Exatec, a joint venture between Bayer MaterialScience and GE Plastics, launched ExatecÂ® 900el earlier this year, the latest addition to its line of advanced polycarbonate (PC) glazing systems for automobiles, which includes ExatecÂ® 900, ExatecÂ® 900vt. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously confirmed that the ExatecÂ® 900 PC glazing system met its prescribed requirements, thus making ExatecÂ® 900 the only PC glazing technology that can be certified for windows requisite for driver visibility, excluding the windshield, in the United States and globally.
The company had launched its first product ExatecÂ® 500 in 2003. Last year Exatec licensed its glazing system technology to the Czech Republic-based firm Cadence Innovation (formerly known as Peguform Bohemia). Cadence is developing plans to build a new PC glazing facility to manufacture its cleverGlass product based on Exatec’s glazing system technology for clear, light-weight, impact-resistant PC automotive glazing for side, rear and roof application.
In September of this year, Frost & Sullivan selected Exatec for its â€œTechnology Innovation of the Yearâ€ award for the company’s innovative work in PC glazing. According to a company press release, the success of the Exatec technology is based on its plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) process, which imparts abrasion resistance comparable to that of glass. To achieve this, several challenges had to be overcome, as CVD is conventionally a very high-temperature process. Also, despite CVD often being a batch process not conducive to large-scale commercial production lines, the company’s key breakthroughs have resulted in the rapid development of a PECVD process suitable for continuous in-line manufacturing.
“The award is a significant and independent recognition of the contribution of Exatec to enabling competitive PC glazing technology in the automotive market. Exatec technology is now recognized as the clear market leader driving a major material change from glass to polycarbonate in automotive applications,” said Clemens Kaiser, CEO of Exatec in a press release.
Besides developing new technologies to accelerate the adoption of PC automotive glazing, Exatec is collaborating with leading technology companies in the industry to incorporate the best available technologies and provide the most advanced glazing solutions to vehicle manufacturers around the world. Moreover, the complementary activities of Exatec, GE Plastics and Bayer MaterialScience are expected to lead to rapid adoption and penetration of PC glazing.
Earlier this year, at the Plastics in Automotive Engineering congress that was held in Mannheim, Germany, Exatec displayed prototype PC glazing roof panels with electroluminescent interior light-bands in various colors. According to the company, the electroluminescent light-bands are integrated directly into the panels, which also incorporate the proven ExatecÂ® 900 technology. The maximum illumination intensity conforms to legal regulations. The new technology ExatecÂ® 900el allows drivers and passengers to adjust the brightness of the interior lighting to suite their individual needs.
Automotive Industries spoke to Clemens Kaiser, CEO of Exatec, about the future of PC glazing.
AI: How big is the market for PC glazing and how will Exatec’s new technologies help grow the market?
The global automotive glazing market is one of the largest vehicle component markets that has not seen significant innovation. While glass manufacturers have taken some technological baby steps, their product is essentially unchanged for most applications for the longest time. Exatec technology for the first time offers a compelling alternative to glass, driven by new visions for styling, weight advantages and safety. We view PC glazing technology primarily as a material and technology combination that complements glass to give manufacturers new and exciting options in vehicle design. The technology also enables new approaches to module design such as lift gates and roof systems.
AI: Which OEMs have evinced an interest in your electroluminescent interior light-band technology? Please give us examples as to how this breakthrough will help automotive manufacturers.
Major OEMs as well as module manufacturers have expressed interest in Exatec’s electroluminescent technology. The technology adds another tool to OEM design department’s repertoire to improve interior vehicle design. It demonstrates the flexibility and potential of polycarbonate applications.
AI: What are some of the other technologies Exatec is working on and when are they likely to be commercially launched?
Exatec has developed defroster technology to enable backlites and lift gate modules. Since the technology passes global regulatory and OEM requirements it is likely to be adopted, along with vehicle top systems, early on. We will see first applications available around 2009.
AI: How did the glazing breakthrough come about?
In 1998 Bayer MaterialScience and GE Plastics set up Exatec as a R&D Joint Venture to develop and introduce PC Glazing Technology to global markets. The effort required to develop advanced technology is substantial. Major breakthroughs in weatherability and abrasion resistance now allow consideration of PC as a material of choice for all global applications except the front windshield. There have been many attempts over the last 2 decades by various companies to meet the challenges. We can now say that it’s done, and time for a change!
AI: What are the distinctive advantages of PC glazing for automotive designers
There are many aspects. The most important ones are the styling and design freedom of PC applications compared to glass. Design and styling sells cars. Here lies a major motivator for the use of PC. But there is also weight reduction and fuel economy, passive safety and security. A good analogy is headlamp covers which have evolved from lenses to critical design elements and, in the process, inspired and enabled other technologies to be adopted in forward lighting.
AI: Established suppliers in this area such as Pilkington have long standing relationships with OEMs. How is Exatec competing on the global stage in this area?
Exatec is not competing with established glass suppliers. As a technology development company our product is available to innovative companies who intend to move into this rapidly growing market. This includes OEM glass suppliers. Instead of being glass suppliers, companies in the future will supply glazing products regardless of material. This represents a strategically important opportunity for forward looking automotive suppliers including established glass companies. The players need to study the history of glass in forward lighting as well as material changes in vehicle interior and exterior applications. The game is changing.
AI: Exatec has Research and Development facilities in the US and Europe. Are there any plans for further expansion?
We currently have sufficient resources in place in order to continue to develop added-value components and refine our technology to make it even more competitive, reduce manufacturing cost and increase the value of applications. Since we work globally with other innovative companies our network is well established and in a position to make this material change happen and drive the market.
AI: You are working with companies utilizing the PC glazing systems like Cadence Innovations and Inalfa Roof Systems. Are these type of partnerships essential to Exatec’s strategic growth?
Strategic partnerships are very important to open up this market. We have been working with a number of companies as dedicated to building the PC Glazing market as Exatec. To offer a competent supplier network to OEMs requires both manufacturers as well as integrators to work together and fully exploit the existing potential. There will be great benefits for companies who engage early and support the move forward. Most importantly, GE Plastics and Bayer MaterialScience are working with OEMs globally to develop advanced applications using PC. Both companies have deep know-how, technologies and specific glazing materials to move the market.
AI: What other auto applications other than PC glazing do you forsee the science delivering?
PC Glazing has to be viewed different than a glass window. It is basically the transparent area of a molded part. Integration of appliquÃ©s, lighting are obvious ways to maximize the value of the molded part. There are a lot of smart people working at the OEM and Tier companies and they will certainly come up with great new ideas for PC glazing.