In 1998, we received a requirement from a certain company in the United States saying that they wanted to make the housing for automotive door mirrors in 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., (present 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-tone brilliance on 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 surface decoration on the front window and rear window frames of cars. We thought that we might satisfy the requirement by modifying the product according to the customer’s processing method. We made a change to the resins to meet their new processing method, and we offered a prototype product to them. Their reply was that the product was good for the 3D performance, but it was a little whiter compared to the plating, it did not have the metallic feeling, and the surface hardness was insufficient. The result was that they were satisfied with the 3D performance, but two problems remained.
To understand the problem and implement countermeasures, we first started by refurbishing some old equipment within the company which would enable reproduction of the phenomenon where the film turned white. We established the condition that would allow us to research the kind of metal that did not deteriorate even when it was formed into a 3D profile. After repeatedly cutting and trying to procure various thin-film metal materials and executing experiments, we found the answer that a certain type of metal could maintain the feeling of metal without turning white! This took six months of investigation after we received the inquiry.
Using a general hard coating resulted in breakage when the film was formed into a 3D profile.
For many days, we searched for hard materials and formed them into 3D profiles. One day, the sufficient hardness and formability were confirmed on a certain material, and we applied the thin metal film onto the material. This solved the problem, but the result was that another issue occurred. The material cost was very high! In the process for coating the thin metal film, the processing cost increased due to the effects of the thickness of the material and we could not meet the price range desired by the customer.
We investigated various materials, made inquiries on the materials, tried to procure samples, and repeated verifications. One day, a thin material that could be deep-drawn and used for beverage cans caught our eyes. By utilizing the material, we succeeded in the significant reduction of the processing cost for the coating the thin metal film. However, since we could not secure the surface hardness with this material, we decided to use a material featuring a balance of hardness and formability that we had found earlier.
In such way, the MTIA (metallic decorative film enabling 3D molding) film that featured the multilayer structure for ensuring the balance between the surface hardness and the metal layer was born.
We made a report to the president at the time together with the 3D-molded sample manufactured in the company by using the film we developed, saying “We at last realized a sample product that can be formed into the 3D profile and is able to maintain the feeling of plating and the surface hardness.”
However, as we explained that the sample was a multilayer structure, the president rejected the sample, saying “If we have to have two different processes within the company, this may result in increased yield loss and deteriorated 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 development into 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 three years after we launched the product into the market. Many of the orders we received were spot orders for the touch-panel frames of refrigerators, optional parts for car dealers, and similar small orders. The situation such that we manufactured the product only once in a month continued.
The offer that drastically changed the situation was the project opportunity to change the automotive wheel ornament to a film decorative 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. Under such circumstances, we had an inquiry for our film for 3D molding. However, because this was our first project to make parts for a car manufacturing line, a large number of tests and preparation of documents was required. These requirements included meeting specifications for detailed exterior appearance and conformance to strict standards.
It took another one year after getting this inquiry to reach the phase of mass-production by clearing all of these requirements.
At present, we continue to work on the development of new products and continually improving the product quality. We also work with customer designers to offer new plating designs and colored metallic designs featuring deep color tones that cannot be achieved by painting. We realize that we must continue to offer differentiated products that have added 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