manufacturing process, a paper honeycomb core between glass fiber mats is impregnated with a two-component PU spray system and then press molded.

The two technologies can be combined, for example, to produce roof modules. Bayer MaterialScience estimates that these methods can reduce weight by about 25 percent.

Another important technology in vehicle body engineering is the reaction injection molding (RIM) process, in which a polyurethane mixture is injected into a mold and cured. In this case, one advantage over injection molding with thermoplastic materials is the low locking force, which enables the use of less expensive molds, such as those made of aluminum.

The company has also developed various PU composite technologies for applications outside the automotive industry. Reinforcing thermoformed thermoplastic films with the Multitec® polyurethane spray system is an economical and environmentally compatible solution for fabricating bathtubs and shower trays. Compared to the conventional material, the system cures faster, bonds very well to the film and eliminates the use of solvents.

The pultrusion process is another highly promising option, in which reinforcing fibers are impregnated with a PU system and the composite is then shaped and cured at an elevated temperature. Polyurethane offers an advantage for this technology over conventional materials by allowing the use of continuous glass fibers and enabling continuous and thus efficient production of such things as window frames and railroad ties.

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