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New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

Kazuhiro YOSHIDA* Kazuto YAMAUCHI* Shinji KONDO** Naoko KOBAYASHI** Hiroshi SAKAGUCHI** Toshikazu KANBE** * ** **

Mitsubishi Motors Corporation (MMC) has been researching decoration materials and techniques for improving customer satisfaction. MMC developed the Simultaneous In-Mold Decoration and Design Transfer Systems (IMD-TR), with part suppliers in order to decorate ornament panels. IMD-TR allows sophisticated designs using a gravure film, and actual metal is vaporized and adhered on the film to give the plastic panels a metallic appearance. Since this technique decorates the panels during the injection molding process, it reduces not only production costs but also chemical solvents discharged from the plant. This paper describes IMD-TR taking the aluminum hairline decorations in the new PAJERO as an example. Key words: Comfort, Surface Treatment, Quality

1. Introduction
In the development process of the new PAJERO, we conducted extensive benchmark search involving not only automotive parts but also home appliances. Based on the results, we set the following target with the underlying concept of achieving a high-quality appearance: Add table-knife-like metallic accents to the interior to create a sporty and muscular feel (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

2. Selection of decoration technique

Normally, an aluminum plate is assembled on a plastic molding. However, aluminum costs for its processing, and holds heat, which is disadvantageous as a material for automotive interiors. We therefore decided to decorate plastic moldings to create a realistic appearance of aluminum. To select the best decoration technique, we examined some actual aluminum ornaments. 2.1 Attributes for realistic aluminum appearance Attributes for a realistic aluminum appearance and their contributions to the effect are shown in Table 1. 2.2 Comparison of candidate techniques Candidate techniques were selected and compared in terms of color, gloss and hairlines. The results are shown in Table 2. 2.3 Final selection of decoration technique The studies concluded to choose IMD-TR. It offers realistic brightness by metal deposition, expression of the uneven metallic surface by film transfer process, and fine hairlines by gravure printing.
* Interior Design Dept., Development Engineering Office

A table-knife selected as the target for realistic decoration

With the IMD process, a film on which the design has been printed is inserted into the mold. The mold is then closed and molten resin is injected into the mold to perform the molding and decoration in one process. Among various IMD techniques, IMD-TR is an unique technique that transfers the printed design from the film to the molded part. 3.1 Injection molding The injection process of IMD-TR is shown in Fig. 2. The design is transferred to the component during injection molding. During the process, the film, fed into the mold, is clamped as shown in Fig. 2. After injection of molten resin, the mold is opened and the film is rolled down from the filmroll mounted on the mold. In the meantime, position sensors installed on the injection molding machine control the film position. To prevent the film from moving during the molding process, it is clamped to the cavity block. It is then sucked onto
** Material Engineering Dept., Development Engineering Office ** Nissha Printing Co., Ltd. **

** Design Promotion Dept., Design Office *


New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

Table 1

Attributes for realistic aluminum appearance

Attribute Contribution to the effect (on a scale of 100) Hairline 15 10 70 0 5 0 IMD-P (film insertion method) Technique

Table 2

Comparison of candidate techniques

Color Gloss Low gloss Physical hairline available by film surface processing p p Adjustable gloss Adjustable gloss by painting Hairline Denseness Clear image due to low film stretching rate u Impossible Film dislocation during g transfer, causing hairline to twist



Radius Color and gloss Hardness

Realistic surface IMD-TR design by vacuum (film transfer method) metal deposition Painting Hydraulic pressure transfer p Vivid expression g Reproducible only by printing Reproducible only by printing


Coldness Smoothness

Low reproducibility Film dislocation during due to limited number g molding, causing of film types hairline to twist

Fig. 2

IMD-TR molding process

the mold by an applied vacuum to prevent air bubbles from the injecting resin. When the film is set at the correct position, molten resin is injected into the mold. Due to the heat of the resin, the ink on the film transfers to the resin. When the component has cooled, the mold is opened. The film, which is still sucked onto the mold, separates from the component. On the film, only the printed design where it came into contact with the component is peeled off (Fig. 3 and Fig. 4). 3.2 Gravure printing With IMD-TR, the design is printed on the film using gravure printing method. The printing plate has dents (cells) on its surface, into which ink is deposited, and the ink is then transferred to the film. The printing plate is normally a plated metal for long life. The ink layer on the film is thicker than that of relief or planographic printing, making the print more impressive. Moreover, gradation, or delicate expression, can be achieved by adjusting the cell depth of the printing plate. The gravure printing press we employed is a rotary press for continuous printing. Cells are arranged on a cylindrical printing plate. Ink in the pan is picked up and

