Archive for August, 2011

Natural Fiber Application in the Mercedes-Benz

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Why are natural fiber substrates used in the Mercedes-Benz?
An important step towards higher performance applications was achieved with the door panels of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and in the new M-Class and the R-Class. The wood fiber materials previously used for the door panels were replaced by a plant fiber-reinforced mat material embedded in an epoxy resin matrix.

What weight reduction was achieved by Mercedes-Benz?
Although natural fiber substrates could have been as a weight savings of up to 30%, a remarkable weight reduction of about 20% was achieved in the Mercedes.
What about the molding capabilities of the natural fiber door panels? Natural fiber substrates could be molded in complicated 3-dimentional shapes, thus making it more suitable for door trim panels than the previously used materials.

How strong are natural fiber substrates?
Although there are many considerations that go into selecting a material for any given application, from the infrastructure side, stiffness is a major design objective. Natural fiber substrates provide mechanical properties; in particular, the required stiffness and strength are important for passenger protection in the event of an accident.

Is natural fiber readily available for automotive applications?
Natural fiber, with its good availability and a comparatively low price, are increasingly cultivated specifically for industrial application. In the past where mainly by-products of the textile industry were used, primarily because of their low price, natural fibers are now increasingly used.

Why FlexForm Technologies?
Because FlexForm Technologies natural fiber substrates can meet even the most demanding performance specification as required by the Mercedes for the door panels in the new M-Class and the R-Class.

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.


The Comeback of Natural Fiber Material in the Automotive Industry

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Why the comeback in natural fiber material in the automotive industry?
Natural fiber, otherwise known as plant fiber, had almost been completely replaced by its synthetic counterparts for the last 30 years, however natural fiber material is regaining ground in automotive applications.

Why a renewed interest in natural fiber?
Natural fiber is a renewable material. The use of renewable material has gathered much momentum throughout the nineties and in the last decade. One of the major reasons for this renewed growth is in an increased awareness in being more “green”. This can be heard as protection of resources, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and recycling.

First of all, what is natural / plant fiber material?
Natural fibers or plant fiber and are seen in several categories: bast, leaf, seed, fruit and wood fibers. Bast fibers are flax, hemp, jute, kenaf, and Rami, Leaf fibers are agaves (e.g., sisal, curaua – originating from the Brazilian Amazon), and banana. Seeds fibers are the commonly known cotton, and kapok (the fruit of a kapok tree). An example of a fruit fiber would be coconut. Wood fibers are obvious being pinewood and such. Natural fibers are now increasingly obtained from plants cultivated specifically for industrial application fibers.

What can a natural fiber substrate for an automotive application consist of?
There are many natural fiber materials that can be used for automotive applications. For the automotive industry the use of kenaf, hemp, flax, sisal, jute blended with thermoplastic polymers, such as polypropylene and polyester can be used. These elements combined make an excellent application for automotive seat backs, headliners, door panels, package trays, pillars, and the list goes on to a broad range of products.

The renewed interest in natural fiber substrates in the automotive industry is due to the development of compounds based on renewable resources. Plant fibers are more flexible, better for recycling processes, lighter-weight, and more sound absorbent and low price. Improved technical properties justify the use of these high-grade materials even they were at a higher price.

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.


Natural Fiber Composites a substitute for glass fiber?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Why is there a renewed interest in the natural fiber composites, especially as a substitute for fiberglass in automotive applications?

First of all, what are natural fiber composites? Natural fiber composites (NFC) are formulated from a blend of natural fibers such as kenaf, hemp, flax, jute and sisal and thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene and polyesters.

What are fiberglass composites? Glass-fiber reinforced polymer (GRFP) composites, commonly referred to as fiberglass, are long or short glass fibers reinforced with a resin such as polypropylene and are involved in a direct injection molding process, giving them an average glass level from 20-60%.

How are they both used in the automotive/transportation industry? They are used in the automotive industry as a composite material for seat backs, arm rests, door panels, sunshades, package trays, headliners, pillar covers and trunk truck applications, just to name a few.
Why the renewed interest in natural fiber composites over fiberglass in the automotive industry? The renewed interest in natural fiber composites are emerging as a viable alternative to glass-fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composites for many reasons. Natural fiber composites can be 25%-30% stronger than glass fiber for the same weight and can deliver the same performance for lower weight. In automotive parts, bio composites made from natural fibers reduce the mass of the component and can lower the total energy consumed in producing this material by 80%. Unlike man-made glass fiber, eco-friendly natural fiber composites are seen as a solution to growing environmental threats but also as an answer to the uncertainty of the petroleum supply.

