Final Report: Green Process for Plastic Chrome

EPA Contract Number: 68HE0D18C0014
Title: Green Process for Plastic Chrome
Investigators:
Small Business:
EPA Contact:
Phase: I
Project Period: October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019
Project Amount: $99,441
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2018) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category:

Description:

SuperChrome is a safe PVD technology to replace the incumbent carcinogenic hexavalent chromium electroplating processes for chrome on plastic. As currently practiced, too many parts fail a critical high humidity, high temperature exposure test (hydrolysis) due to forms of cracking. Since many parts pass this same test, the purpose of this research is to identify and control the process conditions that produce acceptable parts.

During the contract period, existing process equipment was used to operate a baseline process which yielded moderate but highly variable success in the hydrolysis test. The bearing on hydrolysis survival of most of the important process variables were investigated relative to a baseline process.

In addition, optical emission spectroscopy was added as a diagnostic technique, and radar transparency of SuperChrome, an attribute strongly desired by the automobile industry, was assessed.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Many of the baseline settings were confirmed as optimal, while modest improvements were seen in others. A new baseline process was identified using the existing tooling. Surprisingly, some cracking was observed on unpainted plastic, although less frequently than on painted parts. Process conditions outside the range of operation of the existing process equipment were identified as likely to be beneficial.

Conclusions:

Several run conditions produced a large percentage of plaques that pass hydrolysis testing. The next phase needs to validate the new baseline and modify the tooling to perform better without increasing cycles times. It also needs to determine if changes to the paint formulation would move the process center in the right direction.

Commercialization:

The market for PVD chrome on plastic continues to be confirmed and candidate customers show great interest. Not only has VTI sold one system prior to the contract, competitors have at least 2 systems in the field. This is a small number compared to the estimated 1160 estimated SuperChrome systems needed for the automotive market alone. The limiting issue is consistently passing all survivability tests.

During the contract period, test plaques have been provided to one Tier 1 supplier in the US, two automobile OEMs in Europe, and three Tier 1 suppliers in China, all for commercial evaluation. One was immediately pleased enough with the results that they have requested a quote for VTI to prepare 1000 door handles for preliminary qualification testing. As industrial entities, our potential customers are well aware of the two primary competitors for PVD chrome. Our consistent feedback is that the VTI product outperforms the other.

A more detailed cost model has been developed to better account for part geometry and to account for comparative electroplating cost, to the limited degree possible. This model shows that cost advantage shifts between SuperChrome and electroplating depending on part geometry. On average, considering all different parts that constitute a vehicle, we still anticipate a 25% cost advantage over electroplating.

IP protection continues to build, with a basic patent issued in the US and in Europe, Asian applications being prosecuted, as well as a continuation-in-part in the US.

The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of the ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not be reviewed by the Agency.