Volume 37, Issue 2, February 2002
In Some Applications Plastics are Moving in as a Glass Substitute
by Peter Afif
Although attendance at the K 2001 Plastics Exposition was down compared to recent years due to the unfortunate events of September 11, the show was still a success as attendees viewed the latest developments in plastics.
Approximately 230,000 visitors from more than 100 countries came together to view the latest developments in machinery and application of this versatile high-tech material. This year’s exposition, held October 25 to November 1 in Dusseldorf, Germany, featured 2,885 exhibitors from 53 countries and covered an area of 1,440,000 square feet. In fact, organizers say that exhibitor numbers actually increased by 232 companies from the K 98 exposition.
“In light of the current worldwide political and economic situation, we are very pleased with the results,” said Karlheinz Wismer, president and chief executive officer of Messe Dusseldorf, organizer of K 2001. “While visitor numbers were about 12 percent lower than at K 98, no one with whom I spoke was disappointed. Exhibitors were impressed with the trade visitor’s professional caliber, the large number of international guests and the unexpected high eagerness to invest.”
One side of this plastic is coated, while the other is uncoated and vulnerable to scratches.
A New Age
“Just as the history of mankind has seen the Stone, Iron and Bronze Age, the 20th century marked the dawn of the Plastics Age,” said Dr. Wolfgang Sutterlin, chairman of the K 2001 exposition in his opening address. “Plastics, which are manmade materials, are having an ever-greater impact on the way we live. They are the building blocks of civilization”.
Plastic Sheet Introduced
The K 2001 exposition marked the first public introduction of plastic sheet that is almost as hard as glass and can withstand more than 100 cycles of scratching with steel wool. (See photo above, which shows the results of a plastic sheet coated and uncoated. Note the uncoated section is readily scratched, while the coated side is still transparent.)
This development is the result of a cooperation between the Fraunhofer-Institute for Silicate Research, which deals with the industrial application of inorganic and hybrid lamination, and Kunststoff Helmbrechts (KH). Security applications based on the inherent strength of polycarbonate have been in use for many years but the drawback was always its inherent scratch softness. Now in light of September 11, the use of polycarbonate sheet with this special coating is expected to grow exponentially for security applications.
The scratch-resistant varnish is made from silicium-organic starting compounds and is applied to display windows using a spray procedure and then hardened in an ultraviolet oven. Developing and testing has been taking place for more than two years, and KH expects to increase production to more than 100,000 windows during the next six months.
Another interesting development featured for the first time is a plastic substitute for glass, AronX, a new styrene-based material that was developed to mimic glass but form safe pieces that would not cause injury when broken. The initial use is for “break-glass” emergency equipment, such as fire alarms, equipment enclosures, key boxes, etc.
GE introduced a new type of tranparent plastic material, SOLLX™.
Additionally, GE Structural Products Europe introduced a new type of transparent plastic material (SOLLX™) as a substitute for glass. SOLLX is one-third the weight of glass and provides five key benefits for exterior and interior aesthetic components. These include good weatherability, color retention and color stability (even after ten years’ accelerated outdoor weathering), chemical resistance, abrasion resistance and gloss levels exceeding those of polycarbonate and most paint systems.
Using standard vacuum forming equipment SOLLX can be readily formed into the most intricate of shapes. As an example of the use of this material GE Products exhibited the AERO-GE concept of an all-weather bicycle, which features a fully transparent top that is light in weight, scratch resistant and includes properties that could not be achieved in glass.
The next K exposition will be held October 20 to 27, 2004, in Dusseldorf. For those interested in seeking the latest developments in application of plastics as a replacement for glass it will surely be an event not to be missed.
Peter Afif serves as president of the International Plastics Consultants Corp. of Stamford, Conn.
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