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Lexan SLX resin now available for injection moulding

GE Advanced Materials : 23 February, 2004  (New Product)
With the introduction of a clear resin grade, GE Plastics expands its proprietary Lexan SLX polycarbonate platform.
GE Plastics has announced that one of its newest advanced polymers, Lexan SLX polycarbonate, is now available in a clear resin grade for injection moulding applications. Lexan SLX 2431 resin offers high light transmission (>83%) and low haze (<1%), enhanced weatherability and five to ten times the gloss retention compared with most standard UV-stabilised polycarbonate materials.

At the beginning of this year, GE Plastics began supplying Lexan SLX polycarbonate film to the global automotive industry to evaluate the polymer’s ability to impart a Class A finish. With the introduction of the injection moulding grade, GE says it will be bringing SLX technology to other industries. Kurt Schuering, GE Plastics’ global product manager for Lexan SLX resin, says the resin grade is focused initially on the lighting industry for applications including covers, refractors, and lenses.

“GE has evaluation and validation programs with many automakers worldwide to better assess this technology as a real alternative to paint in automotive exterior trim and body panels,” said John Carrington, global automotive marketing director for GE Plastics. “We are focusing on uniformity of colour, both in the showroom and after exposure, for any part that can benefit from this hard-surface thermoplastic.”

GE Plastics is currently working with global OEMs in the lighting industry whose applications are on display in GE Plastics’ NPE booth. Luminaire Lighting Corp. is exhibiting a vandal-resistant lighting unit, and GE Lighting is displaying its Junior Versabeam.

“Our new Lexan SLX resin grade offers all the attributes of standard Lexan resin, but with the added benefit of increased weatherability,” said Schuering. “This combination of properties is great for many lighting applications, which typically have been served by four materials -- glass, PMMA, acrylic, and polycarbonate. Of the four, polycarbonate has the superior heat and impact resistance, but it has a tendency to yellow after long-term UV exposure. LEXAN SLX resin utilizes copolymer technology, where the weatherability is ‘integrated’ in the backbone of the product, to provide clarity, heat, weathering and impact, in one product.”

Lexan SLX resin has similar processability and shrinkage characteristics to standard polycarbonate. There are plans to introduce additional injection moulding grades in translucent colours in early fall.

Meanwhile, SLX film continues to generate excitement in the automotive industry for its ability to impart a Class A finish with high-gloss, weatherability and scratch and chemical resistance for moulded plastic parts without the need to paint.

Lexan SLX film, available from GE Structured Products in gauges of 20 mils and 30 mils, is a new film technology designed to replace paint and overcome several technical challenges. The dynamic self-balancing, electric powered Segway Human Transporter is the first commercial application for Lexan SLX film, which is applied to the injection moulded fenders using an in-mould decoration process with a Xenoy resin substrate.

Lexan SLX film is a co-extruded film – a clear cap layer over a coloured layer – that is applied over various substrates to impart a Class A surface. Tests show that Lexan SLX film has the potential to withstand the rigours of the highway and it fits the bill for a production plastic car with a glossy, metallic finish that could become a new benchmark.

Development of this polymer began at the General Electric Corporate Research and Development facility in Schenectady, N.Y. Derived from polyester carbonates based on resorcinol arylates, these structures undergo a photo-fries rearrangement when exposed to light and produce a structure that is an inherent UV screen for the film and the substrate it protects. In addition, the film cap layer polymer structure can be employed at concentrations high enough to provide excellent weathering without having a harmful effect on the physical properties of the film.

“The objective for many industries is an affordable moulded in-colour part that retains a paint-like gloss after 10 years outdoor exposure,” said Carrington. “Lexan SLX film can help deliver this performance by helping automakers either use existing manufacturing facilities or avoid the investment for new paint lines. It can cost up to $400 million to install only a single paint line, plus annual maintenance and operation can cost millions more. In addition to reducing paint shop costs, automotive components based on the new polymer are expected to assist in reducing assembly time and tooling costs as well as vehicle weight.

“Take out the costs associated with painting a vehicle, and a plastic vehicle becomes economically more appealing,” Carrington said. “Automakers can now consider assembling a vehicle with body panels made from Lexan SLX film in a facility that can cost half that of a conventional factory.”

Making a financially viable plastic vehicle is only half the equation because the true test for today’s production cars is a glossy, metallic finish that appeals to consumers. Lexan SLX film delivers extreme depth of image; good scratch resistance, and ability to maintain dimensional stability over a wide temperature range.

The latest laboratory tests, the equivalent to about 10 to 15 years of outdoor weathering, show that the gloss retention for Lexan SLX film is quite favourable. GE has evaluated Lexan SLX film against OEM paint specifications and the material passed staining tests that included bee pollen, brake fluid and gasoline.

“GE Plastics believes this new polymer technology has a very bright future in automotive as well as many other applications where plastic sees substantial outdoor exposure,” said Carrington.
The GE Plastics Automotive Application Development Centre in Southfield, Michigan, and the European Design Centre in Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, supply leading auto manufacturers and tier suppliers around the world with an extensive line of high performance engineering thermoplastics. Technical support is provided to customers to assist them with their concept generation, complete pre-production constancy, application and performance prediction, processing simulation, feasibility and cost studies, advanced processing capabilities, system solutions, and innovative automotive knowledge. GE Plastics’ affiliates, Polymer Solutions Inc. in the United States and GE Polymer Design Associates in Europe, can assist customers with a complete set of design and engineering services, or with finding a solution to a specific task. This knowledge covers the full range of automotive disciplines – styling, engineering design, CAD, finite element analysis, model and prototyping, tooling, testing and project management.
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