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Across the board

Boltaron is helping designers by providing a wide range of colours and finishes. Ian Harbison reports
 
John Inman, Business Development Director at Boltaron, says demand for the company’s thermoplastic materials is heavily influenced by the design houses, which are looking for new effects and finishes. The challenge is to listen and then come up with solutions. This is helped by the fact that the company can offer a range of production techniques that suit different requirements.
 
All grades of Boltaron offer great impact resistance compared with comparative materials. Extruded sheet material (a new extrusion line is currently being commissioned to increase capacity at the Boltaron plant) can offer eight or nine different surface finishes. Press-forming can combine a variety of materials permanently fused together and with a wider range of surface finishes. Additionally, the company can use specialised thermoforming processes and printing to provide specialised custom components such as privacy screens and galley panels.
 
To help get the message across, the company has come up with a “Designer Box” set of materials aimed at designers, seat manufacturers and airlines with help from Studio Catherine Barber. It contains flat samples of different effects, such as extruded textures, pressed textures (including automotive
and high end finishes), translucents (including printed laminates) and pearlescents. There are a range of print techniques and options include screen printing plus dye sublimation where the dye is “injected” directly into the material, being sealed a few microns below the surface. This is particularly good for effects like marble, where there are no sharply defined edges.
 
While this cannot be scratched, a protective surface coating can be applied if necessary. For printed wood effects, surface textures can even add a simulated grain. He says Boltaron were the first company to introduce metallic elements into plastic, at the request of Lufthansa. As the metal flake could not pass through an extrusion machine, it was introduced into the calendering process, in which melted polymer is passed through a series of rollers to produce film.
 
By using a colour matched substrate, this gives a metallic effect. The calendering process is also used to produce printed layers to be used in the press-formed laminates. The final samples are suggested colour palettes including Nordic Forest, Oxidised Reds, New Neutrals and Black and White to give inspiration. The company claims to be able to produce any colour and the efficiency of its production processes means it can offer very low Minimum Order Quantities – it is a made to order business, he comments. Of course, the finished product is almost always a 3D shape, so the final element in the box is a series of thermoformed ‘commas’, each of which has one of the finishes.
 
This is important, as the finish can change during the customer’s production process. For example, the pearlescent effect becomes more apparent after the additional heat cycle that is applied in the forming process. A curved shape can also produce a slight distortion in a regular finish or in a printed pattern. Other possible customisations include the use of Tedlar film for enhanced cleanability or antibacterial finishes.
 
Of course, one of the most important tests for these materials is when they burn. These are commonly referred to as Fire, Smoke, Toxicity (FST/FSH) tests. He explains that there is no legal requirement from the regulatory authorities for toxicity. Their concern is heat release – will the material get to such a high temperature when it is burning that it can ignite other materials? On the other hand, the aircraft OEMs do have toxicity requirements built
into their specifications.
 
Finally, he anticipates that the materials market will follow the trends of the commercial aviation market, with continued growth. He notes the Airbus and Boeing are both increasing their manufacturing capabilities in Asia, to be closer to their customers. The interiors OEMs are still mainly based in the US and Europe, but his expectation is that this will change in the future.

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