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Through The Looking Glass...

“While glass manufacturers have taken some technological baby steps, their product is essentially unchanged for most applications for the longest time” – Clemens Kaiser, CEO of Exatec.

Carmakers are currently demanding more of glass suppliers than ever before, as designers are adding increasing amount of glass to their vehicles to buck the status quo of conventional design and styling. The trend is towards complex shapes to add vehicle styling, such as curved, higher and wider windscreens.

As the use of glass increases, value added products are becoming more important to the Automotive market, including solar, control properties, embedded electronics, de-icing and de-misting capabilities, integrated rain sensors, coatings for improved visibility are just some of the demands and features required by global OEM’S seeking competitive advantages.

EXATEC, one of the Worlds leading Companies in pc glazing, is meeting the new demands. The company was founded in 1998 as a 50:50 joint venture of Bayer MaterialScience and GE Plastics.

Specializing and dedicated to the development of polycarbonate glazing technologies aimed at the automotive market. EXATEC has been operating since early 2000, having established facilities in Detroit, Michigan; US, R&D centers just outside Cologne, Germany; Europe and has developed pc windows for major Automotive OEM projects such as Honda, Porsche, Hyundai, Nissan and Renault.

In September of this year, Frost & Sullivan selected EXATEC for its “Technology Innovation of the Year” award for the company’s work in PC glazing. EXATEC technology is based on its plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) process, which imparts abrasion resistance comparable to that of glass. EXATEC developed 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.

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, EXATEC unveiled 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 EXATEC® 900 technology. The maximum illumination intensity conforms to legal regulations. The new technology EXATEC® 900el allows drivers and passengers to adjust the brightness of the interior lighting to suite their individual needs.

Automotive Industries spoke to Kaiser 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?

Kaiser: 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. 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.

AI: Which OEMs have shown an interest in your electroluminescent interior light-band technology?

Kaiser: 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?

Kaiser: EXATEC has developed defroster technology to enable backlights 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?

Kaiser: 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.

AI: What are the distinctive advantages of PC glazing for automotive designers and manufacturers over conventional glass?

Kaiser: 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 have long-standing relationships with OEMs. How is EXATEC competing against them?

Kaiser: 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: You are working with companies utilizing the PC glazing systems such as Cadence Innovations and Inalfa Roof Systems. How have these partnerships benefited EXATEC?

Kaiser: 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 auto applications other than PC glazing do you see?

Kaiser: PC Glazing has to be viewed different than a glass window. It is basically the transparent area of a molded part. Integration of appliqués, 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.

The EXATEC product range

EXATEC launched its first product – EXATEC® 500- in 2003 and more recently introduced the most advanced polycarbonate glazing system –EXATEC® 900, 900VT AND 900EL – the benchmark for the Automotive Industry.
EXATEC’s technology solutions, in particular EXATEC® 900 AND EXATEC® 900vt, addresses a growing demand in the automotive market for innovative glazing e.g. panoramic roof systems or new solutions for backlights and lift gates.

ISO9001 certified and in 2005 the US Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (HTSA) has approved EXATEC® 900 systems for all non-windscreen glazing. This opens the way for worldwide acceptance for the technology. The latest EXATEC offering; EXATEC® 900vt, is being used by Inalfa roof Systems to make a new generation of polycarbonate automotive roof systems. EXATEC® 900vt eliminates the need for wet coating on A-B and the required abrasion resistance is achieved by plasma coating applications, maintaining the weatherability of EXATEC® 900.

EXATEC® 900vt improves optical appearance by eliminating “picture framing.” EXATEC® 900el, Exatec’s most recent product allows drivers and passengers to adjust the brightness of the interior lighting to suite their individual needs. The technology provides an electroluminescent light band which is integrated by a special process directly into the perimeter of the transparent polycarbonate roof.

EXATEC offers a complete turnkey solution from part design through molding, added functionality, 3D printing and decoration technologies to plasma enhanced CVD, hardcoats, including traditional and latest innovative bonding and assembly technologies.

EXATEC licenses its technology to Tier1 polycarbonate glazing system suppliers. The glazing systems technology platform – delivers sustained performance, reliability and quality. Properties of the EXATEC® 900 series include:

– Glass-like abrasion
– Wiper capability
– Extended weathering
– Scratch resistance
– Bonding surface
– UV Protection
– Long term adhesion
– Images and fade out
– Defroster and antenna
– Decoration (color selection)
– Regulatory part marking

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