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01 Dec 2015 - 30 Nov 2017 Technology

Fibre in Surface

Inclusion of fibers in plasticized materials for visible use on automotive interior surfaces

FibreInSurface is a project promoted by TMG Automotive, in partnership with Fibrenamics ,the International Platform at the University of Minho, and with the incentive of Compete 2020, whose objective is to include natural fibers in flexible materials for visible and tactile surfaces of the automobile interior, respecting the challenge of meeting the demanding specifications associated with this application area.

Innovation for sustainability
Nowadays, there is an increasing use of materials from renewable sources. At a time when the circular economy is on the agenda, the concerns of different manufacturers revolve around sustainability. An example of this is, according to Luís Silva, from TMG Automotive, the BMW i3, where natural fibers are used as decorative elements, in addition to their more conventional use as reinforcement in structural materials. However, until now, only natural fibers were found in rigid materials.

Innovation
Based on this assumption, and since TMG Automotive is dedicated to coating automotive interior surfaces with flexible materials, “the need arose to explore their inclusion in our products. Thus, and given the company's strategy of increasing involvement with Universities, with its departments and spin-offs, it was natural to approach Fibrenamics, since it has experience in the compatibility of fibers and their adaptation to the polymeric matrices used internally, thus allowing the development of products with a strong orientation towards the standards used in the automotive interior and suitable for the transformation processes” says Luís Silva.
The Fibrenamics Platform at the University of Minho, using fibrous materials as DNA, highlighted its role in transferring this existing knowledge to TMG Automotive. According to Fernando Cunha, Fibrenamics researcher responsible for the project, the main objective was the development of surfaces with the inclusion of some species of natural fibers, focusing on the transfer of knowledge to develop the necessary treatments for natural fibers and study their compatibility with polymeric matrices.
TMG Automotive, on its side, had the role of transmitting the critical requirements that the products must fulfill in order to be used in the automotive interior, depending on their final processing and application, as well as the promotion to strategic customers. “We also share knowledge in relation to the most suitable polymeric formulations to be used as a matrix and their internal processing to obtain the product”, stresses Luís Silva.

Results
Within the scope of this project, interesting results were obtained with regard to the inclusion of natural fibers in polymeric materials, which can be segmented at different levels: on the one hand, with regard to the treatments to be carried out on natural fibers so that they can be used in production processes; on the other hand, with regard to the results obtained in the processing of polymeric materials reinforced with this type of fibrous materials of natural origin. “In both aspects, the results were equally interesting. We are currently able to use the results obtained in the project, that is, the use of natural fibers on flexible surfaces together with car manufacturers”, assures Fernando Cunha. However, according to TMG Automotive, there is still some work to be done until complete industrialization, namely through process technology. “TMG will continue to work on these materials until a viable solution is reached with the ultimate goal of incorporating them in cars, namely in electric cars, where the concept of sustainability is more present”, guarantees Luís Silva.
FibreInSurface allowed an interesting exchange of experiences and knowledge between the two entities involved. In this context, Fibrenamics’ assets consisted in the sharing and acquisition of knowledge in transport and, especially, in the requirements imposed by car manufacturers. In addition, the opportunity to validate and materialize the technologies and knowledge developed by Fibrenamics in the industrial sector, through the development of products with added value, is an important added value for the Platform. Finally, to highlight the opportunity that the Fibrenamics team had in sharing experiences and knowledge with a reference company in the automotive sector.
For Fernando Cunha, “this type of projects where the transfer of knowledge to the industry is the main objective is an asset because it allows the sharing of mutual and multidisciplinary knowledge between the work teams. On the one hand, the sharing of knowledge within the scope of natural fibers and their incorporation into plastic materials, by Fibrenamics, and on the other hand, the knowledge shared by TMG from the point of view of market trends”.
From TMG Automotive's point of view, Fibrenamics played an essential role in researching the state of the art, as well as in the preparation of preliminary studies and in contact with fiber suppliers, since, according to Luís Silva, he has a lot of knowledge in this area, both in terms of scientific publications and in terms of contacts within the network. This was an important project for TMG Automotive to obtain small prototypes that were used to present at Open Days to strategic customers, since they “facilitate the discussion of this subject, enabling a better perception of their interest in this type of products helping to define the next steps,” says Luís Silva.

Datasheet
FibreInSurface is a project promoted by TMG Automotive, in partnership with Fibrenamics - University of Minho and with the incentive of Compete 2020.

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