Interview with Petter Carlfjord – Plastic Industry, Metallization, and Cr(VI) Ban

Jul 10, 2019

We sat down with Petter Carlfjord, plastic industry expert and VP Sales at Impact Coatings, to talk about trends and production methods for metallized plastic components.

Q: What is happening with the European ban of Cr(VI) for chrome plating?

Cr(VI), or hexavalent chromium, is banned on products by the RoHS-directive since 2006. However, Cr(VI) is also an ingredient in chromium trioxide (CrO3) acid, which is imported by European companies primarily for chrome plating, one application being chrome plating on plastic. CrO3 acid is extremely toxic, carcinogenic and a major threat to workers’ health and to everybody if leaking out into the environment. Therefore CrO3 acid was identified by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) as a substance of very high concern and a ban to use CrO3 acid was set to September 21, 2017; the “Sunset date”.

After the Sunset date the European Commission can authorize the use of a substance under very strict rules for a limited period, the “Review period”, to allow the industry to develop alternative solutions. In February 2019 the European Commission set Review periods for CrO3 acid. For decorative plating on plastic for automotive applications the Review period was set 7 years from the Sunset date.

Q: What will happen after 2024, after the Review period?

The use of CrO3 acid will have to stop eventually, although parts of the plating industry will fight to the end. Some will use alternative chromium plating processes, but they are currently not as effective and typically more expensive than the Cr(VI) plating on plastic. PVD metallization is already in use as a major alternative, and there are many European companies offering production solutions. But there is a lack of urgency from the major automotive component suppliers. I believe they will need to start driving the qualification of the alternative production solutions, although the production in the end might be done by smaller sub-suppliers.

I think plastic industry companies today who invest in metallization of plastic should be very cautious not to invest in the dying technology.

Q: Moving to PVD metallization for plastic, what are the manufacturing trends?

The automotive industry is the biggest user of metallized plastic components, and as for all production processes in automotive, automation is the key. Traditionally PVD has been a manual production method and many, even most, PVD equipment types are not suitable for automation. This is changing, and Impact Coatings is one of the companies that early identified the potential of PVD equipment that could be automated and integrated in continuous production.

I think plastic industry companies today who invest in metallization of plastic should be very cautious not to invest in the dying technology.

There are two trends when it comes to PVD metallization lines. One is large automated production lines that are separated from other steps in the manufacturing flow, including the injection molding of the plastic component. The other, which Impact Coatings represents, are small integrated production lines, which include the injection molding, the PVD metallization, as well as other production steps in the same line. I would say both types have their advantages.

The large lines can be optimized for high volumes and high productivity, and therefore suit big manufacturers. They are also typically used for larger automotive components, like the front grills and various external trim parts. The size of the lines require a lot of space and the investment is typically substantial.

The biggest advantage of the small integrated lines, where you integrate molding, metallization and other steps, is quality control. As there are only minutes between the molding and the finished metallized part, you get immediate quality feedback of the whole process. As an example Impact Coatings’ INLINECOATER™ systems are used for a number of decorative automotive parts with zero yield loss. The space required for a production cell is small, initial investment is limited, and the production solution can easily be scaled when volumes and projects increase.

Q: What trends do you see for metallized parts for automotive?

Due to its light weight plastic is of course here to stay, and so is metallized plastic. Large displays with buttons on the dashboards might reduce the number of interior parts. On the other hand the metallized plastic parts tend to become more and more complex, e.g. semi-transparent day/night design and parts manufactured using multiple molding steps. New safety functions also require new components, often plastic parts with special functional metal coatings.

An example of the increased complexity is a ”simple” emblem on a modern car. The typical steps to manufacture it are: injection molding, print, PVD metallization, second injection molding, and welding. First imagine doing this in separated productions steps, maybe at separate manufacturers, and with manual handling. Imagine the number of quality issues that can be induced. Now, consider doing it in an automated production cell with all the steps integrated, and the possibility to adjust the processes based on the finished part after only minutes. This is the vision of plastic industry customers working with Impact Coatings.

Q: Finally Petter, where can people see you this year?

I will of course be at K 2019 in Düsseldorf in October, although not with a booth this time, and hope to talk to as many of the European colleagues as possible. We also visit a lot of companies around Europe, as well as in Asia and North America, and many companies come to Sweden to see us. So contact us for a meeting.

Thank you Petter for sitting down with us to discuss this interesting topic.

If you want to get in touch with Petter to learn more about Impact Coatings’ solutions, or to book an appointment with Petter at upcoming trade fairs – send us a message!