Warren, Mich. — Toolmaker and processor Proper Group International Inc. is continuing to advance the use of lightweight automotive components through its partnership with German machinery maker Krauss-Maffei Corp.

At a Sept. 25 technology event, the two companies showed off an injection molding work cell using Krauss-Maffei's FiberForm process, which combines the thermoforming of composite sheets and injection molding in one step, resulting in fiber-reinforced plastic components that are lightweight yet maintain a high level of strength.

Throughout the event, Krauss-Maffei's 450-metric-ton GXW injection molding machine was producing center console armrests using the FiberForm process. Proper built the mold and worked on the product design and development.

"FiberForm … is a technology that Germany has been working on for quite a long time, and it's just now getting into production in the marketplace," said Paul Caprio, president of the Florence, K.y.-based North American operations for Munich's KraussMaffei Group GmbH.

"The advantage of having Proper build a mold is our North American customers do not have to go to Europe for a mold because typically the new technology starts in Europe and, therefore, all the partners are in Europe and that makes it harder for the North Americans," Caprio said during an interview at the event. "Having Proper in the mix helps to bring it local so we can actually show-and-tell."

The two companies began the partnership in 2010 when Krauss-Maffei moved its polyurethane tooling operations from Novi, Mich., to Proper's site in Warren.

Caprio estimated Krauss-Maffei has invested "millions and millions of dollars" into the FiberForm technology.

"Even for Proper to build a mold without a customer, most mold makers in this country would not even have thought about that," he said of the partner's commitment.

Krauss-Maffei's 450-metric-ton GXW injection molding machine produces center console armrest using the machinery maker's FiberForm process.

Visitors to the Krauss-Maffei exhibit at NPE2018 this past May in Orlando, Fla., were able to get an early look at the armrest project, which began in March 2016 and included technology partners such as German specialty chemicals firm Lanxess AG, hot runner systems maker HRSflow, and data management and tool tracking software provider ToolStats.

"We wanted to come up with an innovative product that fit the floor space [Krauss-Maffei] had at the Orlando show and also drive a few unique technologies and megatrends that we see in automotive and consumer products," Michael Tabbert, Proper's director of engineering, said during a technical presentation. "We actually ended up choosing an armrest because of its size and because there's some correlation between other automotive interior products like seatbacks, floor panel and battery trays."

Benchmarking data was based off the center console armrest used in the 2014 Ford F-150 pickup truck, Tabbert said.

The original armrest had an inner substrate made from ABS, a component in the center with a foam pad that had to be applied by hand, and a separate tool and thermoplastic vulcanizate (TPV) component that had to be hand-wrapped to complete the assembly, he explained.

"We took the armrest out, and we looked at ways that we could lightweight and improve the strength of this product and also eliminated components," Tabbert said, adding that his team removed a bunch of ribs and replaced the ABS with polypropylene for improved cost savings.

"We weighed all the components. We evaluated the resin types," he continued. "We quoted these tools as if we were to build them here in the U.S., and this was important to us for getting to the end here and telling you what the actual savings are for production."

The finished part is made from a glass fiber organo sheet with a polypropylene base resin as well as a high-flow, tactile, soft-shot TPV resin with improved scratch resistance and simulated leather feel.

The use of a composite sheet material enabled a 200 percent improvement in strength, a 15 percent reduction in overall weight and an 18 percent reduction in cost over the previous OEM version, the company said.

"It kind of helps us because of [Krauss-Maffei's] 'European mothership,'" Tabbert said of Proper's machinery partner. "We are first in line to understand the trends in the industry and working with a partner that has European ties helps us be the first to introduce this stuff in North America."

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