German automotive components group Webasto is investing more than €10m in new moulding and coating equipment that will double its capacity for production of transparent polycarbonate automotive glazing parts.
The new investment, which includes a 23,000kN Krauss-Maffei moulding machine and wet coating line from German company Eisenmann, will lift Webasto’s production capacity from 160,000 to 320,000 polycarbonate glazing elements per year and is required to meet future production requirements.
Speaking at the European Plastics News/Plastics News Plastics in Automotive Glazing conference last week in Detroit, in the US, Webasto project manager for the European region Peter Michalsky said the company has secured four future OEM contracts for transparent polycarbonate parts during this year.
The first of these new contracts is a transparent front deflector panel for a roof module, which he said will go into production during 2009. The company has told PRW.com that the new projects also include a series production application for a premium vehicle.
Webasto is already a leading European player in supply of transparent polycarbonate roof panels. It supplied the lamella (louvre) sunroof modules for the Mercedes A and B Class cars using 0.8 sqm plastics parts moulded by Saint Gobain subsidiary Freeglass.
Since 2007 it has been manufacturing the 1.2 sqm panorama roof panel used on the popular Pulse and Passion versions of the Smart forTwo car. Michalsky said the company has produced around 170,000 of the 4.5mm thick polycarbonate roof panels since production started in January 2007.
The Smart components are moulded under cleanroom conditions at Webasto’s plant in the southern German town of Schierling on a 27,000kN revolving platen injection moulding machine supplied by Battenfeld in 2004. Battenfeld has since halted production of moulding machines of this size.
Each Smart roof panel comprises a two-shot moulding in tinted transparent and black polycarbonate supplied by Bayer MaterialScience and coated on an Eisenmann line using the AS4000 silicone coating system developed and supplied by Momentive Performance Materials, formerly GE Advanced Materials.
Coating is a critical part of the polycarbonate glazing production process, providing the UV and abrasion resistance required by the automotive industry. Webasto’s new coating line will be able to apply Momentive’s latest AS4700 coating, which offers higher performance at a reduced coating thickness.
“We cannot run AS4700 on the line we have today,” said Michalsky. “That’s one reason why we need the new coating line. But we would not be able to use only the line we have today to fill the volumes of the projects we have now.”
The use of polycarbonate in place of glass results in a 40% weight saving for the Smart roof module, contributing to a reduction in fuel consumption. Michalsky estimates the decision to use the polycarbonate panel has resulted in a 10,000 tonne CO2 fleet emission saving.
However, he said weight reduction yields benefits in areas beyond fuel efficiency. “The [Smart] panel could be made in glass; the driver was the weight,” said Michalsky. “If you cut weight you get improvement all around the car; it will drive