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A new method for decorated soft-touch plastic parts

Bayer MaterialScience AG : 24 April, 2006  (New Product)
Plastic parts coated with pleasant-to-grip, soft-touch coatings are almost taken for granted in the home appliances industry, consumer electronics, medical technology, telecommunications and automotive interiors. Their manufacture remains time-consuming and costly, however. The
soft-touch coating is generally sprayed on to the three-dimensional, injection-molded parts, resulting in significant overspray. Furthermore, there is a relatively high rate of rejects due to coating defects. On top of all this come the high investment and maintenance costs for the coating unit. A new approach developed by Bayer MaterialScience AG promises significant cost savings. The concept is based on transparent polycarbonate and polycarbonate-blend films coated with transparent or black-, gray- or beige-pigmented soft-touch coatings formulated with Bayhydrol and Bayhydur polyurethane raw materials. Three-dimensional parts can be manufactured from these films using the film insert molding process. “This method is particularly lucrative for those processors who are using the FIM process but do not have a spray unit for soft-touch coatings or are reluctant to invest the money for one. Now they can essentially purchase ready-coated soft-touch films off the roll. The response to initial mold optimization trials at customers’ facilities has been very positive,” explained Hans Braun, an FIM expert at Bayer MaterialScience. The new films will be marketed under the names Makrofol Softtouch and Bayfol Softtouch.

In the FIM process, a decorative finish is first applied to the back of a plastic film, usually by screen printing. The film is then shaped, cut to size, back-injected with a thermoplastic resin and reinforced. The result is a three-dimensional part with a high-quality decorative finish. The new soft-touch films from Bayer MaterialScience can be cold shaped using the high-pressure forming process as well as hot shaped, in both cases retaining their matte finish.

“In internal testing and during the mold optimization process, the soft-touch surfaces of the parts proved to be more resistant to abrasion and chemicals than the uncoated surfaces of our PC and PC-blend films. This keeps the coated parts looking good longer,” said Braun. He sees great potential for the new films, especially in decorated plastic parts produced using the FIM process for automotive interiors, such as heating vents, cockpit elements and parts of the instrument panel. In the home appliances industry, the films could be used wherever pleasant-to-grip, decorated surfaces are required, such as the housings of electric shavers, electric toothbrushes and vacuum cleaners. Makrofol Softtouch and Bayfol Softtouch could be used to finish Medical Technology products such as blood pressure and blood glucose monitors or consumer electronic items such as Walkmen, Discmen and MP-3 players. The same applies for telephone housings and mobile phone components.
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