US 20050276874 A1
A method of manufacturing a decorative components for vehicle interiors, comprises the steps of pre-forming a sheet of formable veneer material under pressure and heath, positioning the pre-formed sheet in a mold half of an injection mold comprising a cavity; holding the sheet in position on the mold half, closing said mold and injecting into the cavity one or more thermoplastic materials on the back of the veneer sheet to provide a support layer.
1. A method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior comprising the steps of:
(a) preparing a laminate layer comprising a veneer layer and a formable and form-retaining layer selected from thermoplastic and thermosetting plastic materials;
(b) pre-forming said laminate layer in a mold having a cavity and a male portion, said male portion comprising a deformable element to shape said laminate layer according to said cavity;
(c) positioning said pre-formed laminate layer in an injection mold and injecting into said mold one or more thermoplastic materials on the back of the said pre-formed laminate to provide a laminate having a support and coupling layer.
2. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
3. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
4. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
5. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
6. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
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11. The method of manufacturing a component for a vehicle interior according to
12. A component for a vehicle interior manufactured by the method of
13. The component for a vehicle interior according to
14. The component for a vehicle interior according to
15. The component for a vehicle interior according to
16. A mold for pre-forming sheets of formable veneer material for a component for a vehicle interior comprising two mold halves defining a cavity, expandable means located on one of said mold halves and projecting into said cavity when the mold is closed, and means of expanding said expandable means and causing it to occupy substantially all said cavity.
17. The mold according to
The present invention relates to decorative components for motor vehicle interiors, as well as to a method and devices for their production.
1. Background of the Invention
In the automotive field the demand for decorative parts or components, in particular made of wood, continues to rise. It is known to cover an aluminum or plastic core with a layer of wood or other decorative layer that is glued and finished manually.
To reduce the time required by such manual operations, techniques have been developed that produce a laminated shell in a one-step method with a wood veneer and a supporting layer of a thermosetting resin. A disadvantage of this technique is that pieces with hooks, locking rims and other mechanical attachment means cannot be produced. Another disadvantage is the long production times.
2. Discussion of the Prior Art
U.S. Pat. No. 5,792,302 discloses a process for the production of steering wheels with a wood veneer as a surface layer. Two layers of wood are pre-formed in two half-shells that are placed in a mold with the metal armature of the steering wheel. An expansion resin is then injected into a space between the metal armature and the half-shells, according to the Reaction Injection Molding technique, in order to force the half-shells against the mold and bond them together. Alternatively, two half-shells already supplied with the expanded resin portion are produced separately and glued to the metal armature of the steering wheel. This technique has several drawbacks because pieces with means of attachment or locking rims or undercuts cannot be produced. During the foaming Reaction Injection Molding flash is formed that must be removed by hand. The pre-forming and Reaction Injection Molding molding times are particularly long, reaching 40 minutes each. Moreover, like in the thermosetting-resin molding technique, it also requires a manual finishing step.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,264,062 discloses production methods for a composite molded article having a wood overlay surface material. This document teaches to laminate the wood overlay surface to a metal or resin sheet that is backed on the other side to a porous or fibrous material; the wood overlay veneer of the thus obtained laminate is then coated, possibly after polishing. According to one of the disclosed production methods, the coated laminated material is preliminary molded (formed) by press working before a thermoplastic supporting layer is injection molded to the back of the material.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,863,479 discloses a method of producing a laminated or composite material having a wood overlay veneer wherein the wood veneer is backed with a thin aluminium sheet, treated with a primer-based colorant and coated with a resin layer before being pre-formed in a conventional mold using a press. The thus obtained piece is placed into a mold and a backing resin supporting layer and a front transparent coating layer are injected into the mold.
The above methods are long and complex, involving several coupling and coating steps and are limited to pre-forming of very simple shapes, thus resulting in expensive production processes.
It is an aim of the present invention to solve the aforementioned problems and provide a process and a device to produce decorative parts or components with a veneer layer of wood, fabrics or other decorative materials, in a reliable and economic way that gives very good aesthetic results and that reduces the manual finishing times.
The present invention addresses the aforementioned problems. According to one aspect of the invention, the veneer layer sheet comprises one layer of wood veneer or other decorative material bonded to one layer of backing material selected from thermoplastic or thermosetting materials and is pre-formed prior to the final thermoplastic-material injection step that provides the required supporting and coupling layer. According to a further aspect, the layer of rigid material is transparent and is located on the external side of the decorative material layer.
According to a still further aspect of the invention, the pre-forming step is carried out in a mold having a male and a female part, wherein the male part comprises a projecting element that is at least in part deformable to adapt its shape to the shape of the female part and to accordingly shape the decorative layer. The male part projecting element is made of rubber, e.g. silicone rubber, that can be full or provided with an internal cavity that can be expanded upon feeding of a pressurized fluid.
According to another aspect of the invention, one of the layers of the decorative layer is provided with electrically resistant means, such as a layer of electrically resistant coating, to act as heating means for a steering wheel or similar component.
