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Breakthrough thermoplastic composite sheet from GE & AZDEL improves safety & performance for passenger train components

GE Advanced Materials : 05 April, 2005  (New Product)
AZDEL Rail-Lite composite, is a low-pressure, thermoformable, lightweight composite sheet that exhibits excellent flame, smoke, toxicity, and heat-release performance in large semi-structural panels for train interiors.
Like a train on a well-run railroad, new product technology from GE Advanced Materials has arrived just in time to address rising demand for safer, higher performing materials in the passenger rail industry. The new product, called AZDEL Rail-Lite composite, is a low-pressure, thermoformable, lightweight composite sheet that exhibits excellent flame, smoke, toxicity, and heat-release performance in large semi-structural panels for train interiors. The new product, called AZDEL Rail-Lite composite, is a low-pressure, thermoformable, lightweight composite sheet that exhibits excellent flame, smoke, toxicity, and heat-release performance in large semi-structural panels for train interiors. GE unveiled the new product technology at the Railway Interiors Expo in Cologne (Nov. 30 – Dec. 2, 2004). AZDEL, Inc. is a 50/50 joint venture of GE and PPG Industries, based in Lynchburg, Virginia, USA.

Comprised of long glass fibres, AZDEL Rail-Lite composite enables sturdy, lightweight components with approximately half of the specific gravity as lower performing composite materials. Roughly half the volume of an AZDEL Rail-Lite composite structure is comprised of air, giving the new material exceptionally low weight. This may help reduce the weight of finished parts – and, therefore, help reduce fuel consumption – for potentially significant cost savings. The new product technology is translatable to other industries, such as aircraft and building and construction. New products based on this technology are now under development at AZDEL and GE.

“Materials technology for passenger trains and other transportation segments has turned a corner with the commercial launch of our new AZDEL Rail-Lite composite,” said Melanie Cook, GE Advanced Materials’ marketing director for Transportation. “No other product that we know of available today can deliver the same outstanding balance of flame, smoke, and toxicity performance with the light weight and excellent mechanical properties of this new material.”

According to Ken Forden, president, AZDEL, Inc., “The synergies of GE’s materials expertise, PPG’s fibre technology, and the patented wet chopped fibre process pioneered by AZDEL, have enabled us to develop a whole new family of advanced composite materials that meet growing global demand for improved flame, smoke, and toxicity performance. AZDEL Rail-Lite composite has been very well received and is the first of several new high-performance products AZDEL and GE plan to introduce in the future.”

When parts formed from AZDEL Rail-Lite composite are exposed to flame, it quickly chars while emitting very low levels of smoke. The char and glass fibres also create a surface barrier to the flame, similar to that of a ceramic material. Because of this, AZDEL Rail-Lite composite will not catch fire and drip, like lower performing competitive products or thermoplastic sheet type materials. This quality is quickly becoming essential for applications on trains, subways, and other mass-transit systems where fires have claimed many lives in the past.

“There have been a number of mass-transit fires around the world that have drawn attention to the need for materials with improved flame, smoke, and toxicity performance,” said Benny David, global industry manager – Transportation Composites, GE Advanced Materials. “The London underground fire in 1987 that killed 31 people; last year’s subway fire in Daegu, Korea where an estimated 120 people perished and more than 130 were injured; and other similar fires, were all tragic events that no one wants to see repeated. Add to this the increasing threat of global terrorism and it’s clear that newer, better flame-retardant materials for trains and other mass-transit systems are needed.”

In addition to its outstanding flame, smoke, and toxicity performance, new AZDEL Rail-Lite composite offers excellent strength, stiffness, and a low coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE). It also provides good ductility, unlike traditional fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) materials or sheet-moulding compounds (SMC). In situations when loads on an AZDEL Rail-Lite composite part exceed the material’s strength, the glass fibres on the surface of the part tear away from the glass-resin matrix. As this occurs, the part can still support some force, creating a ductile-type failure unlike most glass-filled products, which can fail in a brittle manner. Furthermore, because of the foam-like character of the Rail-Lite composite, it also exhibits good sound absorption and heat-insulation properties.

New AZDEL Rail-Lite composite is already on the express track to widespread application in China: GE Advanced Materials today announced a joint development agreement (JDA) with Beijing-based China Railway Long Dragon New Composite Materials Co., Ltd., China’s largest OEM supplier of train interiors. Under the agreement, GE and China Railway Long Dragon plan to use multiple grades of AZDEL Rail-Lite composite for applications in passenger train interiors. According to GE, the rail infrastructure in growing economies such as China and India presents tremendous potential opportunities for lightweight materials like the new composite that could enable weight reduction to allow rail operators to potentially add extra cars to existing trains.

OEMs and tier converters for passenger train interiors and other transportation segments will find a number of potential high-performance applications for AZDEL Rail-Lite composite. These include window masks, ceiling panels, seat backs, arm rests, tray tables, stow bins, luggage racks, valances, partitions, and other interior trim components.

The new composite material can be thermoformed at relatively modest pressures, and with lower cost tooling, unlike high-pressure tooling typically required for alternative composite materials that need compression moulding techniques. Furthermore, in-mould attachments and fixtures can be applied to the part during the primary thermoforming step, which can help reduce excessive labour costs associated with secondary operations. Unlike thermoplastic sheet, AZDEL Rail-Lite composite does not require drying prior to thermoforming and, due to its low thermal expansion coefficient, tooling can be designed for zero-shrinkage.

AZDEL Rail-Lite composite meets U.S. FRA 49 CFR Part 238 flammability and smoke emissions standards for train passenger cars and locomotive cabs and complies with toxicity standard BSS 7239. It also meets Germany’s DIN5510, Part 2 (S4/SR2/ST2 rating). Specific formulations are also able to pass the stringent requirements for the British Rail Standard BS 6853 Category 1A. Because of its low weight and excellent flame, smoke, and toxicity performance, the new material is an excellent candidate to replace polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyester, vinyl ester, or phenolic FRP materials used in many interior train applications.
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