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High gloss scratch resistant film adds class to new Mercedes

Autotype International : 03 August, 2007  (New Product)
The latest high quality hardcoated polycarbonate film from MacDermid Autotype, the leading global developer and manufacturer of high performance films and coatings, has been selected by Daimler Chrysler to be incorporated into the new Mercedes S Class. The Autoflex XtraForm film is used in the manufacture of 44 different three dimensional interior components, including dashboard, lighting and window switches, producing a high quality aesthetic finish combined with excellent scratch resistance and optical properties.
The components are being manufactured through a technique called Film Insert Moulding, also sometimes known as In Mould Decoration. In this process, exceptionally tough, high quality three dimensional parts can be produced in large volumes using a combination of screen printing, cutting, pressure or vacuum forming, UV curing and injection moulding.

The key to the process is the use of the film coated by MacDermid Autotype, which is firstly reverse printed with the graphics or legends for the S Class switches, using high definition screen printing techniques. This enables large numbers of switches to be printed on each sheet and provides the opportunity to vary designs quickly and simply by changing screens, for use with different model variants.

Once printed, the film is then extruded to shape using a conventional vacuum press, with the specially developed mechanical properties of Autoflex XtraForm enabling particularly deep drawn component parts to be formed, without the risk of stress fractures. The formed components are then cut and trimmed before placed into an injection mould cavity where molten resin is injected onto the underside of the shaped and printed film, producing a 3D item with an integrated printed design.

Kai Weyrauch, Quality Manager at Daimler Chrysler, explained that finding the right quality of coated film substrate for this process was essential to achieve the desired finish for the interior components. “The problem we had was finding a film that would not only offer the cosmetic qualities needed for the luxury interior of the S Class, but that also provided excellent optical performance when backlit and offered an extended operating life; bear in mind that our cars are designed to last for many years and all interior component parts must therefore be able to resist long term use, without scratching or suffering from mechanical degradation.”

For Daimler Chrysler one of the key advantages of Autoflex XtraForm was its homogeneous construction and ability to be formed into deep drawn shapes, for the relatively complex switches built into dashboard and door interior components that have tight radii to give aesthetically pleasing edges and corners. This homogeneity of Autoflex XtraForm overcomes the problem often encountered with conventional films, where weaknesses can occur at the corners of the finished moulded parts due to irregularities in thickness and composition of the substrate, affecting the strength and appearance of a component.

A consistently high quality piano black finish was also required for the interior components of the S Class, especially as many of the switches would be backlit, exposing any irregularities in the film. The Autoflex film was able to meet this demanding requirement due to its consistent depth and unique surface coating, which produces a uniform, high gloss finish that complements the rest of the car’s interior.

Finally, the film had to withstand prolonged use and cleaning with varying chemicals without degradation. This is again achieved by the specially formulated hardcoat finish, which provides exceptionally high levels of protection to the polycarbonate base layer.

Kai Weyrauch explained, “Film Insert Moulding is a technology which requires effective communication between the partners in the supply chain. We found that MacDermid were willing to be more than just a supplier of films. They have been very active in working with all partners to facilitate the creation of a communication framework within which issues could be constructively discussed and resolved. This support has included hosting a project web forum, regular teleconferencing and monthly on-site visits by MacDermid’s technical staff to the foil processors.”
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