During the closing of the mold or at the beginning of the injection step, the veneer layer sheet is held in position against the respective mold half. This holding in position action can be carried out with retaining means such as jacks, struts, needles or similar moving elements, or by the mentioned pre-forming of the veneer layer. Because the layer is pre-formed accurately, it already has a shape that is almost the final one and will therefore fit snugly in the mold half without requiring any mechanical means. If, because of the final shape a self-retaining effect cannot be achieved and mechanical means are required, such as those previously mentioned, they project from the mold half that does not house the veneer layer and are mobile between an extended position and a retracted position; the force applied by said projecting elements to the covering sheet is such as to maintain the sheet in position at least during the initial step of the molding process. Thus, for the present invention the wording “holding in position” refers to both the above ways only through the shape or with mechanical means.
According to a further aspect of the invention, a varnish or a coating layer is injected on the side of the cavity that corresponds to the face of the decorative sheet, after the thermoplastic-material injection step.
A further aspect of the invention is a mold for pre-forming the decorative components, comprising two mold halves, a cavity and a deformable forming means positioned in one of said mold halves.
A further aspect of the invention is a decorative component as obtainable with the method of manufacturing described above, comprising a veneer layer, at least one layer of backing material selected from thermoplastic or thermosetting materials, at least one coupling layer of thermoplastic material having means of attachment and/or undercuts provided into said thermoplastic material.
A still further aspect of the invention is steering wheel shells having a veneer layer as obtainable according to the invention method of manufacturing.
Preferably, the decorative components obtained according to the invention comprise a first layer of thermoplastic glued to the decorative material layer and a second layer of thermoplastic injected onto the said first layer. A layer of fabric or non-woven fabric may be bonded externally to the layer of thermoplastic glued to the decorative material layer in order to improve flexibility and the adhesion of the injected material on the decorative portion.
As used herein and in the claims the term decorative components for motor vehicle interiors refers to steering wheel shells, handles, gear-change lever knobs, inserts for door interior panels, dashboards and similar articles.
With reference to
A pre-shaped layer 5 comprising a layer of veneer material (wood, fabric or other) 12 (
The injection molding conditions are e.g. those used in the technique known as “In Mold Labeling (IML)” or “In Mold Dekorieren (IMD)” and involve low injection pressures; in the inventive method injection pressures are related to the dimension of the decorative component. For example, injection molding of wood veneered steering wheel rim sectors, using a 30% glass reinforced polyamide, is carried out at a pressure within the range of 1.100 and 1.500 Kg/cm2, depending upon the shell length. In spite of the injection pressure being relatively low, the pressure is however sufficient to press the pre-shaped sheet 5 against the mold half 2 and to give the sheet or layer 5 the desired shape and dimensions. Thermoplastic materials suitable for injection molding of layer 6 are polyolefins and polypropylene in particular, polyamides, ABS and vinyl polymers.
The mold half 3 is designed to mold hooks 8 or similar means of attachment of the half-shell to a steering wheel, dashboard or panel, as well as reinforcing ribs and other structural components as required. In
The mold half 3 is provided with at least one nozzle 16 for injecting the thermoplastic layer. In the simplest embodiment shown in
The technique of using different injection molding materials is known and used in the production of car trim panels and will make possible e.g. car dashboards and door panels to be produced, in which the wood veneer is bonded to the panel as a single piece.
It is also possible to use the invention's laminates to produce panels or other products having a “simple” shape by compression molding; with this method the decorative material, possibly or preferably pre-formed, is shaped and bonded to a supporting layer of thermoplastic material by compression in a mold.
The wood or other material veneer sheet 5, on the back of which the thermoplastic 6 is injected, is sufficiently formable to be initially pre-formed and to be later imparted the final shape, completely, as a result of the of injection molding step. Such a sheet 5 is preferably made of a laminate of thermoplastic and a veneer material such as wood or fabric or leather or other material.
The sheet 5 in
The product thus obtained is formable and resistant to stretching and can be easily pre-formed into the desired shape without the wood veneer surface cracking. The layer 12 of wood (or fabric or other decorative material) that has to be laminated with the remaining layers 15 and 23 is known in the art, is described, for example, in EP 0 376 993 B, U.S. Pat. No. 4,430,371 A, and
The thickness of the wood veneer 12 is between 0.1 and 1.2 mm and preferably between 0.4 and 0.8 mm; the adhesive has a minimal thickness, for example around 0.01-0.05 mm, the transparent layer 23 has thickness within the range of 0.1 to 0.3 mm and the sheet or film of thermoplastic 14 has thickness of between 0.08 and 0.8 mm and preferably between 0.1 and 0.4 mm. Suitable adhesives are hot-melt adhesives, for example vinyl or polyester, and acrylic or neoprene adhesive. Materials for the thermoplastic film are selected from PVC, polyolefins, ABS and similar materials suitable to provide a formable support. The laminate is obtained as a flat sheet that is cut as necessary and is subsequently pre-formed into the required shape.
