About Lightfoam Materials, Production, Transport

A novel polymer processing technology producing engineering grade thermoplastic foam products.

Higher production rates, more cost competitive in low runs, suitable for use with standard extrusion machines… the advantages of this new method for producing high quality, low density foamed parts are clear.

Until the LightFoam project produced its game-changing solution, the challenges for low density foam product producers were many. Low density foam parts were expensive in low production runs, were comparatively slow to produce, and usually required costly specialised equipment, chemical blowing agents and extrusion machinery.

Objectives

The production of high quality foams from engineering grade thermoplastics using existing injection moulding and extrusion equipment installed in our SME communities. LightFoam will enable the creation of a novel polymer processing technology and develop the ability to foam engineering grade thermoplastics without the need for chemical blowing agents or speciality moulding equipment.

High quality foams

The LightFoam project changed all of this by enabling the production of high quality foams from engineering grade thermoplastics using standard injection moulding and extrusion equipment already in existence.

Higher production rates

As well as providing the ability to foam engineering grade thermoplastics without the need for specialty moulding equipment or chemical blowing agents, the novel polymer processing technology enabled the manufacture of higher quality parts with a more consistent foam structure at higher production rates. At the same time, the LightFoam production methodology proved to be a cost competitive option for low runs.

Highly effective process

Pera Technology created a dedicated facility within the workshop for the LightFoam project, which allowed the key research into gas diffusion rates in polymers at high pressure and temperature to take place. The process developed is simple but highly effective. The LightFoam method uses engineering grade thermoplastics which are saturated with nitrogen gas at temperatures above Tg. Here diffusion rates of gas within the polymer are significantly increased. The granules are then cooled below Tg, trapping the nitrogen molecules within. The granules are packaged and shipped to SME moulders for use in standard moulding machines. During processing, melting of the polymer releases the trapped nitrogen in a highly controlled manner, producing foam in the moulding machine, which has a more uniformed structure and therefore performs better.

EU funding

Led by Pera Technology, who also secured EU funding for the €2.5m project through the FP7 and Research for Associations (R4A) programmes, the outcomes of the developed technology has proven to have had benefits for the European polymer processing community – particular for SMEs – which had at the time faced considerable threat from low cost imports.

Partners

  • The British Plastics Federation LBG
  • Yki, Ytkemiska Institutet AB
  • Tecnostamp Triulzi Group SRL
  • Mittetulundusuhing Eesti Plastitoostuse Liit (Estonian Plastics Association)
  • Asociacion Espanola De Industrialesde Plasticos
  • Structure-Flex Limited
  • 5M SRO
  • Polinter SA
  • The UK Intelligent Systems Research Institute Limited (A Pera Technology Company)
  • Zotefoams PLC

Funding

Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)