Based in Frankfurt, Pierre Juan manages sales and technical teams across 19 countries as the Global Automotive Vice President at Styrolution. The company describes itself as the leading global styrenics supplier with a focus on styrene monomer, polystyrene, standard ABS, and styrenic specialties. In addition to the automotive industry, Styrolution provides styrenic applications for many products across a broad range of other industries.
What is the most significant challenge facing the plastics industry today and particularly over the next decade?
As a company, we truly believe in the sustainable value of plastics. They are improving the lives of billions of people and have literally transformed modern life. The most pressing issue we face as an industry today and over the course of the next decade is to ensure we are communicating the intrinsic benefits, safety, and true value of plastics. As an industry, we’re working on making these facts more visible than ever before.
Car interiors are becoming increasingly quality led even for high-volume models (the current Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a good example in the premium sector). How does your company ensure that such high standards are achieved, maintained and, inevitably, improved upon?
Styrolution has set up a global automotive organization to promote the exchange of expertise and best practices across regions. This organization works closely with OEMs and large interior Tier 1s to understand their expectations and provide the right styrenic solution to meet their requirements. Although Styrolution today is more active in exterior applications, our aim is to grow in interior applications where the need for styrenic-based materials is driven by requirements for new aesthetic and quality improvements.
We believe one recent development that will enable our further growth in interior applications is Ineos’ (a multinational chemicals company with Swiss headquarters) recent announcement that it will integrate its Styrolution and Ineos ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) businesses to market their products globally. For customers, this means they will now be able to also purchase Ineos ABS’s standard or specialty ABS and Ineos GF SMA (fiber-reinforced styrene maleic anhydride) grades produced in Addyston, OH, through Styrolution.
Above and beyond current products, Styrolution will continue to innovate in order to address new requirements, such as high- or low-gloss surfaces suitable for unpainted applications, dimensional stability for zero gap design, low emission, translucent properties for interior lighting and good surface adhesion for decorative films or paint. Innovation will be a key to spur further growth in interiors, while maintaining our strong position in exterior applications.
Could you illustrate a couple of the “innovative opportunities and possibilities” referred to in your media material with reference to styrenics?
Our Terblend N products (ABS) and polyamide blends offer outstanding impact strength, high melt-flow, dimensional stability, and good acoustical properties. These advantages are among the reasons why one of the world’s major luxury car manufacturers selected Terblend N for the intricate design of its loudspeaker grilles. Another global carmaker selected Styrolution’s high-heat ABS, Novodur, coupled with foamed MuCell technology for interior door panels combining a low density reduction with high surface adhesion and dimensional stability. In addition, another high-end OEM is using our Novodur Ultra 4000 PG for a chrome-plated surface etched with laser precision for a “night design” backlit application. Finally, Terblend S is ideal for customers, like Renault that wished to produce a center console for its Zoe model that required no painting and offered a matte surface finish, good UV stability, and acoustical damping.
Weight saving and cost control have long been essential elements of car design and manufacture but so are longevity, meeting safety legislation requirements, and achieving designers’/stylists’ expectations. How is your company meeting these requirements?
The value proposition for styrenics for the automotive industry can be summed up with: premium aesthetics, excellent performance, and affordable cost. The multitude of color and surface options, as well high flow, dimensional stability, and excellent surface adhesion are just some of the characteristics that offer designers greater creative freedom when dreaming up the cars of the future.
For example, styrenics’ high flow properties offer potential for thin-wall design and foamed applications that can contribute to roughly 10-15% weight reduction per part. From a design perspective, this material is also ideal because it enables low-gap design through its high dimensional stability and creep resistance. Styrolution also provides a wide variety of color options, making our materials a high-quality alternative to traditionally painted parts or self-colored solutions. An example of this is a car manufacturer that opted for unpainted Terblend N for one of the most visible applications in the cockpit—the instrument cluster frame. Further, its excellent sound-damping properties are also very appealing because it reduces or even eliminates the squeak and rattle effect found in some older vehicles.
Will plastics further supplant metals (steel, aluminum, magnesium)? If so, please detail how and when.
Styrenics are not typically appropriate for metal structural parts replacement, but rather more suitable for aesthetic design solutions. Metal replacement is more of an opportunity for composite materials. It is nevertheless not excluded that Styrolution combines the best of both worlds and moves into semi-structural aesthetic applications based on thermoplastic composites in the coming years.
Whatever happened to the high-volume “all-plastic” car concept (for the entire monocoque) of previous decades? It seems very unlikely for safety, NVH, manufacturing, quality, and many other reasons, but maybe it is still a possibility. What would be your view?
Plastics have a track record of making the impossible a reality. However, at this point in time, I do not see a commercially viable car made completely from plastics as realistic. Nevertheless, continual improvements in plastic material properties, driven by the trend towards lightweight to increase and cost optimization, have led to plastics gaining ground over metal applications overall. We expect this trend to continue.