Automotive technology makes cars safer, more capable and increasingly enjoyable to drive. However, the impact of high-tech coatings often gets overlooked as an instrumental part of helping make such advancements happen. Here’s a look at some of the coating innovations you should know about that push automotive progress forward.
Improving Backcoating Options for Car Carpets
Many of today’s consumers are increasingly concerned with purchasing sustainable products. When it comes to automotive buying decisions, that might mean going with an electric or hybrid car, but not necessarily. Sustainability can factor into parts of an automobile that people may not immediately expect. When automakers carefully assess products and processes to find sustainability gaps, customers are more likely to conclude that those companies take the matter seriously and don’t just treat eco-friendliness as a trendy buzzword.
A case in point is an improvement in the backcoating process used to get removable automotive carpets ready for use. The coatings applied to the rear side of car carpets prevent those accessories from slipping around and getting bunched up during use. Latex is one of the most common coatings used for this purpose now, but automakers are interested in more sustainable solutions.
A newer option is to use thermoplastic mono materials as the coatings. For starters, these adhesive coatings make the carpets easier to recycle. Plus, the thermoplastic manufacturing process used in this case enables a substantial reduction in water and energy usage.
The developers of these thermoplastic carpet coatings also note that the technology opens numerous other opportunities. For example, they could affect acoustical properties, stiffness, and resistance to abrasion, letting automakers customize the carpeting to meet specific and unique needs.
Developing a Film Coating That Radar Signals Penetrate
Cars depend on radar signals to perform certain capabilities, such as pedestrian and cyclist detection and adaptive cruise control. Automakers must usually place radar detectors behind an automobile’s solid metal components. However, that approach has a downside in that it negatively affects the functionality of other high-tech safety features associated with the vehicle.
However, AkzoNobel specializes in advanced film products that account for the need to use radar technology in cars. The company recently released a radar-transparent film coating that allows automakers to put the radar sensors behind decorative metal parts instead.
Patrick Bourguignon, Director of AkzoNobel’s automotive and specialty coatings division, said, “Vehicle requirements are changing all the time and we’re very happy to have solved this difficult problem with an intelligent film coating that allows radar signals to pass through.”
He continued, “It was a highly technical process, which involved close collaboration with customers to establish correlations between film properties and radar transmission. “On the surface, it provides an attractive, mirror-like finish. What you can’t see is the breakthrough technology we’ve developed, which allows better and more consistent transmission of signals that ultimately help people to drive more safely.”
Depending on Coating Technology to Keep Crucial Electronic Components Safe
Many coating technology discussions center on external, highly visible automotive parts. However, innovations also relate to high-tech components that customers don’t see. More specifically, coatings are vital for ensuring that complex electronic components function as expected.
Take the example of an electronic control unit (ECU). Each ECU directly integrates into a vehicle’s infrastructure and assures the correct performance of everything from the power steering technology to the infotainment system.
Automotive designers must take tremendous care to adequately protect ECUs, knowing that they play huge roles in a car’s lifespan and how well it offers value for money. Some ECU failures make vehicles unusable, as is the case with the engine control module, which makes the car start. Engine control module replacement costs can exceed $15,000 in parts alone. That expense highlights the importance of manufacturing decisions that make them last as long as possible.
Moreover, federal regulations in the United States mandate that an engine control module must last for eight years or 80,000 miles. Fortunately, conformal coatings help meet those requirements. They’re thin, polymeric films that go directly on top of components and substrates. Those coatings give water, salt, and chemical protection and are highly durable.
Using Coatings to Create Desirable Surface Effects
Many tech advancements from automakers come about due to new requirements in the industry. For example, designers and engineers at ŠKODA are working with coatings to overcome the challenges of an upcoming European Union ban on hexavalent chrome. Research shows that the substance is a human carcinogen and that inhaling it can cause nose and throat irritation.
Peregrina Iglesias, a color and trim specialist at the automaker, explained that applied layers of varnish can result in a different texture or graphic design, making it a suitable alternative to chrome. Additionally, she explained that specialty coatings support eco-friendliness goals. For example, she explained that painting plastic or a recycled material to give it a chrome or aluminum-like effect offers a cheaper and more efficient process. Manufacturing something faster without sacrificing quality can bring about numerous sustainability benefits.
Other opportunities exist by applying foil coatings to enhance the luxurious look of specific car components. Lada Dlabolová, who also works with paint and trims at the company, described the benefits of in-mold decoration (IMD) foils. She clarified that IMD foils work as effective coatings for plastic components because they cover optical imperfections in materials and may feature decorative patterns.
Meeting the Need for Lightweight Options in Automotive Technology
Today’s automotive manufacturers continually prioritize technologies that let them achieve lighter, stronger parts. Creating those can reduce the overall materials used, plus give a car better fuel economy. Thus, lightweight but resilient components result in win-win situations for makers and vehicle owners.
A German startup called FibreCoat makes core-sheath filaments with an innovative glass-thermoplastic fiber incorporating reinforcement and hotmelt matrix components. The company’s coating technology can cover 2,000 meters per minute, plus lower manufacturing and material costs.
Robert Brüll, FibreCoat’s CEO, explained in a recent interview that it was during his studies for a Ph.D. in composites when he began exploring possibilities for producing thermoplastics through the direct coating of inorganic fibers. He believed that approach would reduce the costs and timeframes normally required for thermoplastics production. From there, he and two colleagues worked to make that option commercially viable.
Brüll continued, “We are focusing on making the future affordable. This means we have to come up with new material solutions that offer great properties at reduced costs. We are doing this by taking an interdisciplinary approach as we bring together different areas of expertise in our team and network. This allows us to invent outside of the box.”
Rising to Accommodate Customers’ Emerging Demands
When people purchase cars, they often want technologies that will help them steer into tight parking places, avoid collisions, and achieve better gas mileage. Sometimes, larger societal events shape consumers’ car-buying preferences, too.
Such was the case during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially as people started thinking about specialized coatings that would reduce their likelihood of contracting the virus. For example, engineers at Kastus, an Irish coating technology company, confirmed through lab testing that its solutions help safeguard against COVID-19 surface transmission. Earlier experiments showed that the coatings had a 99.99% kill rate against antibiotic-resistant superbugs, including MRSA and E. coli.
Then, a New York facility verified that Kastus products also work against the novel coronavirus. The company’s offerings can either get mixed into plastics and paint or applied directly to glass. That kind of versatile coating technology is available at a seemingly perfect time for the automotive industry, too.
A study from IHS Markit surveyed nearly 800 consumers across eight markets to determine their interest in antimicrobial coatings used in cars. The results showed that 54% of respondents were either interested or very interested in having it in personal vehicles. Additionally, nearly half of the people in that group said they would pay more than $100 to have such options.
It’s not economical to coat every interior surface in a car. However, manufacturers could make their automobiles more attractive to concerned consumers by applying specialized coatings to high-touch surfaces, such as the steering wheel, center console, door handles, and the gear shift.
Coating Technology Equips Cars for the Future
The car market is demanding, and manufacturing professionals must continually assess what kind of automotive technology is most likely to appeal to consumers. These examples show that specialty coatings play a major role in keeping cars current, capable, and desirable.