An efficient way to decrease the weight of automobiles is through the use of lighter metals or plastics instead of heavier metals or composite materials combining plastics and metals. Another, increasingly used option is to apply glass or fiber reinforced materials.
Also materials are being altered in and around the car driver’s seat and the passenger area inside the car because of the demand among car travellers for greater comfort and for interiors with more visual appeal.
Another major influence behind the development of new materials inside cars is the need among car makers to reduce costs by cutting the time it takes to make individual cars.
All these requirements are presenting challenges to both developers of materials and their coatings. But Europe is well place to take up the opportunities from these changes because of its traditional expertise in both car interior coatings and materials, particularly engineering plastics.
AkzoNobel, Europe’s largest coatings company, is a leader in car interior coatings.
Some analysts reckon that a motive behind AkzoNobel’s move to merge with Axalta, announced in late October, is not just to eliminate the absence of OEM body coatings in its portfolio. A more ambitious purpose is to create a global car coatings business which would integrate car body coatings, both OEM and refinish, with coatings for car interiors and for components both inside and outside the vehicle.
There are also a number of global-operating medium-sized specialists, such as Peter Lacke, Hiddenhausen, Mackiewicz, Hamburg, Karl Woerwag, Stuttgart, and growing number of SME niche operators in Europe.
Some players, such as BASF and Covestro have the advantage of being both producers of higher-end plastics and of coatings and their materials. This puts them in a position to develop coatings which match the properties of their substrates, particularly in regard to surface adhesion.
Demand for metal coatings for auto components, such as for underhood parts, will grow by a 3.8 to 4 percent compound annual growth rate in 2016- 2021, according to a study published by Irfab, part of the consultancy PRA World. This compares with an Irfad prediction of an average growth of 3.2 percent CAGR for all auto coatings in the same period.
Plastic coatings demand for interior car components should be increasing even more strongly by value because of a recent trend to replace metals with plastics. By 2020 automobiles are expected to contain an average of 350 kilograms of plastics, an increase of 75 percent since 2014, according to figures from IHS Markit.
But Irfab believes that the growth in plastics coatings may be slowed by the technological difficulties facing their producers. The reformulation of plastics to meet the needs of new designs in cars, particularly in their engine sections, is necessitating higher heat and chemical resistance and other properties in their coatings.
Among new complications are “the need for lower curing temperatures to avoid deformation of composites and plastics and new coatings that seamlessly paint over plastic and metal substrates,” says a recent Irfab study on Global Industrial Coatings Markets.
In the longer term even greater challenges lie ahead for producers of materials and their coatings coming from an acceleration in demand for electric vehicles (EVs) or hybrids powered by the combination of gasoline and electricity.
An acceleration in demand for these automobiles is expected by the European car industry following announcements bv the French and UK governments to phase out diesel and gasoline cars by or from 2040. National, regional and city governments are also introduding stricter controls on air pollutants from diesel and gasoline cars, boosting sales of car using clean fuels.
While auto makers in Europe are speeding up plans for the launch of EV models, they are also doing a lot of development work on autonomous cars. Both types of vehicle require lightweight and low cost materials and, especially with autonomous autos, even more comfort in passenger area.
Woerwag has introduced a special haptic coating which keeps the inside of the car as quiet as possible. The coating eliminates 10-15 percent of noises in the vehicle’s interior, according to the company.
Some coatings producers have been introducing into car passenger interiors heat management coatings which help keep surfaces cool during hot weather.
A constant challenge for producers of car interior coatings is to develop not only high performing products particularly in meeting requirements like temperature and corrosion resistance but also in helping to lower process costs.
Car manufacturers increasingly want coatings which dry quickly, can be cured rapidly and generally do not hamper progress to faster production rates. One option is greater use of in-mould technologies.