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Propex Fabrics has received the 2004 Frost & Sullivan Award for product innovation in the composites industry for Curv self-reinforced polypropylene.
The award is for “providing a significant value additions to customers’ businesses”.
Curv self-reinforced plastics (SRPs), based on the patented hot compaction technology, are an innovative line of single polymer composites that effectively bridge the gap between standard plastics and the glass fibre-reinforced polymers (GRP) product category. SRPs have the toughness of regular plastics with levels of rigidity normally associated with certain grades of GRP whilst at the same time being up to 50 per cent lighter than the latter.
“”SRPs have outstanding impact resistance and can be easily recycled,”” says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Dr. Brian Balmer. “”Their recyclability makes them particularly interesting to the automotive industry, which must meet tough recycling targets in the EU.””
Propex Fabrics is one of the three suppliers in the European market to invest in SRPs. As the company is fully integrated into the production of raw materials (as a former member of the BP group), it is well placed to be a leader in this market sector.
Curv can service a wide range of applications including the automotive industry, industrial cladding, building and construction, cold temperature applications, audio products, personal protective equipment and sports goods. The product is also being tested for numerous other applications such as under-body panels, roof lining and flooring for low volume cars, anti-riot protection and luggage.
When combined with other materials, Curv can be used as an enabling material for new composites and applications. There are two main applications – foam and honeycomb laminates – that maintain as well as extend the concept of a 100 per cent polypropylene (PP) composite product.
Curv/expanded PP (EPP) foam laminates can be produced without adhesives during the compression cycle where the foam automatically bonds to the Curv sheets. Applications for this product include architectural panels, automotive components and insulation. In Curv/PP honeycomb laminates, the Curv sheets are bonded to honeycomb using any of a variety of adhesives.
Apart from these 100 per cent PP laminates, the technology can also be extended to a product range which Propex Fabrics refer to as ‘tailored Curv’. The flexibility as well as the tolerance controls in the continuous hot compaction process enable the incorporation of other materials, offering specific performance characteristics. By hot-compacting materials like aluminium, glass, aramides, carbon fibre and even GRPs together with the Curv substrates, one can create a totally new range of thermoplastic composites meeting a wide range of cost and performance targets.
“”Over the last three years, Propex Fabrics has led by example by investing significantly in SRP product and technology development that is necessary to break through into full-scale commercialisation,”” notes Dr. Balmer. “”Propex Fabrics is now well placed to capitalise on the growing interest in self-reinforced plastics.””
Propex Fabrics also applied Curv as part of a 2 year research and development project, called RECYCLE, supported by the EPSRC and DTI, under the LINK Foresight Vehicle Programme, administered by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
This project investigated the processing, joining and finishing technologies required to produce automotive parts from self-reinforced polypropylene and evaluated their recyclability and sustainability. The project culminated in the development of a prototype lotus front access panel for the Lotus Elise, which resulted in a panel 57% lighter than the current production part.
In 2002, Propex Fabrics started up the first commercial plant for the Curv self-reinforced PP composite at the site of Propex Fabrics GmbH in Gronau, Germany. Curv is produced in a fully integrated operation from tape extrusion and weaving through to final composite sheet production. There is also a technical centre, which includes a wide range of facilities for continued product development.
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