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Tiny bubbles - big impact!

3M™ Glass Bubbles - an all-round lightweight filler for the automobile industry

Spherical, hollow, microscopically small with a glass shell – this is the secret recipe for the all-round lightweight filler 3M™ Glass Bubbles. Developed by one of the most innovative companies in the world (3M), the properties of the glass microsphere provide unique advantages. They are easy to handle and, most important of all, light in weight.

A new ingredient for an innovative lightweight recipe

There is a wide range of 3M™ Glass Bubble versions, tailored to different applications, with varying degrees of density and stability. With a density of just 0.46 g/cm3 and an (average) diameter of 20 µm, the tiny type iM16K bubbles, for instance, are finer than sand. In plastics processing, use of this lightweight filler in polymers can, depending on filling degree and formulation, bring about weight savings of up to 30 percent in vehicle components. The high isostatic crush strength of the iM16K 3M™ Glass Bubbles makes them suitable for use in injection moulding. Thermal insulation is another advantage of this new type of filler. In addition, its low thermal capacity contributes to more rapid cooling during the production process of a component, which in turn can help to reduce cycle times. A positive effect for the production as a whole, because the sooner parts cool down, the greater the number of components that can be produced during a manufacturing period.

Ideal conditions for taking this new ingredient and using it to provide easy-to-implement lightweight solutions for the automotive industry in the future. And this is of vital importance, because lightweight design counts as one of the key disciplines in meeting demands for more environmentally friendly vehicles. For panels, control elements, storage areas, centre consoles, but also for other applications in the vehicle: 3M™ Glass Bubbles offer a broad spectrum of applications as a lightweight material for the vehicles of tomorrow.

Material expertise meets engineering know-how

To make more extensive use of the potential of the microspheres in the vehicle, 3M was looking for a technology partner in the automotive sector, a partner capable of identifying new applications for the 3M™ Glass Bubbles. Michael Begert, Innovations Manager at EDAG's Competence Centre for Lightweight Design, Materials and Technology was in charge of the consultancy order placed by 3M: "The tiny microspheres are made of stable borosilicate glass, and can be used in many areas to optimise not just components and products, but also processes. In the study we carried out, EDAG was able to pinpoint specific interior, exterior and engine compartment applications in which the use of 3M™ Glass Bubbles also proved their value as a thermoplastic material in polypropylene (PP). In injection moulding tests carried out under serial production conditions in conjunction with 3M, we were able to demonstrate that this material substitution has a positive effect on the manufacturing process, cycle time and therefore also on cost-effectiveness.

The first series applications are already being implemented. At the IAA, EDAG and 3M presented a door trim manufactured from a new lightweight compound that highlights the fact that innovation experts 3M's new filler makes plastics lighter, while at the same time also meeting vehicle manufacturers' and suppliers' technical requirements.

Already, 3M™ Glass Bubbles can be found in every fifth car. And to ensure that this rate will continue to increase in the future, we are working with 3M on the evaluation of glass microspheres for far-reaching applications in series vehicles."