CpK Interior Products is Researching the Use of Graphene to Protect Vehicle Interiors From Extreme Hot & Cold
As the automotive landscape is changing with the introduction of new technology, many future vehicles will likely be connected, autonomous, electrified and shared. Personal vehicle ownership may also decline, as new mobility options make it easier for people to get around without owning a car.
However, future shared vehicles or robotaxis will also be subjected to a lot more wear and tear from continued use, so researchers and Tier 1 automotive suppliers are working on ways to make vehicle interiors more durable.
One such company is Ontario-based CpK Interior Products Inc. The company, founded in 2010, is a producer of vehicle interior materials and is a supplier of a variety of interior components to the auto industry, including instrument panels, doors, and consoles.
CpK Interior Products is owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and currently produces interior parts for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). CpK's products include the instrument panels, door panels, and console assemblies for the Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger & Challenger, as well as consoles for Chrysler Pacifica minivan. The Canadian company also has an engineering center in Troy, Michigan to better serve Detroit's automakers. The company's instrument panels and interior door panels have won multiple J.D. Power awards.
CpK was also recognized with a FCA Supplier Recognition Award 2017 for its interior parts used for the Chrysler Pacifica minivan, which is being used by Alphabet's (formally Google) self-driving unit Waymo for its fleet of autonomous robotaxis.
"Shared mobility is pushing towards high-grade interiors that are easy to clean with high scuff and mar properties. CpK is working on specialty resins to address these needs. Currently we are developing zero odor, low VOC resins with high tactile surface behavior," said Dr Greg Farrar, Head of research & development at Cpk Interior Products.
CpK's products are found throughout the interior of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan and other FCA vehicles.
The company specializes in developing light-weight, advanced composites for the next-generation of automotive Interiors. CpK's casted moulded-in-color products provide a premium appearance along with a number of other advantages including materials that offer a haptic feel. These types of high-tech materials are normally found in luxury vehicle interiors.
A vehicle's plastic and vinyl interiors are generally made by processes such as injection molding where the materials are created by injecting them into a mold. Interior parts are also manufactured using a process called slush molding, which is used to make hollow vehicle interior parts, and vac-forming, where a sheet of plastic is heated and stretched over a mold by a vacuum.
Another common technique is called foam-in-place. This process is when isocyanates are injected with a polyol to produce a layer of polyurethane between the surface and hard substrate to achieve desired haptics/touch and feel, the company said. The foam-in-place process is typically used to create vehicle instrument panels and other soft touch and padded interior surfaces.
CpK says it has mastered all of these various techniques.
Graphene Infused Vehicle Interiors
However, much of the engineering research being conducted by CpK is finding ways to make vehicle interiors more durable, with new materials that better stand up to extreme hot and cold temperatures, which often results in interior panels developing cracks.
Vehicle interiors are subjected to ultraviolet (UV) damage from the sun in all temperatures, which is another challenge to address for Tier 1 companies making interior products for the auto industry.
People generally don't think much about vehicle interior materials. In contrast, car buyers are usually more interested in the interior colors available when purchasing a vehicle, not the long-term durability of interior materials and finishes.
However, the world's automakers are often judged by the fit and finish of their vehicle interiors, while consumers often equate the fit, finish and surface textures with overall vehicle quality, especially for luxury models. It's one reason that suppliers like CpK Interiors are working on ways to improve the materials that are used in vehicle interiors.
Currently, CpK is experimenting with the use of graphene, which is considered to be the world's thinnest, strongest and most conductive material of both electricity and heat. The company aims to be the premier automotive interior trim manufacturer in North America, but also one of the most innovative.
These properties of graphene are catching the attention of researchers around the world, as it has the potential to revolutionize entire industries in the fields of electricity, conductivity, EV batteries and vehicle sensors.
Graphene's main benefit for use in vehicle interiors is its ability to withstand extreme hot and cold temperatures. In extreme temperatures, dash panels generally lose their flexibility and become more rigid, which in turn makes them more prone to cracking. But the use of graphene shows promise to help prevent this from occurring.
CpK's patent-pending process incorporates graphene infused thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is used in the slush molding process to create the soft skin which is then integrated with hard plastic.
"The addition of small amounts of Graphene to TPU has demonstrated cost-performance balance by enhancing the durability and broadening extreme temperature performance," said Dr Murali Reddy, R&D Tech Specialist at CpK.
When viewed under magnification, graphene appears as a thick sheet of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb-like pattern. The material itself is exceptionally durable and strong.
When graphene is combined with injected-molded plastics and skins used in vehicle interiors it can make the components much more durable and more importantly, better resistant to extreme heat and cold.
Superior Heat Resistance
In warmer climates, the cabin temperature of a vehicle parked outside in the sun can get extremely high. At 70°F degrees Fahrenheit on a sunny day, the temperature inside a car can climb to 104° in just 30 minutes. After one hour, the interior temperature can reach 113°F. It's even worse in the summer months.
In the summer months when it's between 80° and 100°F, vehicle interior temperatures can reach 130°F and as high as 172°F in full sun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This extreme heat can damage interior materials and finishes, which can lead to cracking, fading, adhesive failures and warpage of the vehicle's dashboard covering, door panels, arm rests.
However, graphene addition to TPU shows promise in preventing these conditions, CpK says. The company says its graphene infused materials can withstand temperatures from -76°F to 248°F (-60 to 120 degC).
In addition to being able to withstand extreme heat and cold temperatures, interior surfaces need to be aesthetically pleasing.
The finish of interior parts, especially the plastic parts fitted in and around the cockpit, reflect both the perceived and the actual quality of the vehicle. In addition, both visual and haptic (tactile), interior coatings must fulfill a number of functional requirements.
These include scratch resistance, as well as being impervious to products such as cosmetics and cleaning agents, which frequently come into contact with vehicle interior surfaces, such as switches, buttons and dials.
CpK's R&D teams are currently working on new material formulation and commercialization, as well as developing completely new products and processes that are not available in the market today, the company said.
CpK's graphene infused thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) are used in its WaveChem branded carbon products.
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