When Bayer MaterialScience launched its Aura resin infusion technology three years ago, the company positioned the technology as a way to custom color pre-molded or -extruded thermoplastic parts. Users simply dip finished parts in a dye-containing solution that infuses color a few mils into the part surface. But it turns out that Aura can do more than enable mass color customization.
At the recent NPE Show in Chicago, the technology's inventor, Robert Pyles, revealed that the company will soon offer functional surface treatments based on the Aura process. "We started with dyes in part because they were the easiest to put in our solution," he says. That solution swells the parts, opening up temporary "pores” on the surface and allowing the dyes in the solution to infiltrate the part. The Aura process finishes by closing those pores, locking in the color.
Pyles says a similar approach can also be used with a wide variety of performance additives, including UV stabilizers, friction reducers, flame retardants, conductive substances, hydrophobic agents, and more. "Almost any property you can instill with a performance additive, you can instill with Aura," Pyles says. Aura can also work with a wide variety of plastics too, including rigid materials like polycarbonate and flexible ones like thermoplastic urethanes.
The big difference between traditional additives and Aura will be cost. Additives in the plastic compound used to mold or extrude parts all the way through the part's cross-section. If the goal is attaining a surface property, much of the expensive additive goes to waste within the part. Aura, by contrast, puts the functional treatment just where it's needed--near the surface of the part.
The first of the functional treatments involves UV stability. Pyles says the first of these products could be ready to go by the middle of next year and could replace heavily stabilized injection molding compounds or two-layer extruded structures--a UV-resistant capstock over an unprotected thermoplastic. "We're in the middle of our weatherometer testing right now," he says. Other types of functional treatments will follow as Bayer scientists develop them. The trick, says Pyles, is to makes the additives soluble in the the Aura solution.
Pyles believes that some users will ultimately pick Aura for non-cosmetic, strictly functional applications. Others will try to combine functional treatments and cosmetics on the same part surface. Still other users will continue to pick Aura primarily for it color abilities. Bayer currently has five licensees for its color technology.
One recent development on the color front is the ability to achieve color gradients on the parts--even small ones such as cell phone housings. Aura has also achieved metallized looks when applied to polyurethane clear coats. At NPE, Bayer showed an aftermarket automotive wheel with a shiny gold surface courtesy of Aura.
For more information visit Bayer MaterialScience and Aura.