By Pramod Thomas:
The Delhi-based Calco Poly Technik,one of the leading providers of high-performance engineering plastics, colour and additive solutions for the plastics industry, focuses on end-to-end product development solutions. It supplies diverse products to automotive OEMs and Tier-1 companies like Suzuki, Volvo, Daimler, TVS Honda, Havells, Philips, Panasonic, Legrand, JPM Group, IGEL, Hella, Faurecia, and TAFE. Founded in 1999, the company has grown from a single location, single product to multiple locations and multiple products for different applications in the plastics processing industry. The product range of the company includes Polyamide, Poly Carbonate, Polyester, and Poly Propylene.
“Electric Vehicles is the next big thing. But the revolution is possible only with plastics. If the automotive industry grows by 10 percent, we anticipate 30 percent growth for the plastic industry because of the increasing use of plastics in vehicles. The plastic and polymer industry growth largely depends on this,” Varun Gupta, Director, Calco Poly Technik Private Ltd, told AutoParts Asia.
“In the developed world, on an average 120-140 kg of plastics goes into a vehicle. In India, it was only 20-30 kg in the 1970s and 1980s. Now it is over 70 kg. Still there is a big gap and this will be bridged. The plastic industry has been growing at an average of 14-16 percent. The advent of EVs, and the increased use of plastics in other vehicles will double the growth rate of the industry,”Gupta said.
“The $67-billion global engineering plastics industry, with an annual growth rate of 7.2 percent, will be $134 billion by 2026. Plastic contributesto the exterior and under-the-hood applications, mainly by Polyurethane and Poly Propylene products. We produce polymer compounds, the primarily raw materials for the component manufacturers for moulding the desired shapes for the OEMs,” he said.
Calcowhich has 20,000-tonne annual capacity has laid the foundation for a ‘green plant’ of over 20,000-tonnecapacity in Haryana, India, mainly for automotive supplies. “For increasing our capacity, we will havea facility which will usethe most environment-friendly materials. We will consume less fossil fuel, and our supply chain will consumes less energy and we will recycle everything that we produce. This is our concept of the new facility. For the capacity expansion we plan to have close to 50 percent of the energy from solar. In plastics, energy contributes to abouthalf of the cost in the entire process. Thus we will be reducing carbon footprint by 50 percent. There will be no effluents from the new facility.Reducing the use of paint is one of the key aspects of making products more environment-friendly. Making a product in a greener facility adds lots of merit to it. That was the idea or us to develop green products, to apply green technologies and to make them in a green facility,” Gupta said.
Calco expects that the replacement of metal with plastics has a big opportunity in the future.“The exterior of BMW iConcept car is made with carbon fibre. It is a combination of carbon fibre with a polymer, and it is extruded in the desired shape as any component. Instead of glass fibre, they use carbon fibre. We work on glass fibres. In the next extension phase we will use carbon fibre. One of the key ingredients of reinforcement is fibre. It is being done now. We modify each polymer into different forms. Sometimes we modify to increase mechanical properties within the same polymer. We also reinforce a traditional polymer into a more usable form based on the application. For example, polyamide (nylon) is used in textiles, yarns and tyres. The very same nylon is used to make fuel tanks. The transition from textile to tanks is through certainmanipulations and reinforcements done by compounders or producers like us. We facilitate the entire development phase right from the concept stage to the final implementation of a plastic component,” he said.
“The automotive industry is also inspired by the way it has been done in other industries, for example, Bosch in electrical and automotive verticals. That understanding helps to make the transition easier. Once it is done it is easier for other Tier-1 companies to implement and incorporate those products in their value chains. With the merits of plastics and the light-weighting opportunities, it has become more than aesthetic appeal. It covers important performance aspects as well. Plastic is the most suitable material for the flexibility in designing something beautiful and more efficient. It is fluid, flexible, and can be turned into any shape,” Gupta said.
Though the cost of the technology is still high, with scale it will becomeviable.“For example, LED is a byproduct of plastics. It started with Mercedes Benz S-class, and other premium segment vehicles. Now the technology has become cheaper and more viable and is used in every car. Similarly, carbon fibre applications are still not viable because of the economies of scale. They also will become more affordable,” he said.
According to Gupta, Calcohelps in light-weighting, increasing fuel-efficiency and performance of vehicles.“If a component is 100 gm we try to compress the properties and specifications tobring down its weight below that and to make it stronger. Reducing the size is just one part of reducing the weight. Another way is by replacing the metal. Aesthetics is another important aspect. Earlier, bumpers were not made of plastic. But now it is. It is lighter yet, functionally safer than a metal bumper.Metal replacement is one of the key aspects of the light-weighting we do. Primarily, we understand the components where there is a possibility of replacing metals with equivalent properties of plastics. Another way we can reduce weight is from the functional side. A fuel tank earlier was made of metal, now is made of plastics. The design aesthetics isalso important which is not possible with metals. It facilitates improvement in fuel efficiency byhaving less number of components in a car. Safety is another important aspect. Plastic, when modified, is inflammable. All electrical components in automobiles or even in electronic industry are made of plastics. In the event of fire accident the metal tank bursts because of the pressure build-up. In the case of plastics, with heat, it expands. All thanks to intermediate industries like ours thatcovert traditional polymers into more usable, engineered forms,” Gupta said.
The strength of Calco is in creating the raw material. The company provides the raw material solutions based on the OEM and Tier-1 specifications.
“Weight reduction by 20 percent is possible in a very small component like AC Vents. We were able to encapsulate higher properties in the very same component thereby facilitating the reduction of weight. So the same properties could be achieved by 20 percent of the reduction in weight. The strength was achieved very much by the weight reduction or alternative use of polymers,” he said. Calco is in the initial stage of developing a product which does not require painting but provides same texture, finish and performance like a painted one.
“The science behind the paint and the polymer remains the same. The source of colour-pigment also remains the same. We are trying to attain the same level of surface appearance. I am not talking about colour, but the glow, the aesthetic appeal, is still not achieved in a conventional polymer. There is still a huge gap between the reflectance of a printable application and non-paintable application like plastics. So, to convert those non-paintable aesthetics to paintable is a transition which is still not being done successfully and is under development,” Gupta said.
Recycling is one of the key aspects of the plastic industry. Global players have mandated that 20-30 percent plastic used can be from recycling streams without compromising the performance and durability of the product. Calco is working on this.
“When it comes to plastic recycling, we are still in the discussion stage. Even now recycled products are available but not at the OEM level. It is being done for the export segment. But no Indian OEM has mandated so far that this is the amount of recycled material that has to be used. All new-age technologies are driven by global automotive OEMs. A large part of them have already established their base in India, and in the next few years, we will see demand from those global OEMs, not from the Indian OEMs. Once that is implemented there will not be much delay forthe Indian OEMs to start similar sort of arrangement to facilitate their entire value chain. They will have to use some recycled products. The shelf life of plastic is over 100 years. The real concern is in plastics which are not reusable and not easy to pick. All other industries like automotive, electrical, households and industrial segments use reusable plastics,” Gupta said,
In 2011, Calco acquired a proprietary technology from DRDO forbio-degradable plastics. Unlike conventional plastics, this would rather degrade in one to three years. Calco acquired the technology rights and has implemented it successfully in products like bread wrap, milk pouch, feminine hygiene products and diapers.