MUNICH, Germany - Wacker Asahikasei Silicone, a Japanese joint venture of Wacker Chemie AG, opened a new development laboratory for airbag applications. The competence center will spearhead the development of silicone coatings for airbags and technical textiles in the region. Investment in the new laboratory amounts to roughly €1 million. Wacker Asahikasei Silicone (AWS) is jointly owned by WACKER and the Japanese chemical group Asahi Kasei Corporation each with a 50% stake.

The Airbag Competence Center of Excellence in Silicones (ACES) is located at the AWS technical center in Tsukuba, some 70 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. The center will support airbag manufacturers and their suppliers and has been equipped to develop novel high-performance silicone materials for coating airbags. Key material tests, such as coating, heat-resistance and fire-safety tests, can now be performed locally. “The airbag market is growing by six to seven percent annually,” noted Peter Summo, head of WACKER’s Engineering Silicones business unit, during the opening ceremony of the laboratory in Tsukuba. “Since every major airbag manufacturer produces in Asia, we decided to strengthen our expertise in this region. Now, we can develop new and innovative coating materials in Tsukuba. At ACES, we will be able to contribute to the development of innovative airbag technologies and make vehicles even safer in the future.”

Modern vehicles are equipped with a number of airbags. These protective systems are installed not only in steering wheels and dashboards, but also in seats, doors and roof liners. Silicones, which adhere well to airbag fabrics, improve the fabrics’ leak-tightness and air-holding performance and protect them from the initial heat and the hot gases that inflate airbags in milliseconds. In addition, silicone topcoats reduce surface friction on deployment. This enables airbags to inflate uniformly and instantly.

“Given the weight and safety benefits, silicones have become the coating material of choice for numerous manufacturers. The coatings are light and ensure that airbags still function properly many years after being installed,” stresses Peter Summo. Since the number of airbags in vehicles is growing, saving weight is an ever more vital issue, explained the business unit head. “Cars are expected to become increasingly lighter and more economical. At the same time, demands on safety and mechanical performance are rising. With our competence team here in Tsukuba, we are optimally positioned to develop convincing solutions for the airbag industry.”