By using the formable, and pre-formed, laminates, in particular those having a wood veneer, above described, it is possible to produce by injection or compression molding decorative components for car interiors that range from gear lever knobs to steering wheels and from door panels to dashboards.
An advantage of the invention is the use of formable laminates having a thickness of 1.8 mm or less, comprising one veneer layer and at least one layer of thermoplastic material, for the production of decorative components for car interiors.
A mold half 31 is provided with a male portion comprising a projecting portion 19 that is at least partially deformable and that is housed in the cavity 26 of the mold half 30 when the mold is closed. This deformable projecting portion 19. In the shown embodiment the deformable means has a cavity 25 and is formed by expandable means that can increase its volume, i.e. by an inflatable silicone rubber bladder that can be pressurized to increase its volume. To pressurize the bladder 19 it is connected to a duct 20, that is connected to a source of pressure, e.g. of compressed air (not shown).
Instead of a bladder, the deformable element 19 can be made of a solid, deformable material, such as silicone rubber or a foamed polymer having density sufficient to press the laminate layer 5 against the mold cavity walls to impart the required, and exact, shape to laminate 5. In other words, the element 19 is deformed to follow the shape of the cavity 26 and of the insert 21. The deformed element 19 compresses laminate 5 against the walls of cavity 26 and insert 21 to reproduce the required exact shape to be obtained.
The operation of the pre-forming mold will now be described. The insert 21 is positioned on the mold half 30 by guides 22 present on the mold half 30. Then a sheet 5, cut to the desired size and shape, is positioned in the cavity of the mold half 30 from above i.e. through opening 17 of insert 21. As the mold is closed the deformable protruding portion 19 is inserted into the cavity 26 of the mold half 30, through the insert 21. Then, the mold halves 30, 31 are heated and the bladder 19 is pressurized by feeding compressed air through a conduit. The bladder 19 is inflated until it firmly presses the sheet 5 against the walls of the mold half 30 and a part of the insert 21. By the combined action of heat and pressure a laminate sheet 5 is formed into a shape that can be very close to the final one. In fact, it is possible to obtain parts pre-formed so well that in the following co-molding step there is no need for additional retaining means to retain the sheet 5 in the injection mold.
When the sheet 5 is of the type laminated with a thermoplastic film, the temperature of the mold halves 30, 31 has to be lower than the melting point or degradation temperature of the glue present in the laminate, while trying to make pre-forming cycles as fast as possible. For the sheets used for the present invention the temperature used is between 50 and 200° C. and preferably between 55 and 100° C.; the pressure is between 4 and 6 bars, usually approximately 5 bars and the cycle time between 3 and 60 seconds.
The same mold and the same process can be used for the mold preparation of products in carbon fiber; in this case the times are of approximately 20 minutes and the pressure used is approximately 3-4 bar, with a temperature between 70° C. and 180° C., applied in different steps, depending upon the dimensions and the shape of the decorative component.
The invention will now be further disclosed with reference to the following example.
A formable laminate comprising a wood veneer layer 0.75 mm thick, a thermoplastic material layer 0.21 mm thick and a backing fabric layer, having a total thickness of 1.1 mm is cut to an arched shape of 130° C. The thus cut laminate is preformed in a pre-forming mold as above disclosed for 50 sec at 90° C. and 4.8 bar (pressure of the fluid fed to the inflatable bladder). The pre-formed laminate was then positioned in a mold and retained in position by suction means. A 30% fiberglass reinforced polyamide was injected on the back of the laminate to give a half shell with a perfect shape and without cracks of the wood layer. The injected supporting layer of thermoplastic material is provided with integral hooks for mounting on the steering wheel structure. After finishing and light sanding the shell is lacquered and polished to give an excellent decorative component that can be fit to a steering wheel.
Returning to the “In Mold” molding step of the pre-formed sheet, it has been mentioned that this allows hooks, webbing and similar details to be obtained in a single piece. If no transparent layer 23 is present, the invention makes it possible to directly paint the part in the mold for injection molding, according to the known “In-mold paint” techniques, such as by injection either of a transparent polyurethane varnish or of a coating layer.
The invention shows several advantages over the prior art. The invention solves the problem for open and closed shape parts in steering wheels shells lowering the cost of production. The invention enables the production in one-shot co-molding process of decorative components with a wood, leather or fabric finish, already provided with undercuts, rims and means of attachment such as hooks and similar, as necessary for their final use. The pre-forming and molding times are reduced and the temperature and pressure requirements are moderated.
The method of manufacturing is simple and reliable and the parts produced are aesthetically very attractive. Moreover, by co-molding by injection molding the thermoplastic support a “net shape” part is obtained, i.e. no machining is required to achieve the final shape of the part.
Although several preferred embodiments are illustrated and described above, there are possible combinations using other geometries, materials and different dimensions for the components that perform the same functions. This invention is not limited to the above embodiments and should be determined by the following claims.