For launching a broad line of emerging products and technologies that provide significant value additions to customers' businesses, Propex Fabrics, Inc. is presented with the 2004 Frost & Sullivan Product Innovation Award.
Propex Fabrics has used its keen understanding of end-user requirements in the plastics industry to launch revolutionary technologies such as Curv(R) self-reinforced polypropylene.
Curv(R) self-reinforced plastics (SRPs), based on the groundbreaking and patented hot compaction technology, are an innovative line of single polymer composites that effectively bridge the gap between normal plastics and the glass fibre-reinforced plastics (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 best placed to lead this market sector - especially with its favourable cost structure that enables it to offer the most competitive prices in the market.
Curv(R) 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(R) 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(R) / expanded PP (EPP) foam laminates can be produced without adhesives during the compression cycle where the foam automatically bonds to the Curv(R) sheets. Applications for this product include architectural panels, automotive components and insulation. In Curv(R) / PP honeycomb laminates, the Curv(R) sheets are bonded to honeycomb using any of a variety of adhesives. Tailored CURV(R) Apart from these 100 per cent PP laminates, the technology can be extended to a product range which Propex Fabrics refer to as 'tailored Curv(R)'.
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(R) 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."