Plastics Interface Technology (PIT) is a patented technology for the bonding of various decorative materials with a polymer substrate. Developed by the polypropylene compounding group of LyondellBasell, this new technology enables the cost-effective manufacturing of structures with excellent surface qualities for a range of applications in appliances, electronics, and automotive.
The production of a plastic substrate including a metal foil can be achieved by various methods. Existing methods such as gluing, electroplating, or spray painting can sometimes require additional, extensive manufacturing steps to finish the final component. The new technology combines a plastic substrate with foils of metal or other materials in a simple one-step operation.
PIT makes use of decorative foil that’s pre-coated with a binder material and placed directly into the injection mold or pressed or welded with the substrate to form a permanent bond. The PIT process offers a wide potential for many applications, as many materials can be processed: paper, foil, cork, veneer, leather, linoleum, or glass, as well as stainless steel and aluminum, could be used as possible decorative materials.
Properties for Multiple Applications
The potential list of PIT applications for the appliances, electronics, and automotive sectors is as diverse as the many different materials that can be processed along with the decorative elements. In addition, self-supporting compounds can be produced that combine high strength with weight savings.
Compounds produced with PIT not only offer very good optical properties and functional surfaces, but also demonstrate mechanical and thermal properties that exceed those of the substrate material alone. In trials carried out in cooperation with customers, PIT composites have been confirmed as having toughness and long-term resistance to mechanical and chemical attack, even in demanding applications involving exposure to the hot detergent solutions found in washing machines and dishwashers.
This technology has the potential not only to revolutionize the production process but to also save valuable resources. All compounds can be separated by temperatures between 200 and 300°C and are fully recyclable.
The “Silver-Touch” for Polypropylene
Especially interesting is the use of aluminum foils on PP substrates.
One obvious area of application for the new composite material is in the replacement of electroplated engineering plastic. Initial trials with an aluminum-PP composite show the potential for significant cost savings by eliminating the process of electroplating while achieving a surface quality that is comparable or superior. In addition, reject rates are lower, as the aluminum foil is less prone to surface defects.
Another area of application for a metal foil on a polymer substrate includes the provision of electromagnetic interference (EMI) shielding for electrical appliances or electromobility. The high thermal resistance of the PIT composite can offer excellent flame-retardancy with a full compliance of the requirements of flammability classes B1 and B2 or UL94 V-0. The compounds also offer weight-saving opportunities in comparison to steel in the building and construction, elevator, and automotive industries.
First-time applications are already in production or are close to being commercialized. Potential new areas of application are currently being identified and evaluated. For example, lightweight polypropylene tiles with a decorative surface cover could be used to open up new possibilities for the home products and furniture industry. Additionally, foamed PP compounds could be combined to enhance these decorative surfaces, adding new dimensions with additional weight saving possibilities.
Another application comes from the thermal resistance of adding aluminum foils. It makes this technology attractive for lamps or even toaster housings.
In automotive applications, PIT compounds can be used in interior (soft-touch door covers, center consoles with veneer surfaces), exterior (chrome trims), or under-the-hood (engine covers) applications. PIT can also help reduce metal thickness—and therefore weight—when foamed PP compounds are used. In caravans (travel trailers), there’s the opportunity to replace wood components.
PIT composites have the potential to offer unprecedented levels of cost-performance in a wide area of application. Using this technology, the requirements of an economic production of lightweight components with high surface quality can be easily met, with virtually unlimited possibilities.
This article was originally published in April in CHEManager International ( www.chemanager-online.com/en).