Solving a sticky situation - the innovative advances for automotive print technology

Following on  from the interview I had with David Parker at MacDermid Autotype about the innovation taking place regarding FIM (Film Insert Moulding) I recently spoke with Keith Parsons who is an expert at MacDermid Autotype responsible for new developments for automotive interior styling.

So Keith, how is the inside automotive cabin evolving?

“One of the key things that automotive manufacturers are looking to improve is the hardness of the material used within the cabin so that it cannot be easily scratched and marked. Hard coating of interiors means that they  can resist scratching and abrasions as well as surviving caustic materials including coffee, tea, ketchup, sun cream, nail varnish all of which could easily  stain their inside panels. For interiors, it is obvious that coatings must be resistant and this has been a requirement for the market for some years now.”

So if it is already pretty robust, is there any need for more development in this area?

“Yes there is. The challenge is how to make this coating even harder so it is bullet proof! The experience the driver has in the car must now be a sensory one and deterioration of the interface is not acceptable. It is a tough environment not least because everything inside the car is prone to human finger printing. It is easy for the interfaces to get covered in nasty finger prints and require constant cleaning. Whilst you are in the car you can’t easily clean as you are driving so it isn’t easy and it is a nuisance. If the screen is covered in finger prints it looks nasty and dirty, not something the driver should really want to see.”

How do you get around this?

“The aim is to make finger printing less apparent. It is impossible to resist finger prints as finger grease will automatically transfer onto the screen when you touch it. We are developing a film which will reduce the impact of finger prints as it reduces the amount of finger grease that can be absorbed by the surface. We have developed a coating that is resistant to water based and oil based materials. With human sweat for instance you have solvent, oil and water, unsaturated fatty acids and corrosive salts. And everyone is different so it has to cover the wide range of people and variants. The potential is significant as it will enhance the experience for the driver significantly – especially as it is clear that car manufacturers continue to embrace smart technology and their interiors will be interfaces with a number of different devices – it would not work if this somehow appeared unattractive. Aside of appearances though, too much finger residue reduces visibility and also makes it less easy to use.”

I can see that this development isn’t confined purely to car manufacturing?

“Yes that is right. The potential for this innovation isn’t confined only to cars. We also see this being used for the new generation capacitive touch screens. Capacitive is a touch screen that works differently from most traditional touch screens. The ones we have gotten used to are called resistive touch screens. You touch them and you make an electrical contact and it sends a signal. Capacitive screens work differently – the presence of your finger will change the electrical properties of the surface without actually touching it. It is more sensitive as it is more of a proximity thing, and also very intuitive. The film doesn’t impact the display performance other than its physical property but it does protect it – all of us have had a broken smart phone. This film reduces this likelihood as it is a plastic and it makes it less likely for the screen to be smashed.”

The continued development of coatings, inks and other clever chemistry is meeting a seemingly insatiable demand for smart technologies either for the home, office and now car. And MacDermid are at the forefront.