transported by the printing plate towards the film. Most of the ink is scraped off by a doctor, and the remaining ink in the cells is transferred onto the film, which is running between the printing plate and the impression cylinder. This process is repeated to print the film. Fig. 5 shows a schematic drawing of the unit. 3.3 Color adjustment In gravure printing, the design is expressed with multi-color layers. Each layer is thicker than that of relief or planographic printing, but is only approximately 1 2 m. The surface color is the product of intricate concealing and mixing of the layers and therefore color matching is a complicate work. After adjusting one color, the color needs to be compared with its master sample. Also, it is necessary to make a correct choice from among multiple options to achieve an ideal adjustment. Wood grain printing, for example, consists of several layers. The adjustment and comparison take place for the same number of times as the number of the layers. In general, color consists of three aspects, i.e. hue, brightness and chroma, and color matching is normally made after visually checking the items. In practice, brightness and chroma can be adjusted by changing the density of ink (the concentration of pigment in the ink).


New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

Fig. 3

Film after molding is completed

Fig. 5

Principle of gravure printing

Fig. 4

Molded component

Gravure printing using a rotary press is suitable for this adjustment process.

4. Hairline
4.1 Considerations On the new PAJERO, we aimed to achieve an interior accentuated with a high-quality aluminum texture by offering the subdued gloss exclusive to aluminum and fine hairlines. The exquisite gloss of aluminum was produced by metal vapor deposition on a film. Since ink has only a limited expression of gloss and cannot deliver the gloss we desired. On the other hand, transfer of design with vacuum metal vapor deposition provides the component with a whitish gloss, making it closely resemble aluminum in texture. Hairlines give matte finish, which is achieved by streaking thin hair-like lines in one direction on the surface of a metal. Special steel that has been processed into long threads thinner than human hair is normally used as an abrasive to achieve the finish on a metal sur-

face. A hairline effect can be achieved either by making the film surface scratchy or by printing. With the former method, the matte layer easily loses its effect due to processing, affecting the exquisite gloss of aluminum. Based on the above considerations, we decided to express hairlines by printing to avoid affecting the matte layer. The hairline design is created on a computer by setting the line length, line width, blurring and pitch. The minimum width for stable expression of continuous lines is approximately 150 m, because the size of the cells (halftone dot) is 120 m square and they are arranged at a distance of 25 m apart. Hairlines are unnecessary to be visible as lines, and in many cases the hairline design consists of lines of various widths and lengths. Our target hairline design for the new PAJERO was modeled on the surface of a table knife. As the pattern of the knife surface is unable to be scanned, photos were taken and the lines on the knife surface in those photos were used as the basis for our hairline pattern. The hairline design, which we selected, has the finest random pattern thus far handled by the IMD-TR supplier, Nissha Printing Co., Ltd. (Nissha), which developed the IMD technology for automotive parts. The hairline is printed in normal by extremely low-density black while highly bright metallic ink on chrome deposit forms the base below the hairline. The brightness of the metallic ink and the glare of the base deposition combine to create the realistic appearance of the overall design. With these techniques, we succeeded in producing realistic aluminum panels that is unaffected by the sun, with subdued gloss and fine hairline while preserving the rich texture of aluminum (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7). 4.2 Pattern creation The first step is to obtain digital images of the material using cameras, scanners or other devices. Through RGB filter, the obtained images are decomposed into the four process colors of printing: C (cyan), M (magen-


New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

(a) Real aluminum

(b) IMD-TR version

Fig. 6

Comparison of microscope images

Fig. 7

Electron microphotograph of IMD-TR hairline

ta), Y (yellow) and K (black). Basically, all colors can be created with these four colors (plates) except special colors such as gold, silver and pearl. For more realistic hairline, however, we used three special colors (three printing plates) instead of the standard four-color process. The material is a natural object, which normally has inappropriate elements such as distortions, unevenness and stains. Printing plates must be free of these elements, and this is achieved through image data processing on a computer.

5. Shape
5.1 Design requirements The IMD-TR method has design limitations due to the flexibility of the film. The basic design requirements are as follows. Depth from the top of the component to the bottom in the direction of mold ejection A two-dimensional component shape (Inappropriateness to complex shapes) 5.2 Shape refining We checked candidate component shapes in terms of the design requirements to identify possible problems. The most important requirement was the height of the component; for instance, corner radii, draft angles, and the parting line (hereafter PL). We collaborated with Nissha to refine the shapes. Nisshas advice from the manufacturing point of view was reflected on the component shapes, including the round shapes of the design surface, character lines, radii of the character lines, and PL profile. In the initial stage of trials, film breakage occurred, which was then resolved by changing the thickness of the film and other means. In the end, we succeeded in obtaining not only the desired shapes but also a paintless process. <Example of reshaping> Outer side of the instrument panel ornament (Fig. 8) The PL may be visible to customers. The film is unable to cover the surface beyond the PL on the core

