September 21, 1998

4 Min Read
Plastics pace product development

Wolfgang Sutterlin has directed the European activities of the Plastics Business Group since its reorganization on April 1, 1995. He began his career with Bayer AG in 1957 when he entered the company's Chemical Sales Organization in Stuttgart. In 1972, Sutterlin moved to company headquarters in Leverkusen as Director of Sales for Makrolon Polycarbonate in the Plastics and Coatings Division. Since then he has held positions as Director of Product Management for Makrolon worldwide, General Manager of Specialty Products, and Director of Amorphic Thermoplastics. Sutterlin is presently a member of the General Management and Management Committee of Bayer's Plastics Business Group.

In addition to breakthrough products, Sutterlin forsees a continuous improvement in the overall properties of existing materials.

Design News: Judging from Chrysler Corporation's all-plastic concept car, unveiled at the most recent Frankfurt Auto Show, the automobile industry remains a growth market for engineered plastics. Where is there more room for plastics and elastomers in today's new cars?

Sutterlin: The amount of plastics being used in cars is set to grow even faster. The overriding aim is to optimize weight and improve the comfort and functionality of our vehicles, and the best way of doing this is to use plastics. This is why we are convinced that greater use will be made, for example, of the specialty thermoplastics that are currently under development for the exterior bodywork, and that glass will be increasingly substituted by scratchproof coated polycarbonate. As far as plastic glazing is concerned, Bayer and GE--the two biggest polycarbonate manufacturers in the world--have set up a joint development and production company under the name Exatec. New polyamide applications in the engine compartment and hybrid structural components are further examples of potential growth areas in the use of plastics.

Q: With the coming century, what industries will emerge as the new growth markets for engineering-grade plastics?

A: The present growth markets will also continue to provide the growth for engineering plastics in the future. Basically, these are the: 1) automotive industry, with materials for the bodywork and for hybrid structural components; 2) construction industry with twin-wall sheets of PC as an energy-saving system; and 3) microtechnologies and the communications industry with, for example, CDs, CD-ROMs, and DVDs.

Q: What families of engineered plastics presently exhibit the highest rates of innovation?

A: In our view, engineering thermoplastics as a whole still harbor plenty of scope for the development of new and innovative solutions. Poly-amides, for example, will play a major role in the realization of the hybrid concept, i.e., plastics in combination with steel. New applications will emerge for which no all-plastic solutions existed until recently. In particular, however, polyamides and polycarbonates have yielded a number of interesting and innovative applications. Good examples are the substitution of aluminum by polyamide in car intake manifolds using a lost core or multi-shell technology, and the production of car headlamp lenses of polycarbonate as a replacement for glass.

Q: How does Bayer help product design engineers fathom the company's long list of engineering resins and their many areas of application?

A: For Bayer, the design engineers are a very important target group, because they are major decision-makers regarding design and materials. We support this group through intensive consultation, and by providing specific publications on new technologies and applications involving Bayer's products. To help with material selection, all the modern communication media are available, such as data on the Internet, CDs and databases such as CAMUPU(reg) and RALPH. Apart from this, Bayer also has a dense technical service network, with specialists based both in the Leverkusen headquarters and elsewhere. We regularly offer training courses about our products and applications. Generally speaking, Bayer's philosophy is to work proactively in development teams comprising our own engineers, systems suppliers and OEMs, thereby contributing our expertise and know-how on materials, design and processing for the development of new components and modules.

Q: What are some of the major trends within the plastics industry product design engineers should be aware of when initiating new projects?

A: A thorough knowledge of everything to do with plastics design, including all the possible processing techniques and technologies, will continue to be a basic precondition for intelligent, inexpensive solutions. It is therefore essential for designers to constantly watch the new plastics technologies so as not to miss the boat. Typical examples of these new plastics technologies include: hybrid, multiple shell/lost core, and thinnest- wall technologies; and in-mold decoration, gas injection, and integrated design; as well as in-mold assembly and two-shot molding.

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