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Japanese automotive OEM Toyota has adopted an interior part using unique honeycomb material solution for its new hybrid model Prius PHV launched earlier this year. The solution, based on ThermHex thermoplastic honeycomb core technology developed by EconCore, is implemented in the trunk cover of the car. This was achieved thanks to developments of Gifu Plastic Industry Co. from Japan using technology licensed from EconCore. Due to its combination of strength and rigidity and optimized material performance, the ultra-low weight honeycomb delivers weight savings of 50 % as a core part inside the trunk cover compared to previous conventional material set-ups based on cardboard and metal.

This specific trunk cover part was developed by Gifu Plastics together with its local automotive supplier partners. Gifu Plastic developed capabilities and products to conform to the specifications of automobile parts including durability, heat resistance and cold resistance. Gifu Plastic, a licensee of EconCore started out using the ThermHex process to make thermoplastic honeycomb products for packaging and logistics applications, achieving notable success in these areas. Recently Gifu Plastic has extended its portfolio to include automotive interiors; an application area where sustainable and cost efficient lightweight materials are becoming just as important as in the packaging industry. The light, rigid and easy to thermoform honeycomb core materials have attracted the interest of automotive OEMs in Europe and North America as well. The experiences gained over the last few years are triggering accelerated developments of new solutions in the trunk area and other interior applications.

“We are very pleased to see such a prominent leader in automotive innovation and responsibility moving forward with our honeycomb materials which have minimal weight and minimal environmental impact. We are proud that our uniquely produced honeycomb cores are becoming increasingly accepted in the highly sensitive automotive industry. That strengthens our position in this field and motivates us to invest further into research and development,” says Jochen Pflug, CEO of EconCore and inventor of the ThermHex technology. Pflug says the efficiency of the unique and patented continuous ThermHex process enables the naturally optimized honeycomb structure to be brought to more cost sensitive applications, ultimately saving natural resources by replacing heavier sub-optimal designs.

EconCore’s ThermHex technology is a continuous process for the production of thermoplastic honeycombs integrated with an in-line lamination of skin layers. Due to the efficient process, the resulting sandwich panels are not only exceptionally strong and lightweight but also very cost-effective. EconCore has licensed the technology to several companies operating within packaging, automotive, furniture, building and transportation markets. Furthermore, the versatility of the technology allows direct lamination of thermoplastic skins as well as other facing layers (including for instance composites and metal) onto the thermoplastic honeycomb core to offer lightweight sandwich panels suitable for different applications. The list of EconCore licensees is growing and includes, amongst others, Renolit Group, Gifu Plastic, Tata Steel, Röplast, ThermHex Waben GmbH, Fynotej and Wabash National.

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