Polymers account for around 15 % of the materials in a mid-size car and play an important role in the weight and price of the vehicle. This has resulted in polyurethane becoming a widely accepted and versatile material, thus serving as an alternative for the traditional materials in the automotive industry. Covestro (India) Pvt Ltd is a leading manufacturer of polymers across the globe and has gained prominence in the Indian automotive segment as well. Auto Tech Review recently visited the company’s Greater Noida facility to understand the advancements happening in the material development space and the operational expertise of Covestro.
At the Greater Noida location, Covestro has two manufacturing units – a Polyurethane (PUR) System house and the Colour Competency & Design Centre (CCDC). At the CCDC, the company carries out colour matching and compounding activities. In the engineering plastics segment catering to automotive applications, Covestro has the expertise to develop colours according to customer needs. It has dedicated facilities and a globally accredited team to offer customised solutions.
Covestro has developed a technology that creates raw materials for plastic production out of the climate-damaging gas, carbon dioxide. For the automotive and electronics industries, Covestro has been focussing on weight-reduction solutions through use of high-grade polymers, without compromising on the security and strength of products. The CCDC compounds a high-tech polycarbonate and its various blends in a wide range of transparent, translucent and opaque colours in different grades under the trade name of Makrolon, Bayblend, Apec and Makroblend. There are several sub-grades within all the four and are manufactured depending on the required applications. Covestro’s Greater Noida facility has two dedicated lines for colour development and sampling.
The Polyurethane (PUR) System house has a state-of-the-art blending technology for an even mixing of raw materials to ensure consistent product quality. It is equipped with an application development lab for customer interactions as well as developing new products based on their requirements. The polymer grade depends upon the customers’ applications and its colour depends upon the customer’s choice.
The whole production process is controlled through the SCADA (Supervisory control and data acquisition) system to maintain high accuracy. More than 80 different products are manufactured to serve diverse demands. Operation-wise, the plant is self-sustaining and fulfils all EHS (environmental, health, and safety) norms.
The PUR unit only processes liquid material with little scope for solid or powdered materials entering this unit. This area has been prepared as a downstream process unit for customers. The process here is 95 % automated, which enables the company to derive polymer formulations and customise its production activities.
PUR provides flexibility in applications and also scores high on rigidity during insulation requirements. It efficiently stops the transmission of heat, enabling the air-conditioning to perform effectively. In its semi-rigid form PUR has high abrasive strength, which allows multiple and dynamic applications.
The company has gained strong global competencies catering to multiple needs of a diversified customer base, and essentially offers those solutions at a domestic level. Covestro re-engineers its products according to the local market specifications, but does not carry out any R&D activities here. The focus is more on application engineering to offer solutions tailor-made for customer needs. For specimen preparation, Covestro employs injection moulding machines from Arburg, Germany. Visual Inspection Rating (VIR) cabinets have also been installed for the customer to inspect the granules. This is another USP for the company as it engages customers from the initial stages of processing.
Several tests are conducted to get the best out of engineering plastics. The laboratory area within the plant is equipped with an impact tester, a tensile tester and a gas chromatography tester. Also in place is a UV VIS spectrometer to check the UV content for UV-stabilised materials. Multiple dryers are used during the production process because drying is critical in ensuring moisture-free production. The facility is authorised to test flammability as per UL 94 V standards. Each instrument is interconnected not only within a plant but also with global operations, to monitor precision across the production process at any given time.
In terms of material handling, Covestro receives raw material in bulk through containers, and the additives are moved around in drums. The company adheres to a principle that materials should be transferred with negligible human contact. Packed materials are kept close to the packaging lines and the finished goods are then dispatched with care. A closed loop structure has been adopted to reduce material exposure to a bare minimum.
In order to ensure optimum productivity, Covestro has set up an excellence centre at Greater Noida, along with a large number of Kaizen initiatives throughout the year. Six Sigma projects are undertaken regularly to increase efficiency and eliminate defects. The plant is 5S certified and all processes are streamlined towards waste reduction.
Each manufacturing facility of Covestro is linked to a central database, which is managed using strict guidelines and best practices. This central database not only has the technical details of all products, but also records various factors that affect a product’s performance. Such stringent quality control measures ensure that any Covestro material will look and perform uniformly across regions. The company also works closely with customers across key industries such as automotive, construction and electrical/ electronics to develop new products and improve existing ones to meet new challenges.
Covestro has a dedicated customer interaction centre, where customers can have a glimpse of the production facility or in case they have a query regarding a specific application. Based on customer feedback, trials are conducted in the product development area. This is followed by a specimen mould being created for customer approval. This process allows faster adoption of specific requirements and also ensures long-term customer confidence.
The polycarbonate sections across all design centres of Covestro globally have colour competency centres, where product quality standards are benchmarked. These are interconnected facilities, where once a colour combination is approved, it can be used across all Covestro centres for application. Consistent grade raw materials, systems and operating conditions are used across all global Covestro locations for consistency in quality.
The eco-commercial building at Greater Noida operates majorly on clean renewable energy, consuming 70 % less energy as compared to conventional buildings. As an acknowledgement to its unique design concept, it has been rated Platinum by LEED, receiving a total of 64 points. The company states that the use of multiple innovative elements in the module make it climate-friendly, energy-efficient and ensures substantially low operating cost in the long run.
Covestro believes that sustainability as a priority needs to be executed and applied more often in production processes. The idea behind setting up the eco-commercial building at Greater Noida was to highlight the strength, USP and application of the many versatile materials manufactured. The idea was also to showcase how products contribute significantly to energy efficiency and help reduce carbon footprint.
Complementing this environment-friendly building structure are solar panels, through the use of which Covestro has been able to make this a net zero energy consumption structure. They supply the surplus energy produced through these solar panels to the production facility.
The company recently inaugurated a plant in Germany which through an innovative process uses carbon dioxide as the major raw material to manufacture polyols. These polyols are subsequently used to create polyurethane and polycarbonate materials. This reduces the burden on crude oil and is a constructive and efficient use of carbon dioxide. Such a mechanism is not yet in place for Indian units, but may soon be implemented.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley
PHOTO: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay