In 1998, we received a requirement from a company in the United States saying that they wanted to make the housing for automotive rearview mirrors, a 3D shape, by using our metallic film. More specifically, they wanted to make decorative films without using chrome plating. At that time, Japan Wavelock Co., Ltd., (now Wavelock Advanced Technology) had decorative films for flat surfaces that were used for automotive door moldings/trims and bumper moldings/trims, and they wanted to reflect the metal-effect lustre on deep-draw (3D) parts.
In our product groups, we had a grade of product that could be bent, although it was designed for use with the flat strip decoration on the front window and rear window surrounds of cars. We believed that we might satisfy the requirement by modifying the product according to the customer’s processing method. Indeed we made a change to the resins to adapt to their new processing method, thus offering a prototype product to them. Their reply was that the product was good for the deep-draw performance, but it was a little whiter compared to the plating- it lost the metallic appearance, and the surface hardness was insufficient. In short, they were satisfied with the 3D performance, but those 2 problems remained.
To understand the problem and implement corrective actions, we first started by refurbishing some old equipment within the company which would enable us to reproduce this phenomenon where the film turned white. We established the conditions that would allow us to research a kind of metal layer that did not deteriorate even when it was deeply formed into a 3D shape. After repeated trial and error builds to of various thin-film metal materials and carrying out numerous experiments, we identified a certain type of metal could maintain the appearance of metal without turning white! This took a full six months of investigation.
Using a general hard coat results in breakage when the film was formed into a 3D profile.
For days we searched for hard materials and formed them into 3D shapes. One day, the desired hardness and formability were confirmed on a certain material, and we applied the thin metal film onto this material. This solved the problem, but created a new one. The material cost was very high. The processing costs increased due to the effect of the thickness of the material and we could no longer meet the price range desired by the customer.
We continued our material science investigations and carried out numerous trial-and-error experiments. Eventually, a thin film material that could be deep-drawn and had been used for beverage cans caught our eye. We adapted this to our process and succeeded in obtaining a significant reduction in the processing costs when coating the thin metal film. However, since we could not achieve the the desired surface hardness with this material, we decided to revert to a material featuring a trade-off of the hardness and formability that we had found earlier.
In such way, the ‘MTIA’ construction film (metallic decorative film enabling 3D molding) that features the multilayer structure for ensuring the best balance between the surface hardness and a formable metal layer was born.
We submitted our findings to the board, explaining that the new development was a multilayer structure, and the president rejected the sample, saying “If we have to have two different processes within the company, this may result in lower yield and impact our quality, therefore, there is no advantage to mass-production.”
However, we did not give up. We continued to submit the trial cost balance sheets and reports of repeated manufacturing of prototypes, and we explained the advantages, including the ability to achieve color variations. We repeated such actions over five months before we finally obtained the approval of the president. Since the beginning of our investigation, two years had passed when we reached this stage.
Although we added the product for 3D molding to our product lineup, there was no notable sales revenue for the first three years. Many of the orders we received were spot orders for the touch-panel frames of refrigerators, aftermarket parts and accessories and similar small orders. The situation such that we manufactured the product only once in a month continued.
The project that drastically changed the situation was the opportunity to change the automotive wheel center cap to a decorative film part. The part, at that time, had a problem with corrosion because it was chrome plated. There was a customer who had been looking for a method to completely prevent this corrosion. As such, a production project presented itself. However, because this was our first project to make parts for a car manufacturing line, a significant amount of trial work and laboratory testing had to be undertaken.
It took another year from the initial inquiry to get to mass-production once we had satisfied the end customer’s requirements.
At present, we continue to work on the development of new products and continually improving the product quality of our existing product line. We also work with automotive designers to develop new and colored metallic designs featuring deep-look color effects that cannot be achieved by painting. We realize that we must continue to offer differentiated products that will add functionality and value, not simply offer products that are positioned as replacements of plating or painting.
In recent years, because various types of sensors are featured with industrial products (like cars and home electric appliances) the voices of our customers have told us that they want decorative materials that do not block the electromagnetic waves of a specific wavelength. We are aggressively and successfully tackling the development of such products.
Aiming for ensuring pleasure for our customers
with the world’s No. 1 quality and product lineups