Automobile manufacturers are shifting to soft-touch thermoplastic elastomers. These provide a luxurious feel and a fine appearance to numerous interior car structures. Instrument panel skins, door trim, seat backs, handles, arm rests, knobs and airbag doors are some of the applications of these elastomers. The harder plastics or rubber are replaced by soft-touch elastomers.
Soft-touch thermoplastic elastomers are developed as alternatives to PVC for numerous interior automotive applications, such as arm rests, instrument panels, and steering wheels. As opposed to PVC, elastomer uses less fogging tendencies, and less scratch visibility, and greater weatherability and low-temperature ductility. Injection molding grades are the common TPE for vehicle interiors, but bulge and blow molding grades are available too. Textures of the thermoplastic elastomers can resemble leather.
TPEs are used in the covers of airbags. Their popularity is not just because of their aesthetics and soft-touch feel, but also their flexibility at low temperatures and resistance to UVs.
These are also put to use for providing a soft lining for carpets in automotive passenger compartments.
Instrument panel skins formulated from slush-molded TPUs and spray-on polyurethane formulations are edging out PVC skins, though TPE skins are also in competition with PVC in this application. The slush-molded TPU skins last longer and do not fade as much as the PVC skins.
Though PVC instrument panel skins should be painted separately, the spray-on PUR technology permits the application of the color on an instrument panel skin directly in the mold. Spray-on systems developers are of the opinion that this not just saves an extra processing step but brings about improved grain definition in the painted surfaces.
Coated fabrics for the sides and backs of the seats are made with PVC, but PUR-coated fabrics are also making their presence felt. Since they are significantly more expensive than PVC, the PUR systems are used mostly for leather trim applications.
TPVs are posing a challenge to PVC and other TPEs in over-molded or monolithic soft-touch parts for example grips, knobs, and storage bins. In these applications, TPVs, typically fine dispersions of highly crosslinked rubbers in polyolefin matrices, are less probable than PVC for bringing about fogging; they are also comparatively inexpensive to the TPEs like SEBS polymers.
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