Success Story with Kostal China

Reliable corrosion protection for aluminum housings in e-mobility

Among other things, Plasmatreat GmbH uses its innovative surface-treating plasma technology to develop customized nanocoatings that serve as corrosion protection and are integrated in highly specific, individual, user-oriented production lines. In the electric car industry, the world market leader for atmospheric plasma technology supported the Kostal Group with a solution that reliably protects the die-cast aluminum housings of sensitive on-board chargers (OBC) against corrosion. The joint project between the two partners led to a significant improvement in the quality of the components – and helped the innovative PlasmaPlus technology to grow successfully on the Chinese market.

Protecting automotive components against corrosion is a complex task, not least because of constantly rising environmental requirements, multi-material constructions, structural integrity concerns, sophisticated geometries and strict industrial standards, as well as the zero-defect policy in the electric vehicle industry. This broad spectrum of requirements is constantly presenting new challenges for companies – and opens the door for innovative processes such as atmospheric plasma technology. One such company is automotive supplier Kostal Automobil Elektrik (KAE), one of the leading providers of power electronics and contact systems for hybrid and electric vehicles. At the Chinese site in Shanghai, Kostal (Shanghai) Management Co., which is part of the KAE division, manufactures on-board chargers (OBC) for electric vehicles and electronic modules for steering columns, regulators, shift-by-wire systems and sliding roofs. Especially in the OBC segment, the corrosion resistance of the sealing surfaces on housings plays a critical role in fulfilling the high-quality requirements of customers in the automotive industry.

Reliable corrosion protection through plasma technology
One of Kostal’s customers, a reputable automobile manufacturer, was seeking an efficient and environmentally friendly integrated solution to improve the corrosion resistance of die-cast aluminum housings for its on-board chargers (OBC). The DIN EN ISO 9227 test, which is conducted to determine corrosion-resistance, had identified weaknesses in the sealing surface of the housing. There, irregularities were found in the wrought aluminum, which were open to attack from corrosion. Kostal technical team were looking for solutions that can be combined with the equipment design, and manufacturing and automation integration capabilities of Kostal China Intelligent Equipment Company. The Group had already had positive experiences with the surface treatment system from the Steinhagen-based company, Plasmatreat GmbH. By developing and integrating Plasmatreat’s innovative inline plasma cleaning and coating technology system, a perfect solution for highly reliable anti-corrosion protection of local sealing surfaces is formed in conjunction with traditional process solutions. As a result, after a 6-week salt spray test (of 1008 hours), the plasma-treated surface showed no signs of corrosion, while quite a lot of corrosion traces have appeared on the surface that only had passivation treatment.

Surface treatment with plasma significantly improves industrial processes
Plasma technology is based on a simple physical principle, namely that adding energy causes material states to change. If energy is added to a gas, it ionizes and becomes energy-rich plasma. As an expert in atmospheric plasma technology, Plasmatreat offers effective solutions for numerous material applications. These solutions are used in a wide variety of industries and have become particularly established in the automotive industry. The German company has developed various plasma processes for treating surfaces in different areas of application. In microfine cleaning with Openair-Plasma, contaminants are removed from substrates (e.g. metals and glass). With plastics, the goal of plasma treatment is to activate the surface. Depending on the material and area of application, plasma cleaning and activation ensure that surfaces have sufficiently high surface energies and are free of contamination, which in turn significantly improves the bonding of adhesives and coatings. In addition to cleaning and activating, a third process – plasma coating – opens up more possibilities for plasma applications: the innovative PlasmaPlus technology can be used to create nanocoatings that achieve functionalized surfaces with customized properties, such as corrosion protection, enhanced bonding, non-stick or flame protection properties. Plasma technology offers considerable advantages over conventional processes: It is dry, safe, efficient, inline-capable and environmentally friendly – making it a real gamechanger in various industrial processes.