Why does manufacturing prefer natural fiber composites? From a manufacturing standpoint, car manufacturers find that the molding process for natural fiber composites consumes less energy than that of fiberglass and produces less wear and tear on machinery, cutting production costs by up to 30%.
How are natural fiber composites “safer” for the vehicle passenger than fiberglass? Compared to glass fiber, natural fiber composites exhibit a favorable no brittle fracture on impact, which is an important requirement for use in the compartment of passenger transport.

How are natural fiber composites “quieter” in a vehicle than fiberglass? Natural fiber composite material has better sound absorption than fiberglass.

How are natural fiber composites more eco-friendly than fiberglass? Natural fiber cultivation depends mainly on solar energy. On the other hand, glass production and glass fiber production are both energy intensive processes depending mainly on fossil fuels. Glass fiber production requires 5-10 times more non-renewable energy than natural fiber production; as a result the pollutant emissions from glass fiber production are significantly higher than from natural fiber production. Natural fiber composites offer realistic opportunities for recovery and reuse of the trim.

The renewed interest in natural fiber composites is because they are an excellent alternative as a glass fiber substitute in automotive industries. The advantages of natural fibers over synthetic or man-made fibers such as glass and carbon are its low cost, low density, acceptable specific strength properties, consumption of less energy, manufacturability, and sound absorption properties, and it being an eco-friendly and biodegradable product.

Natural fiber composites are the substrate of choice in vehicles in the United States. As a total solutions provider, FlexForm Technologies can provide its customers with composite formulation and design, as well as product development. FlexForm Technologies is a North American leader in natural fiber composites.
For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.
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GM eliminating a spare time?

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

On May 23, 2011, General Motors announced they are eliminating the spare tire in their new compact car, the Chevrolet Cruze, to delivery better fuel economy. The elimination of the spare tire will result in a reduction of 26 pounds off the vehicle’s weight, and will improve the vehicles miles per gallon (mpg). Reducing vehicle weigh, by eliminating items, is one way for auto manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency; another is by substituting lighter weight material for existing heavier material. FlexForm Technologies offers a lighter weight alternative, a natural fiber reinforced composite that is ideal for many vehicle applications.

Natural fiber composites are composed of bast natural fibers and fiberized thermal plastic polymer and can be used in vehicles in place of today’s more commonly used glass fiber-reinforced plastics (GRP) or wood flour reinforced plastics. Using a natural fiber composite material in a vehicle is not a new concept; seatbacks, door panels, package trays, side and back walls, rear deck trays, pillars, door bolsters, center consoles, trunk trim, load floors and headliners are just some of the products made from natural fiber.

Plastics currently make up 10% of a vehicle, and some of these plastics have heavy fillers such as glass fibers for added strength. Glass fibers and wood are typical ingredients associated with automotive plastics. An alternative to wood or glass fiber is a natural fiber. A natural fiber reinforced plastic is showing up to a 30% weight reduction, and 25% stronger on average than a wood fiber reinforced thermoplastics. In terms of being a lighter weight alone, natural fiber composite would provide a more fuel efficient alternative.

To obtain better fuel economy in its new vehicle GM eliminated the weight of a spare tire. Using lighter weight material in a vehicle will eliminate some overall vehicle weight and aid in the fuel economy. A natural fiber substrate material is a strong example of an alternative material that is not only lighter and leading to better fuel economy, but cost effective, stronger and more durable, has better sound absorbency than the current heavier existing fiber.

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.
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Better Fuel Economy

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Pop Quiz: What was the average price of a gallon of gas over Memorial Weekend?

According to ABC News, the cost was $3.79. Seriously! Now, I know I may be dating myself, but I remember when I could easily fill up a tank of gas on a mid-sized Sedan for well under $20. No matter what your household income, I think $3.79 is a bit tough to swallow for a regular family. Throw in a bad economy and high unemployment rates, and it’s no wonder people are traveling less and opting for “staycations” instead of good old family road trips across the country.

Unfortunately, the average consumer can’t control the cost of gas. But what we can often control is the type of vehicle we drive and the amount of gas that vehicle will consume by purchasing a more fuel efficient car. And that’s where FlexForm Technologies can help car manufacturers improve their vehicles to attract more conscientious buyers – by decreasing gross vehicle weight and therefore increasing gas mileage.

Plastics currently make up 10% of a vehicle, and some of these plastics have heavy fillers such as glass fibers for added strength. Glass fibers and wood are typical ingredients associated with automotive plastics. An alternative to wood or glass fiber is a natural fiber. A natural fiber reinforced plastic is showing up to a 30% weight reduction, and is 25% stronger on average than a wood fiber reinforced thermoplastics. Using a natural fiber composite material in a vehicle is not a new concept; seatbacks, door panels, package trays, side and back walls, rear deck trays, pillars, door bolsters, center consoles, trunk trim, load floors and headliners are just some of the products made from natural fiber.

