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Parts-maker’s PET project
Futuris ‘stumbles across’ new carpet fibre that’s good for environment and profits
28 Apr 2009
By IAN PORTER
FUTURIS Automotive expects to reap big rewards from a breakthrough plastic carpet technology that it developed during downtime in the US.
The company last week picked up two prizes at the prestigious PACE supplier awards by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in the US after being nominated by Hyundai.
Futuris invented the hard-wearing fibre made out of PET, which is used to make soft-drink bottles. PET is cheaper than nylon, but until now ahs not had the wear characteristics needed for car interiors.
Futuris managing director Mark De Wit said the new PET fibre was between 10 and 15 per cent cheaper than nylon and was set to make big inroads into the automotive carpet sector.
“That is a substantial advantage,” Mr De Wit said, adding that Futuris had already received more than 30 approaches from car-makers to quote on the supply of PET carpet.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” he said.
Left: Futuris managing director Mark De Wit.
Mr De Wit said Futuris virtually stumbled across the breakthrough two years ago when its US staff of three had some downtime.
“One of them had a background in carpet, and we asked him to look for a ‘green’ carpet solution,” Mr De Wit said.
No one had successfully used PET fibre inside the cabin, where durability and feel are the main requirements. It took two years and many attempts to come up with the patented fibre production process, Mr De Wit said.
Futuris’ Australian engineers worked with fibre makers in the US to refine the process, testing the different variants on its own carpet tufting machinery in South Africa, where it supplies nylon carpet for the Mercedes-Benz C-class.
Futuris finally came up with a fibre that met the standards laid down by manufacturers including General Motors, Hyundai-Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen.
“We think it has a better feel to it than nylon,” Mr De Wit said. “It is at least a match in terms of wear, PET has a better inherent stain resistance than nylon – and it is cheaper.” The process can use as much as 80 per cent recycled PET from soft drink bottles, adding an environmentally friendly touch that is likely to win support from car-makers in the current climate.
Unexpectedly, using recycled material is slightly more expensive than using virgin PET material, but it also enhances the performance of the carpet, Mr De Wit said.
“The quality of the virgin material that has to be used to make food containers in the US is of such a high standard that when you grind it up and add it to your typical virgin material, it raises the quality.” Mr De Wit said a carpet with 20 per cent recycled material contained the equivalent of 100 recycled soft drink bottles.
When a car is junked, the carpet can be recycled into material that can be used for other applications, like car boot linings.
The potential market for PET carpet is huge. Around 80 per cent of all vehicles made in the US have tufted nylon carpets, and every car made in Australia has tufted nylon carpet. Futuris supplies Holden and Ford and is talking to the receiver of Toyota’s supplier, Nylex’s Kennon subsidiary.
Futuris will not invest in new capacity in the US, but will licence the technology to existing carpet suppliers. One licence has already been signed, although Mr De Wit said he expected some resistance from the larger players because they were vertically integrated and had a lot of capital invested in nylon.
“There is lots of excess capacity out there,” Me De Wit said, referring the US parts industry.
“We won’t have the infrastructure cost of setting up machinery on the ground, raw material supply in and supply out, timing issues with debtors and creditors. The return on investment will be huge, because the investment is very low.”
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