Automotive plastic coatings for a durable, touchable interior
Plastics are being used more and more in the automotive industry to make vehicles safer and more efficient. The average vehicle today is 8% plastic parts by weight, and given that plastic can be up to 50% lighter than alternative materials this represents a high number of plastic parts. Coatings provide these plastic parts with decorative effects, protection, a soft touch, durability, easy-to-clean qualities, and more, depending on the needs of the substrate. Automotive plastic coatings give a vehicle interior its “feel”, affecting the character and quality of the drive experience, and so automotive companies invest in getting the perfect interior coating.
In this article we will look at the range of OEM automotive plastic coatings and their benefits, as well as the manufacturers and companies that supply the industry.
The benefits of automotive plastic coatings
Much of the automotive coating industry is based on paints for metal substrates, but many of the interior elements of a vehicle are either coated plastic or use a plastic coating for cars. While the exterior of a car may sell based on a combination of looks and performance, the interior is sold on “feel”- comfort, noise level, aesthetic appeal, ergonomics, durability, and touch which all affect the comfort and choice of a potential purchaser. The benefits of plastic coatings go beyond feeling good, they are also:
- Eco-friendly: By using plastic parts, automotive manufacturers are decreasing the overall weight of the vehicle. This increases the fuel efficiency of the vehicle, but also reduced consumption at manufacture. Plastic coatings are lightweight, low VOC, and low odour, adding to the eco-friendliness of using plastic as an alternative.
- Abrasion resistant: Vehicle interiors need to be durable and scratch resistant, and automotive plastic coating for cars is used to provide these qualities to a substrate and keep them looking shop-new for as long as possible.
- Chemical resistant: Sunscreen, bug spray, oils, cleaners, all of these substances come into contact with vehicle coatings everyday. Whether arm rests, mirrors, radio bezels, or steering wheels, without the proper coating chemical substances can cause plastic to stain, discolour, wear, or even bubble.
- Weather and thermal cycling resistant: Though automotive interiors may not be directly exposed to UV radiation, weathering resistance is still an important aspect of automotive plastic coatings. They need to prevent damage from all the hours of sunlight a car might face in its lifetime, as well as the thermal cycling damage from dealing with temperatures from deepest winter to high summer heat.
- Aesthetically varied: Naturally, looks are important. Plastic coatings need to match colours to their surrounds, heighten gloss and colour depth, as well as providing different aesthetic effects like matt, pearlescent, metallic, and high gloss.
The different application processes for automotive plastic coatings
Not all the plastic elements of a car interior are made from the same plastic. The dashboard may be PVC, the door handle EPDM, while other parts may be another plastic type, and each substrate may have different requirements in terms of preparation or paint formulation. In response to this, there are different coatings and coating processes for different plastic substrates.
Paints and processes – from polyurethane to in-mould coatings
Polyurethanes are a big part of interior plastic coatings. They come in 1K or 2K systems (though 2K is far more common), as well as water- and solvent-based varieties. As well as polyurethanes, acrylics are traditionally used. Paints are typically applied in layers, with some variation on a primer/basecoat/topcoat combination.
As with the paint varieties, there are different application methods too. Brush, dip, flow, spray, vacuum metallising, and in-mould formed coatings are just a few of the methods. In-mould coatings involve spraying the inside of a mould with the coating before filling it with plastic and forming the entire part as one piece, coating and all.
Energy-curable coatings are another growth area, where UV radiation or visible light is used to cure a coating rather than thermal or evaporative curing. This removes the potential damage to a substrate from heat.
The appeal of a soft touch – haptic coatings
“Haptic” means related to the sense of touch and, while it may not be something you often think about, how something feels is an important factor in purchase-making. A plasticky-feeling door handle, a hard armrest – these influence the perception of quality in vehicle interiors. A key area in automotive plastic coatings is making vehicles feel as good as they look. These soft touch coatings are made of polyurethanes, and provide a surface that is soft, warm, smooth, and pleasant to the touch.
Plastic coating for cars: manufacturers and companies in the UK
If you are looking for automotive plastic coatings for interiors in the UK then you are in luck: Manufacturers like AkzoNobel (through SCHRAMM Coatings), Axalta (DuPont) and Carrs Coating Limited operate in the country, and for application needs companies like Applied Coating Technologies and FM Coatings Limited have a base here. For more information, or if you have a project that needs automotive plastic coatings, get in touch! Our experts are here to help and, in cooperation with our coating partners, we can connect you with a coating solution. Simply take advantage of our 100% free quote service by clicking the “Request a quote” button below.