On May 23, 2011, General Motors announced that they are eliminating the spare tire in their new compact car, the Chevrolet Cruze, to deliver better fuel economy. The elimination of the spare tire will result in a reduction of 26 pounds off the vehicles weight, and will improve the vehicles miles per gallon (mpg). Reducing vehicle weight by eliminating items is one way for auto manufacturers to improve fuel efficiency; another is by substituting lighter weight material for existing heavier material. Using lighter weight material in a vehicle will eliminate some overall vehicle weight and aid in the fuel economy. FlexForm Technologies offers a lighter weight alternative, a natural fiber reinforced composite that is ideal for many vehicle applications, which can assist in further reducing the weight of a vehicle therefore increasing gas mileage.

A natural fiber composite substrate material is a strong example of an alternative material that’s light, cost effective, strong, more durable, and has better sound absorbency than the current heavier existing fiber – and it’s a green option as well. And if I could go green and get more out of my $3.79 a gallon, that’s the option I’d be looking at as a car buyer.

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.
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New Blog!

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Welcome to Natural Fiber Composite  (NFC) Material for the automotive/transportation industry.  Our material is made from sustainable resources; a combination of natural fibers such as kenaf, tossa, hemp, flax, jute, and sisal blended with thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene and polyester.  Our current automotive applications include door panels, consoles, headliners, inserts, package trays, pillars, seat backs, trunk liners, etc.

Our product is highly attractive for automotive industry.  It is lighter weight that other materials(wood stock), more environmentally friendly (than glass fiber), acoustically better at sound dampening, recyclable, and grown naturally!  As you can see, a natural fiber composite material assists a vehicle to be more environmentally friendly.

My name is Carol Young and I am a sales professional a FlexForm.   I welcome you to share your comments, ideas and ask any questions you may have on this blog.  Please feel free to offer any additional information on this subject.  Be sure to also check out our company website at www.flexformtech.com for additional information on our company, products and contact information.


Going to GreenBuild 2011!

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I am excited to start planning my GreenBuild 2011 trip.  The yearly conference of sustainable technology is being held in Toronto.  I love it when they have these conferences within driving distance.  This conference is not free, so a lot of planning has to go into setting up your schedule.  There are two buildings of exhibitors.  There will be a lot of walking.

I am excited to see BASF’s space.  Last year, they included FlexForm material in their booth.  I am looking forward to learning more about Fiberweb.  They are a large company doing non-woven fabrics.  The Fiberweb Geosynthetics will be exhibiting.  Another interesting exhibitor is Greenfiber.  They make green insulation products.  These include a product with Borate added for a fire-retardent.  Nova Advanced Composites Solutions, or NACSI, is a company making composite insulation panels using jute fibers.

These are just a few highlights of my growing schedule.  It will be a wonderful opportunity to network in the green manufacturing economy.


Interview with Lori-Jo Graham of the Alberta Biomaterials Diversity Centre.

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

I am thrilled to say that I have an interview with Lori-Jo Graham to share with you.  She is the Lead of Business Development for the Alberta Biomaterials Development Centre.  The ABDC is one of the largest and most comprehensive biofiber development programs in the world.  FlexForm Technologies is very interested in what ABDC is up to, as we are a natural fiber composite manufacturer.  Lori-Jo is a delightful person, always full of enthusiasm and energy.  She took some time out of her day to answer a few questions for me.

 

Could you describe your role with ABDC?  How did you become involved with this group?

As ABDC Lead of Business Development, I facilitate innovative business arrangements; promote Alberta’s agriculture and forestry bioresources; and strengthen businesses, producers and organizations with new ventures in the bioeconomy. I was asked to perform a Green Building Opportunity Assessment and I became intrigued about all the opportunities that the bioeconomy has to offer – insulation, building systems, automotive, paper, panels, sustainable landscaping and erosion control and beyond. I was a member of the team that created the ABDC.

 

What is your favorite part of your job?

Transformation. You begin with companies, hearing their ideas and kernels of plans for high performance, sustainable products using hemp, flax, cereal straw, wood, canola oil or other biomaterials. You work with them to create focus; put pieces of the puzzle together – connect them to the funds, technical experts, producers, market contacts and forge business relations that will best help them turn their concepts into reality. Then you get those phone calls, the ones that say “our research trials performed so much better than anyone expected”, “we got the big contract” or “manufacturing facilities are opening this spring”.

 

What is the most exciting thing that ABDC is working on right now?
We recently commissioned a biofibre decortication line, a Van Dommele system – the largest non-continuous fibre processing system operating in North America. It gives us the capacity to perform product research and development on a pilot to pre-commercial scale. We have other pieces of equipment coming on line soon, including pulping equipment and a bleach tower, that will enhance our technical capacity. Coupling this with our business expertise, it makes ABDC one of the world leaders in biomaterial product development and commercialization.

