Suppliers of polymer materials are coming under increasing pressure from OEMs and Tier 1 companies to provide more recycled polymers or, to avoid an excessive reduction in properties, with blends that include a significant percentage of recycled material.
Many of the polymers are obtained from post-industrial secondary raw materials. The availability of “post-consumer” products to date is still very limited. The supply of polymers of biological origin, from renewable sources, is increasing significantly even if, for grades for engineering use, it mainly addresses specific sectors where the most important aspect is related to the existence of high intrinsic properties. RadiciGroup has considerable experience in offering PIR materials, sold for years under the HERAMID brand, also for the automotive sector, where material certification is required and where consistent quality in supply is a key factor. In 2018, all 23 group production sites across the world completed the transition to the new ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015 quality management systems and environmental management systems, respectively. As for very high-performance polymers, RadiciGroup recently introduced Radilon® NeXTreme, a polyamide material capable of withstanding long-term exposure to high temperatures. “Radilon® NeXTreme was initially developed for automotive applications, for which it is well suited, as it features exceptional heat ageing resistance in air at 230°C,” says Erico Spini, global marketing manager of RadiciGroup High Performance Polymers. Two grades of Radilon® NeXTreme are offered for the automotive sector: 35% glass-fiber reinforced (RV350HHR 3800 BK) and 50% glass-fiber filled (RV500HHR 3800 BK). Typical applications for these materials are air intake system components requiring considerable heat resistance.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Spini, why the group calls itself “glocal”, and what this means to OEMs and Tiers around the world.
Spini: RadiciGroup’s mission is to serve its customers anywhere in the world and, possibly, to help them achieve the quality standards required of global companies. For us, this means guaranteeing the same performance for the same material, wherever it is produced. However, in each area, we are also structured to design materials tailored to customers’ specific local needs.
AI: Where do you see the future for bio-sourced materials?
Spini: RadiciGroup has been, and is active, in offering PA610- based materials through the Radilon D brand. About 64% of these materials are from bio-source suppliers. The renewable part comes from the processing of castor oil seeds, grown in arid areas that cannot be used for crops suitable for human consumption. Current applications can be found in special applications where properties such as better chemical resistance, greater resistance to hydrolysis and lower moisture absorption are required and very high when compared to PA6 and PA66 nylons. For PA610 we are targeting niche applications where prices are relatively high. For renewable materials, I see some interest where they are not offered at a significantly higher price level than fossil alternatives. Government or industry incentives could perhaps change the scenario in the future. For polymers of biological origin, which can come from different sources, it will also be necessary to carefully assess the sustainability in terms of the competition for agricultural land between crops for human consumption and those for bio materials.
AI: How does this support the automotive sector?
Spini: The automotive sector is increasingly active in the search for materials with lower environmental impact and/or from renewable sources. In this sector, however, the pressure to reduce component costs is very high. At present the relative price of bio-sourced polymeric materials is relatively higher compared to those produced from hydrocarbons.
AI: How is the RadiciGroup supporting the introduction of electric vehicles?
Spini: Electric mobility, after years of announcements, is becoming a reality. We, as polymer manufacturers, are preparing for the new challenges ahead. We already have concrete applications where materials such as Radiflam are required, designed for the electrical sector, which guarantee better behavior in the event of fire. We talk about plugs and sockets for recharging vehicles, inverter components, battery covers and more. For thermal management we have a range of special materials with superior chemical and hydrolysis resistance (Radilon® RG based on PA66, D based on PA610 and DT based on PA612, Aestus based on PPA and Raditeck® based on PPS). Other solutions are already available depending on the level of electrification of the vehicle. Our R&D is focused on researching innovative materials for e-mobility, including thermal conductive materials, orange colored connector materials exposed to high electrical voltages and high temperatures, multifunctional materials (e.g. flame retardant and hydrolysis resistant), etc. For us e-mobility is a challenge in the development of innovative and reliable materials but we like to consider it above all as an opportunity.
AI: In which countries do you have a presence?
Spini: RadiciGroup High Performance Polymers has a global presence in all the most strategic areas (Asia, NA, SA, EU) with production facilities, R&D and a widespread sales network. Marketing and development activities are also managed on a global level with teams present in each area to follow the most interesting markets and applications and to define strategies for the future.
AI: What is next for the RadiciGroup in the automotive sector?
Spini: We are trying to respond to new needs with proposals that are technically feasible, sustainable in terms of their environmental impact but also economically viable. In some cases, we try to anticipate the new needs of the car industry by talking to the designers, proposing new solutions with a particular eye towards lightweighting that for the electric car is perhaps even more important than for the car with internal combustion engine.