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EconCore at NPE2018: Continuous thermoplastic honeycomb core production

Thermoplastic honeycomb core production technology provider EconCore will unveil its latest successes at NPE2018, running from May 7 to 11 in Orlando, FL. The Belgian company, which licenses its ThermHex technology around the world for production of polypropylene (PP) honeycombs and sandwich materials, will also provide information on an elaboration of its process capabilities that enables production of honeycombs in high performance thermoplastics. A further development enables the integrated production of what it terms organosandwich — honeycomb cores with continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic skins.

Door insert based on natural fiber composite faced honeycomb sandwich panel. Over 50% weight saver compared to conventional solutions. (Photo: © 2018 EconCore)

After the substantial footprint that EconCore technology established in the automotive industry in Europe and Asia recently, Fynotej, a manufacturer based in Mexico City already well-known for its high-quality automotive non-wovens and industrial carpets, is EconCore's first North American licensee to focus on automotive applications. Several interior parts made from its products will debut on the EconCore booth.

Fynotej went into production earlier this year with a range of honeycomb sandwiches for automotive interiors, including the trunk space. These products, PP honeycomb boards branded Fynocore, have a PP honeycomb core with skins – thermally bonded in-line – in either solid PP sheet or also including a non-woven surface finish, combining low weight with high performance and esthetics.

"Fynocore products combine our expertise and experience in non-wovens with EconCore's ThermHex honeycomb technology," says Daniel Kalach, VP of Manufacturing at Fynotej. "They fit very well with automotive market trends: they are recyclable, moisture inert, conversion is clean and fast, parts are high in performance but low in weight, and, most of all, costs are competitive. We are excited to be able to offer these innovative products to our customers throughout North America."

Tomasz Czarnecki, COO at EconCore, says the successful start-up of the Fynotej production line is a significant step forward for lightweight thermoplastics honeycomb composites in the North American automotive sector. "It is one of the latest additions to our network of licensees, which now spans Europe, Asia and North America, covering applications not only in automotive, but – depending on the evolutions, potentially also in commercial transportation, building and construction, reusable industrial packaging and more," he says.

Czarnecki goes on to highlight the success of another EconCore licensee in North America, Wabash National Corp., the region's leading producer of semi-trailer and truck bodies. "The combination of thermoplastic honeycomb core with metal skins is another example of the versatility of the EconCore technology. The light-weighting efforts of Wabash National fit well into the market trends. The transportation and logistics markets, with regards to fuel efficiency regulations but also in view of pure cost savings targeted by fleet managers, are asking for a change."

PP and BeyondHigh performance thermoplastic honeycomb cores for advanced applications. (Photo: © 2018 EconCore)

EconCore is now further exploiting the versatility of the ThermHex technology. It has broadened its focus to high-performance thermoplastic (HPT) honeycomb core materials and sandwich panels. "The high speed continuous technology has been proven to be a logical fit for high-volume applications using commodity thermoplastics," says Czarnecki. "Now we are extending its capabilities to produce honeycomb cores in engineering plastics, including modified polycarbonate, polyamide 66, polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) and others."

EconCore has already successfully produced and tested honeycombs in several HPTs at its recently-refurbished R&D facilities in Leuven, Belgium. It will present latest developments in these materials at NPE2018.

HPT honeycombs will build on the intrinsic benefits of lightweight honeycomb structures, adding improved heat resistance (useful for such products as housings for electric vehicle batteries) and very good flame resistance (critical for building panels). EconCore is also working with materials modified for FST (flame, smoke, toxicity) compliance in railway and aerospace applications. It sees substantial potential in photovoltaic (PV) panels and numerous other products too.

EconCore is readying a variant of the ThermHex technology for production of PP honeycomb cores thermally bonded between skins of PP reinforced with continuous glass fibers. These organosandwich materials offer an outstanding ratio of stiffness to weight and can be converted into final parts – also in-line if desired – using such quick and efficient processes as thermoforming and over-molding. Compared to more conventional composite and metal-based solutions, they offer superior light-weighting potential and important cost benefits.

How ThermHex works

EconCore's patented technology uses a series of in-line, high-speed, operations to produce honeycomb structures from a single continuous thermoplastic sheet. It involves a sequence of thermoforming, folding and bonding operations, using sheet that can be produced in-line or taken from a roll. ThermHex technology has the potential to work with a wide range of thermoplastic polymers to create honeycombs, whose cell size, density and thickness can be altered with simple hardware and/or process parameter adjustments. The process allows for inline bonding of solid skins to one or both sides of the honeycomb, to create an extremely cost-effective finished composite panel.

ThermHex cores are around 80% lighter than solid thermoplastic cores in use today, in such products as metal skinned- panels for transportation and building applications. The lightweight cores also have positive implications for product handling, raw material inventory, outbound logistics, and installation.

About EconCore

EconCore, based in Leuven, Belgium, provides technology for the continuous production of honeycomb sandwich materials. The unique ability to produce rigid but lightweight panels within a cost-efficient, integrated high-volume production process is licensed by several companies over the world. The fast, versatile, continuous thermoplastic honeycomb production process allows users to produce sandwich materials for various applications including automotive, transportation, building and construction, industrial packaging/graphical displays, furniture and many others at minimal cost, weight and environmental impact.

» Publication Date: 17/04/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [605658].

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