Injection molding process offers cost savings for interior soft skins

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Kraton Corporation, a US producer of specialty polymers and bio-based products derived from pine wood pulping co-products, has announced the first use of its IMSS (Injection Molded Soft Skin) technology in an automotive application. The interior of the Buick GL6, a joint project between Chinese firm SAIC and GM, features the material for its interior trims.

IMSS utilizes the company’s ultra-high flow thermoplastic elastomers, belonging to the hydrogenated styrenic block copolymers (HSBC) family. Unlike traditional PVC soft skins, HSBC-based soft skins allow injection molding of large, thin-walled parts, such as instrument panel skins, Kraton explains. It notes that they provide lower odor, fogging and VOCs coupled with better aging, subsequently improved safety performance, and lower specific gravity. Furthermore, they contain no added plasticizer, phthalates, or cross-linking agents.

In a statement, the SAIC-GM Pan Asia Technical Automotive Center said, “SAIC-GM has been committed to the application of innovative materials technology to provide consumers with a more comfortable and environmentally friendly driving experience. Compared with traditional PVC skin, IMSS can further improve the interior environment and reduce odor and VOC concentration in the passengers’ compartment. Being the first company in the world to apply this technology underscores the importance SAIC-GM places on the consumer experience.”

Kraton highlights that the production of instrument panel soft skin with an injection molding process can help automotive interior manufacturers avoid the commonly used but high-cost, labor-intensive and energy-consuming slush molding process. It claims the time needed for making an IMSS skin by injection molding can be as low as one-fifth of that required for making a PVC soft skin of similar size by the slush process.

Bas Hennissen, Kraton’s commercial VP of its specialties business, said, “It’s a growing trend in the auto industry to introduce soft surfaces replacing hard plastic interiors. Kraton IMSS technology offers considerable cost and performance advantages over the existing soft skin technologies, with a better sustainability profile. It is exciting to see the successful application of IMSS technology mass-produced in the GL6 project. Now proven in the marketplace, we feel there will be more car models manufactured with IMSS technology.”

The IMSS compound used to manufacture the Buick GL6 instrument panel soft skin is supplied by Dawn New Material in China. This compound was developed by Dawn, working in cooperation with Kraton as a technology transfer licensee of the IMSS technology. Kraton has also established technology licenses with several other premier compounders worldwide to make this technology available to all automobile manufacturers.

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he is responsible for content across UKI Media & Events' portfolio of websites while also writing for the company's print titles.

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