side; that is, the resin color is visible. <Example of gate selection> Shift indicator panel (Fig. 9) While the molten resin should ideally be injected through a single central gate, a sink mark may then appear. Therefore, we initially tried various combinations of multiple gates, and finally settled on a single gate, which works well and makes weld lines inconspicuous. By properly locating the gate, we successfully eliminated weld lines, overflow of ink and burns on the vacuum deposited design. In the area shown with an arrow, a PL on a side runs perpendicularly to the other PL occuring at the corner of a component (Fig. 10). This makes the film threedimensional (dome-like shape) and creates wrinkles. This concern was solved by making the radius of the corner bigger. To prevent the surface from turning whitish due to metal foil deposited on the film, molding conditions were set properly and a hot pack was used. A hot pack is an extra process to ensure that the film follows a relatively deep mold recess by heating and sucking the film. Heating makes the film stretch more easily, but may make it difficult to locate the film in the correct position. On the new PAJERO, this process is used for cup holders at which the precise film position is unnecessary (AT models) (Fig. 11). Heating may also cause extensive burns on the component. Although this actually occurred on the prototype of the manual transmission shift panel, the problem was solved by changing the molding conditions as advised by the molding contractor, Sakae Riken Kogyo Co., Ltd. As a result of collaboration with manufacturers and designers, we obtained realistic decoration panels without problems at a mass production level.

6. Initial market acceptance

In March 2006, an initial survey for market acceptance, called a marketing clinic, was conducted. The survey provided interesting market comments. Overall, the survey revealed the interior was


New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

Fig. 8

Example of shape refining

Fig. 10

Example of component shape

Initially, five gates (circles) were planned. Eventually, a single-gate (blue circle) design was selected.

Fig. 9

Gate position examples

Fig. 11

Hot pack

sophisticated and high-quality (Fig. 12). While there were no specific comments on the decoration panels, a meter featuring the specially-printed aluminum plate, the first of its kind at MMC, was evaluated as excellent texture. The market thus appeared to associate aluminum appearance with high quality and refinement. The wood grain pattern combined with metallic panels on the instrument panel seemed to provide a high-quality touch. From these initial results, we concluded that our approach to create a high-quality appearance was correct and we decided to move ahead in that direction.

aromatic hydrocarbon A. The original ink was replaced with low-VOC ink while the heating conditions were reviewed. As a result, VOC levels became lower tha the targets, as shown in Fig. 14.

8. Market acceptance
In August 2006, after the start of commercial production, workshops were held at 20 locations across Japan, providing us with the markets initial reaction to our final design. The combination of wood grain and silver color around the console shift indicator is good. The instrument panel is of high quality and makes a good combination with the decoration panels. Follow-up workshops were held among the development and sales departments and customers. Many of the participants agreed on the underlying concept of higher quality appearance for our decoration design project. We were especially encouraged that the participants found the aluminum panels to be high in quality and refined. The new PAJERO went on sale on October 4, 2006 , and initial evaluations by the market have started. There has been much praise for the high quality of the

7. Physical properties
A clear layer sits on the top of the multi-layer structure of the film. This made us concerned about the resistances to scoring, wear, chemicals, light, etc. (Fig. 13). In addition, VOC-control measures needed to be taken as the New PAJERO was one of the voluntary restraint models in MMC. After comparing various types of clear layers for the required resistances, an ink-based clear layer was selected (Table 3). VOC measurements on the initial prototypes substantially exceeded the target levels in aldehyde A and


New Aluminum Hairline Finish Decoration Process

Fig. 12

Interior of the new PAJERO

Fig. 13

Structure of printed layers

Table 3

Results of physical properties test

Ink-based clear layer p (Slight scoring) p (Slight scoring) p (No damage) p (No damage) Single liquid-type acrylic clear layer p (Slight scoring) p (Slight scoring) p (No damage) p (No damage) g Hard coat clear layer No scoring No scoring p (No damage) p (No damage) u

Item Anti-scoring Anti-wear Anti-chemical Anti-light Cost

Fig. 14

VOC measurements

interior, especially the various aluminum-panel accents. We therefore believe that our commitment has been achieved.

9. Conclusion
IMD-TR, introduced to the new PAJERO, apparently contributes to raise the quality. We are encouraged with the initial results and continue to offer high quality to our customers through research and development. IMD-TR has great potential such as: simultaneous component molding of different designs by means of position alignment, which offers substantial cost reduction; and application to interior lighting by means of transparent printing. We will continue to explore further possibilities of IMD-TR. In conclusion, we sincerely thank Sakae Riken Kogyo Co., Ltd., Nissha Printing Co., Ltd. and others for assisting our IMD-TR project for the new PAJERO.

Kazuhiro YOSHIDA


Shinji KONDO



Toshikazu KANBE