After being showcased on two recent concept vehicles, a hybrid thermoplastic composite gets its commercial launch as the first SABIC Innovative Plastics and Azdel-developed grade appropriate for offline painting, with future grades intended for use in online painting operations.
The IXIS material had a feature role on the hoods of the Chevrolet Volt and the Hyundai QarmaQ concepts. "For each project, we built prototype parts, but we used a different prototyping process for each car. The Hyundai design team also required us to demonstrate that the IXIS hood would meet pedestrian safety testing requirements for the European market, so we completed a range of tests using the prototype parts to show that the design and the new material met this goal," said Derek Buckmaster, Global Market Director for Body Panels and Glazing at SABIC Innovative Plastics.
Although the high-performance thermoplastic composite technology is not new (it won the 2007 Frost and Sullivan Excellence in Technology award), the polypropylene-based grade IXIS 157 debuted at the 2008 Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Composites Conference and Exhibition in Troy, MI.
IXIS is made from a combination of reinforcing fibers—glass fibers in the IXIS 157 product—and a thermoplastic resin. "It features a hybrid of fiber reinforcement types—a combination of randomly orientated chopped fibers in the core layer with continuous unidirectional fibers in the skin layers," said Buckmaster. IXIS is intended to be a family of products with different resin systems and different layer configurations.
Since IXIS 157 is based on a polypropylene resin matrix, painting is possible. "We have carried out painting tests with four paint suppliers and have found no issues when following all of the normal steps for painting a polypropylene substrate. Measurements and visual assessments that we've conducted indicate that IXIS 157 is capable of meeting class A standards when the correct processes are followed," according to Buckmaster.
The first production vehicle application for IXIS 157 is likely in a few months. "We are currently working with several OEMs on projects to utilize IXIS for horizontal body-panel applications. If all goes well, we expect the first of these projects to be in production during 2009," said Buckmaster.
In addition to announcing the launch of IXIS with Azdel, SABIC announced plans to add production in North America for its STAMAX product line of polypropylene long-glass fibers (LGFs). "We have entered a very strong growth phase for LGF polypropylene as the market is early in its development cycle for these applications. The major applications of STAMAX are large semi-structural components associated with modular vehicle construction (i.e., front-end module, door module, instrument panel carrier)," noted Mark Neville, Business Unit Director for SABIC Polypropylene Automotive.
SABIC officials say STAMAX production for North America is likely to happen in 2009 within either an existing or a new U.S. facility. Asia will likely add STAMAX production in 2010. "The Asia markets are growing strongly in car build numbers, which is driving the LGF polypropylene market forward—particularly in China," noted Neville.