As part of its strategy as a full-service automotive industry supplier, on 13 June chemical giant BASF gave an in-depth display of its capabilities in the plastics sector. Although it provided plenty of examples of applications, the German multinational emphasised that it continues to explore new fields in which to innovate.
BASF’s versatility was on full display in the exhibition area adjacent to the assembly hall at the CIDAUT (Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo del Automóvil – Research and Development Center in Transport & Energy) on the Boecillo Technology Park in Valladolid. The star attraction was a velocipede inspired by the original 1865 invention but built using 24 different types of plastic and powered by an electric battery.
BASF combines versatility with sustainability and its influence in this field was the central theme of the day’s first presentation. Sustainability, Toxicology and Environment Manager Dagoberto Schmid emphasised the importance of managing and controlling these parameters throughout the value chain, explaining that this is achieved via “responsible purchasing policies and production models.” Mr Schmid then described what the firm calls Accelerator solutions designed “to help meet demand for individual mobility whilst minimising environmental impact.” He also stressed the firm’s focus on “cutting costs for both producers and end-users,” referring to the company’s advances in fields like batteries, catalytic converters and biodiesel.
The next talk was given by member of the Plastics Engineering Department Johan Martin Szeifert, who described application of a high-performance material ― Ultramid Advanced N ― in electrical and electronic systems. This material’s mechanical properties remain constant between -40 and 100 °C, it minimises water consumption and offers excellent dimensional stability, it is characterised by outstanding chemical resistance and it is easier to process than other polyphthalamides (PPAs).
Mr Szeifert highlighted Ultramid Advanced N’s excellent resistance when storing coolants at high temperatures and gave special mention to its wear and abrasion properties. He ended by stressing its fire-resistance before saying “BASF is already working on new fire-resistant grades.”
Daniel Tarrés and Jaume Heras, representing the Polyurethane Systems department within the Advanced Materials unit, described the role played by polyurethane (PU) in minimising noise, vibration and unwelcome sound in the vehicle interior to enhance acoustic comfort. “It neutralises wind and vehicle chassis noise in various ways ―by insulating, absorbing and dampening. As polyurethane is porous and has a low density, its absorption capacity is enormous,” explained Mr Tarrés.
He then referred to the Cellasto foam and its performance in minimising cockpit vibrations before commenting that PU is cheap and easy to manufacture. “We offer a wide range of compact and medium- and high-density products,” he explained.
Mr Heras then described PU’s multiple applications as a low-density foam in the engine compartment, roof, floor, wheel openings, engine cover, oil tank and various vehicle cavities.
This latter operation is performed after painting the vehicle and before transferring it to the assembly shop. He also mentioned the advantages in terms of shorter process times and, above all, the significant weight savings, which can be as high as 25%. The manager for this new material also mentioned ElastoFoam, a high-density foam with applications in the engine cover, a part for which demands are high because it is visible to end-users.
The foam’s fire-resistant properties mean it is also used as an oil tank coating. Finally, he described ElastoFlex, a flexible viscoelastic foam that offers high acoustic performance and low weight, thereby contributing to emissions reductions.
Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) Manager Francisco Pallás spoke about one of the products that most represents BASF’s range of advanced plastics ― Elastollan. Mr Pallás described thermoplastic polyurethane as a material with high tensile strength and tear resistance as well as being highly resistant to abrasion and impacts at low temperatures. It is a low-viscosity soft-touch product characterised by its pleasant, dry feel. Its main application benefits lie in the design freedom it offers, its long-term stability and its excellent haptic properties.
Mr Pallás listed applications in bearings, boots, shock absorber parts, cabling, connectors and gearstick knobs. He then referred to use of the HPM variant in external applications like windscreen wiper bases and engine compartment parts. This variant is made in a cost-saving two-stroke moulding process. For soft-touch interior applications, like cupholders, aliphatic variants of Elastollan HPM are used. Other noteworthy exterior applications include the airbumps found on several Citroën models.
Among the firm’s latest medium-term developments, Mr Pallás mentioned expanded thermoformed polyurethane, the first of its type in the world. This BASF product is marketed as Infinergy and has applications in machinery and consumer products. However, “We’re looking for automotive applications and ways of meeting the needs of our clients in the sector,” he explained.
The last talk on high-performance plastics was given by Manuel Morgado, who explored solutions based on renewable natural fibres like hemp, wood and kenaf combined with the Acrodur aqueous binder. Using this material can cut weight by 40% when compared with ABS-type plastics and by 20% when compared with polypropylene-reinforced natural fibres (PP). Furthermore, it offers thermomechanical stability at temperatures above 220 °C.
Among BASF’s new composite developments, Acrodur stands out for providing the load capacity and heat resistance required of lightweight components. Various models, among them the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, have benefited from weight reductions of up to 40% by replacing metal with composites, production of which also brings significant time savings.
Finally, BASF’s Coatings Division’s Lorenzo Peña described the i-Gloss anti-scratch clearcoat that keeps vehicles looking as good as new for 10 years.