Producing green and grained interiors

  • 25-Sep-2008 04:01 EDT
Volvo XC60.jpg
The Volvo XC60's door trim marks the first appearance of Benecke-Kaliko's TEPEO 2 foam laminate.

A provider of surface materials for automotive interiors is expanding its global footprint with its first manufacturing plant in North America.

As is done at Benecke-Kaliko's three other facilities, production of material grains with microscopic exactness is done under an eco-friendly dictate. "The PVC-based materials that we'll produce at our new plant in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, will not contain any heavy-metal stabilizers," said Jurgen Buhring, Director of Research and Development at Benecke-Kaliko AG, a company of the ContiTech group of Continental AG.

Among the various materials in the Benecke-Kaliko portfolio is TEPEO 2, a patented cross-linked thermoplastic olefin (TPO) foil. "TEPEO 2 materials have an increased viscosity that is caused by our patented cross-linking process. During the production of the TEPEO 2 material, the cross-linking step is carried out after the embossing step. The TEPEO 2 material makes it possible to achieve a grain appearance that is akin to the grain appearance associated with surfaces known from slush-molding and spray-molding processes," said Buhring.

The interior of the new Volvo XC60 crossover uses TEPEO 2. "Although we have been supplying the automotive industry since 2005 with TEPEO 2 compact sheets for instrument panels and door panel applications, the Volvo XC60's door trim is the first production application to use a TEPEO 2 foam laminate," Buhring noted.

Producing materials that lack grain distortion is a Benecke-Kaliko specialty. In-house developed embossing technology enables microscopically exact grains and high-resolution surface effects to be produced. For instance, a three-dimensional scanner can digitize a particular structure, such as a genuine leather sample, so that the structure can be laser-transferred onto a silicon-embossing roller. This provides the starting point for a vinyl or TPO sheeting production process.

"Our laser-roll technology enables quick adjustment of grain topography to ensure a harmonious appearance between components," said Gunter Vogt, Head of the Design Department at Benecke-Kaliko in Germany. "That means an automaker can showcase vehicle interiors with precise grains on the instrument panel and on the door panels, as well as on any other trim locale.

Starting in 2009, unsupported and supported expanded vinyl, TPO/TEPEO 2 compact, and foam laminate sheeting will be manufactured at the new $12 million plant. "Mexico will serve the North American market for us, putting us in close proximity to many of our Tier 1 customers," said Peter Evans, Vice President and Head of Benecke-Kaliko's Automotive Interiors Customer Business Unit in North America.

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