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Polyolefin foams challenging PU in auto interiors.

Polyurethane foams have long dominated the 850,000 metric tons auto interior foams market ill North America and Europe. The recent emergence of several forms of polyolefin (PO) foam is posing a challenge to several PU foam applications, according to a new study by Robert Eller Associates.

The Akron, OH-based firm's report notes that among time recent technical developments that will stimulate the entry of PO foams into the auto interior market in competition with PU foams are:

* The application of chemically crosslinked PO sheet foams to door trim applications (to compete with poured PU foams, PU sheet foam and radiation crosslinked PO foams):

* the entry, of new manufacturers of radiation crosslinked PO sheet foams;

* the development of techniques for laminating PO sheet foam to textiles (in competition with flame bonding of PU loam sheet to textile body cloth);

* the entry of non-crosslinked foams for relatively low performance applications (e.g., trunkliners);

* the entry of steam chest molded bead foam (primarily expanded PP [EPP]) molded in combination with textiles for emerging absorbing applications like instrument panel components. door trim, and (recently at Audi) rear seating: and

* the introduction of Dow Automotive's Strandfoam EA.

In automotive flooring applications. PU foams are competing with new lightweight fiber batting for the acoustics portion of the floor module, since the PO foams have limited acoustic properties.

The major current battleground for sheet foams is in time door trim panel for applications such as medallions, armrests and water shields. The evolution of improved textile/PO foam lamination methods is facilitating the penetration of PO foams into these applications at two European OEMs.

Bob Eller, president of REA, said that "time driving forces lot substitution of PO sheet foams is driven by cost, recyclability concerns and the elimination of gassing which occurs in the PU foam flame lamination to textiles. If the evolving lamination techniques are successful, PP-based textiles will enter the market as PP textile/PO foam sheet laminates to challenge the incumbent polyester textile/PU foam laminates currently used in many body cloth applications."


Eller continued, "Energy absorber applications are evolving into a battle between PU foams, EPP steam chest molded foams and Dow's Strandfoam EA. Current energy absorber applications are mostly an add-on to headliner, door trim and pillar trim applications to meet head impact requirements. While the energy absorber blocks are an interesting intermaterials competition, the real breakthrough will be when the blocks are integrated into the interior module and become the entire substrate. The heat resistance and acoustic properties are limiting factors for some of these applications (for example, complete headliner substrates)."

These are among the trends identified and quantified for NAFFA and Europe in REA's newly released multi-client study, Automotive Interior Soft Trim: Skins, Foams, Coated Fabrics. Textiles and Acoustic Barriers.
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Title Annotation:Market Focus
Author:Samples, Bob
Publication:Rubber World
Date:Oct 1, 2003
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