 

How do researchers, manufacturers and growers of natural fiber interact within the structures of ABDC?

ABDC provides an integration of services through its partner organizations Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures, Sustainable Resources Development and Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Together the three organizations connect businesses with scientists, engineers, business expertise, manufacturers and producer networks to catalyze the biomaterials economy. You can access us though our website at http://www.albertabiomaterials.com/ or contact me directly at lori-jo.graham@gov.ab.ca.

What is up next?  What do you see happening in the near future with ABDC?
In collaboration with partners, we are driving a multitude of game changing projects and processes including: establishing several fibre specific (cereal, bast, post-industrial paper) chains linking producers, manufacturers and markets leading to Alberta biomaterial manufacturing facilities; advancements and technology installations that will see Alberta becoming a leader in nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC); a biocomposite program that is redefining product profiles such as replacing fibreglass in a number of applications in automotive and industrial markets and interesting developments in textiles, yes, textiles in Alberta. We are offering test rides on Alberta hemp biocomposite long boards, too!.


What is the ELV?

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

What is the ELV?

The European Union’s end-of-life of vehicles (ELV) is a directive requiring that, by 2015, all new vehicles should be 95% recyclable.  

Why did the ELV come into play?

In Europe, every year, end of life vehicles generate between 8 and 9 million tons of waste in their community which they believe should be managed correctly.  (This legislation was officially adopted by the EP and Council in September 2000 and was published in Official Journal L269 on the 21st of October.)

What is the ELV directive?

In 1997, the European Commission adopted a Proposal for a Directive which aims at making vehicle dismantling and recycling more environmentally friendly, sets clear quantified targets for reuse, recycling and recovery of vehicles and their components and pushes producers to manufacture new vehicles also with a view to their recyclability.

How do NFRPs play a role in the European end-of-life (ELV) directive for recyclability?

Natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs) are recyclable.  Recyclability of an automotive component makes it a preferred choice in Europe, for the European end-of-life of vehicles (ELV) directive.  

What are natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs)?

Natural fiber composites (NFC) are formulated from a blend of natural fibers, such as kenaf, flax, jute, sisal and hemp, and thermoplastic polymers such as polypropylene (PP) and polyesters.  Blending the natural fiber composite (NFC) together with the thermoplastic polymer, they become known as natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs).

Where can you find NFRPs in the automotive/ transportation industry?

Natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs) are composite substrates used in automobile seat backs, door panels, arm rests, sunshades, package trays, headliners, pillar covers, and trunk trim applications, to name a few applications.

How do NFRPs help with fuel efficiency?

European and the U.S. automotive makers are pursuing natural fiber composites for their lower weight.  Faced with pressures to produce fuel-efficient, low polluting vehicles, the industry has used fiber reinforced plastic composites (fiber glass) to make its products lighter.  NFRPs are up to 30% lighter compare to their glass fiber reinforced plastic (GRP) counterparts.

Where is the European Automotive market getting their natural fiber?

The European (NFRP) market is largely flax-driven though.   The crop is very “green”; grown with minimal use of chemicals or pesticides, and produces good fibers.  It is an increasingly industrial product and there are growers who can deliver fibers of consistent quality in the required volumes.

Jute grows well in Europe and is one of the several agricultural crops that have particularly fibrous bast.  Because of the long, strong bast fibers, they lie somewhere between wood stock and E-glass (the most commonly used for of glass fiber) in terms of the mechanical properties, and can substitute for either!

In Europe, who has been using natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs)?

Natural fiber reinforced plastics (NFRPs) have been in production vehicles in Europe for more than a decade.   Mercedes Benz having set the precedent in 1994 by using a natural fiber (jute) reinforced plastic for interior door panels in its E-Class vehicles. 

Which U.S. supplier has provided Mercedes with natural fiber composite substrates for their door panels?

FlexForm Technologies!!!

How can I reach FlexForm Technologies?

For further information regarding the use of natural fiber in a vehicle, visit www.FlexFormTech.com to learn about molding the future with natural fiber composites.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Customer Focus: KI Has Been Green From The Start.

Monday, August 8th, 2011

KI—KI is a world class furniture manufacturer based in Green Bay, WI.  They consistently win design awards for their products from educational seating to health care products.  They have a long history of sustainable construction in their product lines.  They were walking the green walk long before it became a popular marketing tool. “KI has been using recycled content in its furniture manufacturing process since the introduction of its first product in 1941.” As stated in a press release found here: http://www.ki.com/about/asseeninDetail.aspx?ar=465

FlexForm Technologies is proud to count KI among our customers.  We are featured in the tackable option for their Genius Wall System.  This innovative wall system can be seen in the picture below.

Architectural Wall

KI's Genius Wall in action at the Kansas City City Hall.