Designer-look air conditioning systems

Lightweight construction materials must above all be light and stable. If they also look good: all the better. However, while many people had enough of the typical "carbon fibre fabric look", Covestro CFRTP composites (continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastics) provide the market with a completely new look – as can be seen by looking at air conditioners of the Chinese appliance manufacturer Haier.

The material was actually developed to produce extremely light-weight components that can withstand enormous forces thanks to ultra-thin, endlessly long carbon fibers and are nevertheless as easy to process as thermoplastic polymers. But unlike the now aged racing material, designers are already interested in the new look of Covestro's new composites. After all, new materials that are both practical and "design-suitable" are in high demand – as the example of a brand-new air-conditioning system from the Casarte brand of the Chinese household appliances company Haier shows.

"The low weight of CFRTPs was actually not so important to us," says Shao Qingru from Haier's design team. Wait a minute: did I hear that correctly? Thanks to unidirectional carbon fiber tapes, the latest ultra-lightweight material from Covestro is breaking new records in terms of weight reduction combined with very high strength. So why does the designer use it if the lightweight construction potential of the new composite material is not really that important to her?

The Haier Group reports that it holds the world's largest market share in the appliance sector and produces a very large number of air conditioning systems, washing machines, microwave ovens and refrigerators for demanding customers. Such a global player selects its materials very carefully. So why CFRTP, Mrs. Qingru? And why for a new air conditioning system for the Casarte brand of the group, which has acquired its reputation through luxury goods made of glass and steel, the products of which are sold as celebrated design objects with a nearly artistic appeal?

Customers love good looking products
And this is exactly the key to the riddle. "The decisive factor was the surface quality," says Qingru. "When I saw the material for the first time, I was very impressed by its aesthetic quality. So naturally, we were immediately interested in this new premium material when Covestro introduced it to us at a Haier Innovation Day."

There is a simple reason why Casarte employees have focused mainly on metals and glass up to now. Their goal is a unique design that electrifies customers. In the fiercely contested appliance market, manufacturers must stand out from the crowd if they want to fascinate and retain customers. Good design always determines the success of a product, according to Qingru, but ugly things quickly disappear. It is not for nothing that Casarte employs around 300 product designers in twelve countries around the globe, who give their creations the most unique look possible. And steel, aluminum and glass attract attention.

Aesthetic material wanted
The catch: "It is not easy to find new materials that we can work with," says Shao Qingru. In the meantime, she and her colleagues spend most of their time working on proven materials in such a way that they differ from the familiar appearance and help to give their products a new face. And to make them even more appealing for customers. "But in this sense, we are reaching more and more of our limits."

For example, in order to make aluminum suitable for use in living rooms, it requires some combination of finishing processes like sandblasting, brushing and anodizing. I.e. it is equipped with a more robust surface electrically before it can shine in the product. And this elaborate processes cost time and money. "CFRTP, on the other hand, is a beautiful material", the designer says. Beautiful even without make-up, so to speak.

A plastic is the better metal
The first new product in the Casarte product range, which is allowed to be encased in the new Covestro material, is an air-conditioning system: Two slender columns with a luxurious metal effect that does not require any metal at all thanks to CFRTP and an otherwise restrained, transparent paint finish: In their brilliant polycarbonate matrix, the endless carbon fibers of the new lightweight construction material, which lie parallel to each other, are reminiscent of brushed aluminum, even without the need for the time-consuming finishing process.

Even the sound fits: Anyone who knocks against the case will hear the typical metal-like "Dong", which is another good reason for many designers to take a closer look at the material. "Sound is also part of our design language", explains Qingru, "it contributes to the unique user experience. Customers want to touch, feel and hear the product. The metallic sound makes you feel like you have a stable and reliable product."

The keyword "reliable" is much more than just that: Since CFRTP, thanks to established plastic production techniques such as compression molding, requires fewer processing steps from the raw material to the end product than, for example, aluminum or even traditional carbon fiber-reinforced plastics, which require several hours in post-processing, the CFRTP inventor in Leverkusen clearly expects that the overall part quality is reproducibly higher. The result: reject rates decrease because the material has to be processed less elaborately after demolding. This, of course – like the short cycle times of the forming process – is likely to have a positive effect on production costs.

"Covestro made a breakthrough here"
The high performance of the material has already convinced Haier in such a way, that the other strengths of the new lightweight construction material at Haier take a back seat. For example, the low weight and the targeted design of the tape layers to divert induced forces: for the chic design piece, these properties are also not completely unimportant, and a pleasant bonus for the user who wants to carry the product home – but the inspiring appearance is what really counts. Beauty counts!

In any case, Shao Qingru is proud to have discovered this material for the new air conditioning system of the Haier brand Casarte. "New materials are not easy to find. And the effort required to successfully bring them to the end product is high. I believe that Covestro and Haier have made a real breakthrough here." At Haier, with whom Covestro has been working for a long time and has recently entered into a strategic partnership, further projects are already being considered.

About Covestro:
With 2017 sales of EUR 14.1 billion, Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, and electrical and electronics industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics, health and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employs approximately 16,200 people (calculated as full-time equivalents) at the end of 2017.

Find more information at www.covestro.com and www.cfrtp.covestro.com.
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Forward-looking statements
This news release may contain forward-looking statements based on current assumptions and forecasts made by Covestro AG. Various known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the actual future results, financial situation, development or performance of the company and the estimates given here. These factors include those discussed in Covestro’s public reports which are available at www.covestro.com. The company assumes no liability whatsoever to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.