Tepex continuous-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites are among the few composite materials of their type worldwide to be gaining a foothold in the mass production of lightweight components. That is why Bond-Laminates GmbH, the manufacturer of Tepex and a subsidiary of specialty chemicals company Lanxess, will be putting Tepex’s new large-scale production applications right at the center of its activities at the 2019 JEC World Composites Show & Conference in Paris. “The success of Tepex is built on our diversified product range, one that features distinct differentiation by application. At the same time, the number of technologies allowing cost-effective processing of complex, highly integrated lightweight components with high-quality surfaces is growing all the time,” explains Dr. Dirk Bonefeld, who is responsible for areas including sales in the Consumer Electronics and Sport application segments at Bond-Laminates.
Owing to high demand for Tepex - primarily from the automotive and IT industries - Lanxess is currently carrying out a major expansion of its production facilities for the structural material in Brilon, Germany. As Bonefeld comments, “We are on schedule to have two additional production lines up and running by mid-2019.”
New applications in light weight design and electric mobility
The new applications for Tepex in lightweight automotive design include door module carriers for a German mid-size vehicle, front end carriers of SUVs (sport utility vehicles) for the US market and rear seats for a German luxury car. “Series production applications such as carriers for electrical and electronics modules and components of lithium-ion battery modules are emerging in the field of electric mobility,” states Henrik Plaggenborg, head of Tepex Automotive, looking to the future of the sector.
On a par with new goods
One example of materials currently under development comes in the form of Tepex product types made from recycled fibers in a matrix of recycled thermoplastic material. “Tests on initial material samples have already demonstrated that these types of recycled material are on a par in terms of mechanical and flame-retardant properties with their equivalents made from new materials,” explains Bonefeld.
One example of a new processing technology opening up new areas of application for Tepex is a hybrid manufacturing process. It combines hybrid molding with in-mold decoration (IMD) technology. “The painting of components made using hybrid molding can be integrated into the injection molding tool. This simplifies the entire process, and saves having to use a painting line,” comments Bonefeld. Alongside its partners, Bond-Laminates had already showcased a variation of the method ready for large-scale production at the K trade show back in 2016.
Directly paintable laptop lids
Typical applications for Tepex in the IT industry include the lids of laptops, tablets and smartphones. These tend to be made using the hybrid molding method. This involves the semi-finished composite product being formed in an injection molding tool and then being given additional features such as reinforcing ribs, guide channels and snap fits by means of injection molding. “Not having to use a forming tool, the high level of automation and the short cycle times coupled with limited waste result in a production process that, despite higher costs for the injection molding tool, is much more cost-effective than the separate forming and back injection molding methods previously used for the semi-finished product, or other processes based on thermoset plastics or even light metals,” explains Bonefeld. Not only that, but the method also produces smooth, directly paintable surfaces and eliminates the need to apply a filler layer that levels out small rough spots such as sink marks and microholes.