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  Life Cycle Design of In-Mold Surfacing Film (EPA/600/R-01/058)

This life cycle design project was a collaborative effort between the Center for Sustainable Systems (formerly National Pollution Prevention Center) at the University of Michigan, 3M Corporation, and EPA’s National Risk Management Research Laboratory. The primary objective of this project was to apply life cycle design tools to a new product introduced by 3M.

In-mold surfacing film (ISF) is an alternative color-coating system to the traditional paint coating process. It has been tested for application on body side molded (BSM) plastic parts on automobiles. In contrast to painting processes, ISF is manufactured at 3M and is shipped to Tier 1 suppliers for application into BSM parts. (Tier 1 suppliers are ranked relative to Original Equipment Manufacturers [OEM], e.g., automobile manufacturers.)

ISF is a layered product consisting of clear coat, color coat, adhesive, and a Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) backing. A polyethylene terepthalate (PET) liner is used during manufacturing but is removed before the film is die. The analysis is performed for 12.2 grams (g) of die-cut ISF film applied to a BSM part of surface area of 399 square centimeters. The material production inventories of polyvinylidene fluoride, acrylic, PET, and TPO, which all constitute the ISF, were evaluated as part of the analysis.

The scope of the life cycle design study encompasses the manufacturing, application, use, and retirement stages. In contrast to painting operations, where the majority of environmental burdens are concentrated in the paint shops of Tier 1 suppliers or at the OEM facility, the environmental burdens for ISF application are shifted upstream from Tier 1 suppliers to 3M. The overall material efficiency based on solids and coating solvents as input material from manufacturing to application is 19 percent. The total life cycle energy requirement for the paint film was determined to be 11.8 megajoules per ISF, and the total life cycle solid waste generated per ISF was 62 g.

The use phase results in a majority of the life cycle environmental burden in terms of energy (54 percent) and carbon dioxide emissions (63 percent); however, the use phase contributes only 29 percent of the total life cycle solid waste. The majority of life cycle cost occurs during manufacturing (81 percent).

The results of this life cycle environmental and cost inventory were used to formulate metrics for design analysis. Different life cycle performance metrics required to meet the OEM specifications are also presented.


Ken Stone

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