A new look is being taken at coating systems for vehicle seats and interiors as OEMs strive to reduce weight, increase quality and minimize waste and emissions.
One of the leaders in the field is the Netherlands-based Stahl Holdings, which has its own Center of Excellence dedicated to automotive solutions. The center deals with leather finishing, leather coloring, tanning and coatings for flexible substrates. “As the use of leather in automotive interior designs in the 70’s and 80’s became a significant trend in interior designs, Stahl was able to expand its activities into the specialty leather business for luxury interior car designs. Through its history in the field of developing custom made leather finishes and coloring systems, Stahl became a leading player in the development and marketing of coating technologies for the automotive leather market,” says the company.
Stahl’s N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) – free waterborne product solutions offer environmentally friendly alternatives to solvent-borne coatings. Polymers developed through the Center of Excellence provide excellent color and heat stability for temperature ranges up to 250°C, with best-in-class hydrolytic stability performance. Stahl’s products also provide excellent UV stability and solvent resistance, combined with good flexibility and soft-touch haptic with inherent low-squeak and low-noise performance.
In addition to the conventional Permuthane product range, Stahl offers a water-based product range called Permutex coatings and adhesives for synthetic flexible substrates. Other automotive ranges include Unires – a full range of water-based polyurethane leather finishes; Superes – water-based, high-performance urethane/acrylic hybrid leather coatings; and Camotex – a range of high performance pigments for leather coatings. Stahl’s proprietary Polymatte dulling agent technology offers improved abrasion and scratch resistance in soft-touch, low-gloss coating systems.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Huub Van Beijeren, CEO of Stahl about Stahl’s automotive business expertise with leather dye and finishes.
Van Beijeren: Stahl is the leading manufacturer of finishes for automotive leather, and is growing rapidly in the leather processing chemicals market segment as well. We supply virtually all automotive leather manufacturers worldwide. Our market position means that we are very close to both our customers and the OEMs.
AI: What are some of the new technologies Stahl is working on for the automotive sector?
Van Beijeren: Our main focus areas currently include high wear, and weight reduction. This is at the request of – and in co-operation with – our customers. Stahl offers a complete solution with a light-weight fully polyurethane based synthetic that aligns perfectly with its natural equivalent.
AI: Tell us about the role research and development plays at Stahl.
Van Beijeren: Research and development has led to Stahl resolving critical automotive issues like squeaking and soiling. We remain fully committed to keeping our R&D as strong as possible to meet ever changing and more complex requirements from the industry.
AI: Tell us about the importance of performance coatings to the automotive sector.
Van Beijeren: Stahl has been servicing the automotive market with innovative solutions for various kinds of interior instruments panel, trim and seating surfaces for more than four decades. Today, Stahl offers products for various state-of-the-art processes to cost-effectively produce a variety of automotive interior components. We work as a technology partner throughout the entire supply chain in order to stay ahead of the various technical and economical challenges.
Automotive Industries also spoke to Mike Tomkin, business director Automotive Leather Chemicals, Stahl, and asked him what he saw as Stahl’s competitive advantages in leather dyes and finishes for high-end, luxury car finishes and applications.
Tomkin: Stahl is the world’s leading leather finish supplier, and as a result attracts the best technicians from the industry for both the automotive and fashion side of the company. We can apply the latest technologies and trends, developed together with our R&D department, in cooperation with our customers to ensure first-time resolutions and quicker lead-times.
AI: Tell us a little about the environmental challenges Stahl faces in terms of developing new products for the automotive sector, and how this has resulted in new technologies.
Tomkin: Production methods, consumers and special interest groups demand efficient vehicles to reduce fuel consumption. Therefore, weight reduction is high on the agenda. Stahl works very closely with its customers and OEMs to reduce the weight of the products applied in the vehicle, without compromising on quality and durability. After all, both the OEM and Stahl have a reputation for delivering high-quality materials. At another level, Stahl has dedicated staff in the R&D department to constantly look for substitute ingredients that have a lower impact but still ensure the high quality level we strive for. In 2012, we will launch a global CSR program that is committed to supporting to the UN Global Compact Initiative.
AI: Where would you say Stahl’s strength lies as far as its automotive business is concerned?
Tomkin: Stahl is a complete supplier. We are strong in both leather and flexible substrates. Since we are a focused, mid-sized company with a global presence, we are flexible and very responsive to customers’ demands.
AI: What are some of the challenges you face in emerging economies such as Brazil, India and China in terms of product development?
Tomkin: We don’t think there are any specific challenges because of the global character of the automotive industry. We need to comply with the strictest regulations in all regions. Furthermore, we have production facilities and commercial and technical experts in those countries, so we can meet the growing market needs very quickly. We have also built our networks accordingly.