Compounding spotlight: plastic in the driving seat.
Plastic has long revolutionised the automotive industry since they were first introduced to the sector in the 1970s. In brief, polymer materials make cars lighter, safer, more sustainable, more efficient, and more design friendly, whilst reducing costs significantly compared to more ‘traditional’ materials. In fact, approximately 50% of a modern vehicle’s volume is made from plastic (which only accounts for about 10% of its weight). With mounting pressures to increase fuel economy, reduce greenhouse gas – and other – emissions, and standardise electric vehicle usage, the benefits of plastics are set to be even further leveraged.
If we take a standard modern vehicle today, you can expect plastic to be the main material of around 10,000 components (that is a third of all components). This includes battery cases, seat belts, fuel lines, bumpers, dashboards, air bags, lighting, switches, air conditioning housing, electrics, and much, much more.
There are approximately 40 different types of basic plastics and polymers used in automotive manufacturing, with polypropylene, polyurethane, polyamides and PVC making up around 70% of all plastics used.
Plastics need to fulfil the constantly increasing requirements of the automotive sector, combining high heat resistance temperature with sustainability measured and long-term surface aesthetics, in order to ensure product quality, safety and resilience. By enhancing the standard features and properties of polymers, functional polymer additives and colour compounds are vital to the overall success of polymers in automotive components.
Automotive colour compounding
Colour compounding is perhaps the most obvious compounding choice for automotive applications. Interior trim colours, exterior lighting applications, marque badging applications, body trim applications etc. are all reliant on a plastic’s ability to be coloured. Colour compounding is a hugely important consideration for automotive manufacturers, not only for visual and aesthetic purposes, but also for user safety.
UV stabilisers for automotive applications
UV stabilising additives are used broadly to protect polymers from light degradation. As automotive components are often exposed to UV light (bumpers, door panels and trims, interior panels etc), they are susceptible to colour change, cracking and brittleness. In order to maintain the original plastics’ properties and overall longevity and safety, UV stabilising solutions prevent photochemical damage and therefore stabilise the physical and aesthetic properties of the polymer. Advanced UV light stabiliser solutions can also contribute to low VOC, low fogging and low odour benefits.
Antioxidant & heat stabilising additives for the automotive industry
Antioxidants help to prevent polymer materials reacting with oxygen, i.e. oxidation. Oxidation can cause loss of impact strength, elongation, surface cracks and discolouration. Heat stabilising additives work to prevent the damage of plastics by heat, especially during processing, but also in end applications. With plastic, heat and chemical exposure can speed up the oxidation process – both of which are common in under-the-bonnet automotive applications. It is therefore vital that plastics used in high-heat and chemical contact areas are well protected from the effects of oxidation and heat exposure.
Automotive antistatic additives
In general, plastics are insulating materials which are subject to electrostatic build-up and discharge. Antistatic additives reduce the build-up of static charge in a variety of automotive plastic applications, which helps to prevent the attraction of dust, shock discharge upon touch, and signal interferences.
Other additive areas
There are more types of plastic additives that are crucial to the production of modern vehicles: matting agents work to mattify automotive cockpit surfaces; additives support the ability to laser mark polymers (for example with serial numbers or identity marks); and anti-scratch additives decrease scratching on automotive interiors. The list goes on and further grows as automotive technology develops.
Becoming increasingly popular are anti-microbial additives for high-touch areas such as handles, steering wheels, switches and carpets.
Matrix Plastics has been specialising in automotive colours and additives for nearly 30 years. We’re proud to work with some of the biggest brands in the automotive industry, who trust us to fulfil the extensive requirements and approvals of the automotive sector.
Working closely with manufacturers, we assist with onsite colour match and approval processes, weather, heat age, scratch and mar testing, spectrophotometer batch measurements for goods in quality assurance, and sampling for PPAP approval.
To discuss your automotive compounding enquiry, contact us directly here.