Dr Alexander Jockisch reveals why high-quality interior surfaces are becoming increasingly popular in the automotive sector.
Demand for high-quality interior surfaces in vehicles is growing worldwide. The Asian market in particular is experiencing a boom as vehicle manufacturers all strive to meet the stringent specifications relating to the purity of air inside vehicles.
The changes in legislation relating to emissions in vehicle passenger compartments in Asia mean new challenges. New regulations – for example, in China, Korea and Japan – are resulting in new requirements for surface materials in automotive interiors. Dr Roland Freudenmann, global head of labs at surface material manufacturer Benecke-Kaliko, is familiar with the key parameters and optimisation options. He says: “We can assist in establishing for the Chinese market the standardised methods for testing air quality that have been proved in Europe and the USA.” Standardised measurements are not yet available in China. However, time and costs can be saved if the right method is used.
The first important step is to break down the requirements relating to a vehicle as a whole into test methods for surface materials. Therefore Freudenmann recommends German standards VDA 278 for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and VDA 275 for aldehydes and ketones, both of which are globally established and efficient test methods. It is also essential to determine the age of the material under test since emissions are a function of time. “A sample age of seven days should be set,” says Freudenmann. Test accuracy is greater then than immediately after manufacturing, and this age is more realistic since the production and shipping of parts and cars also require an extended period. Foils that are deformed during processing should also be subjected to a simulation of the production process before being tested for emissions.
Analysis of the standard PVC trim materials, for example, has shown that the only regulated substance that they contain is toluene, an ingredient of the paint formulation. However, this emission can be eliminated by using new, water-based paint systems. These VOC-optimised PVC trim materials are already available from Benecke-Kaliko and they represent a solution to the challenges arising from the new Asian requirements.
When monitoring air quality, particular attention must be paid to the limit values for the VOCs, which are the substances in gaseous and vapour form that occur in solvents and synthetically manufactured substances among others and can sometimes cause health impairments. The current GB/T27630-2011 regulation in China focuses at present on eight VOC substances.
Benecke-Kaliko has been developing low-odour and low-emission products for decades and has vast experience in measuring pollutants in vehicles. It is now making this know-how available to the Chinese market via its Chinese joint venture, Benecke-Changshun Auto Trim.
The company laid the foundation stone for its second plant in China (in Changzhou) in 2014. With a cost of almost €40million for the first phase of the expansion, this is the largest investment in the company’s history. “This shows the major importance of the Chinese market, but also the good relations between Benecke-Kaliko and our partners in trade and industry,” says chairman of the executive board, Dr Dirk Leiss.
Production is scheduled to start in late 2015. Up to 250 employees are then to manufacture Acella Eco surface material on 24,000m2 of shop floor space. The material, which is environmentally compatible, low in emissions and non-allergenic, is destined for the Chinese automotive industry. The first orders have already been received.
“The new plant is Benecke-Kaliko’s response to the continued demand for our products and solutions. Our second plant in China will make a substantial contribution to our continued success in penetrating global markets,” declares Leiss. There is strong growth in demand from automakers in China in particular for high-quality and, at the same time, environmentally compatible materials for automotive interiors. By using such materials, automakers are meeting the wishes of car buyers, but also the Chinese government’s aim of increasing the air quality in automotive interiors. If demand continues to grow, therefore, a second expansion phase at the Changzhou plant will be possible, enabling production capacity there to be doubled.
The Benecke-Kaliko Group is also expanding production of foils for car interiors in Southern and Eastern Europe. The company acquired two sites from the Belgian Mecaseat Group, which also owns French decorative foil producer Griffine Enduction. Mecaseat’s Spanish company Gorvi in Pamplona and Polish company Mecapol in Wagrowiec became 100% members of the Benecke-Kaliko Group. Together the two locations employ a total of 150 people. “We didn’t just want to buy the business, but also manufacturing capacities,” says Leiss. “The new plants are an integral part of our strategic alignment.
"By gaining access to the Southern European market we have sent out a clear signal of further growth to French and Spanish car manufacturers. Furthermore, we will be able to offer our customers an additional price segment in the future for which there is a demand particularly for models in the booming compact car sector," he concludes.
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Dr Alexander Jockisch is with Benecke-Kaliko in Germany.