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Merryweather Foam Blog

Since 1948, we have been industry leaders in fabricating unique, foam components for customers in the medical, sound absorption, automotive, and unique packaging industries. At Merryweather Foam, we pride ourselves on our ability to combine experience, innovation, and excellent customer service. We have the knowledge, manpower & equipment to help you get the job done. Visit our website to see our fabrication portfolio as well as our capabilities.

Tackling Automotive Challenges with Flexible Foam

Foam might be the ultimate problem-solving material. It's what auto industry engineers reach for to eliminate squeaks and rattles, to prevent fretting, absorb noise and seal interfaces. No driver ever boasted about the foam used in their car or truck, but without it the vehicle wouldn't feel as good, perform as well or last as long. As a leading fabricator of flexible foam, Merryweather is positioned to help automotive OEMs, Tier 1's, and beyond solve their problems. Read on to learn how precision-cut foam components and materials help build high quality vehicles.

Auto Industry Challenges
The auto industry is on a roll right now. 2015 saw record sales, and some are predicting an even better 2016, but car companies aren't getting complacent. It's a highly competitive industry facing an array of challenges, from EPA gas mileage mandates to customer satisfaction scores, warranty costs and recalls. Here are three issues keeping automotive engineers awake at night, and what foam can do to help.

  • Perceived Quality - Squeaks, rattles and vibrations might seem minor, but they have a big impact on how buyers feel about their vehicle and reflect in Consumer Reports and J.D. Powers rankings. Foam used between mating surfaces absorbs relative movement and prevents irritating noises. It can dampen vibrations and absorb transmitted sound, helping give occupants a sense of riding in a quality vehicle.
  • Fuel Economy Mandates - Refining engine technology and launching hybrids and pure electrics isn't going to be enough. Lightweighting is essential and automakers are moving as fast as they can, but risk reducing structural stiffness. More flex means more squeaks and rattles, and greater likelihood of water ingress. Correctly selected foam compresses and springs back, filling variable gaps and sealing effectively. Plus, foam is inherently a lightweight material.
  • Cost Control - Foam helps manufacturers address cost in three ways. First, by preventing problems like water ingress it helps bring down warranty costs and avoid recalls. Second, its ability to accommodate variable gaps grants designers greater freedom in tolerancing components, in turn reducing tooling costs and increasing yields. And third, used as a contact material in dunnage, it helps prevent scrap due to damage to Class A surfaces.

Automotive Applications
In cars and trucks foam is used primarily for comfort and cushioning, gasketing and sealing, and noise attenuation. Cushioning applications tend to be more form-in-place than foam fabrications. It's a specialized area with the materials being formed to shape and sometimes integrally bonded to surface materials. Although technically a foam application, the focus here is on flexible foam fabrications.

In terms of piece count, gasketing and sealing probably represents the largest usage category. Foam gaskets of various types are used on external body surfaces, under the hood and in the passenger compartment.

Around headlamp, tail lamp and CHMSL clusters foam gaskets prevent water ingress by filling gaps that vary as a result of manufacturing tolerances. Under mirrors, door handles and latches, and antenna mounts they stop hard plastic or metal components rubbing against paint and forming sites where corrosion can start. Under the hood foam locates and shields sensors and fluid reservoirs, reducing the transmission of vibration and providing EMI shielding. Internally, foam seals joints in HVAC ducting and insulates it from body structures. Airbag components are sealed with foam gaskets, as are occupant sensors and instrument or gauge clusters. It also makes an ideal gap filler between trim pieces.

Noise attenuation is the third usage category. By stopping parts from rubbing together, foam fabrications can deaden squeaks and rattles. Foam can also absorb noise transmitted through the structure and prevent it reaching the cabin.

Another big automotive use for foam is in dunnage. Custom formed foam dunnage, as described in "Polyethylene Foam: An Excellent Material for Automotive Dunnage Racks," is a great way of reducing losses due to marking of Class A surfaces in transit or while moving dunnage lineside.

Foam Properties and Selection
Perhaps foam was once selected on a trial and error basis – the engineer squeezing a piece into a gap and if it stopped the rattle, moving on to the next job – but it's not done that way today. Modern foams are as highly engineered as every other part of the vehicle, and come in a wide range of properties.

Density is a major concern, because that drives weight and influences performance. Denser foam is usually more robust and gives higher compression force deflection numbers, although density correlates poorly with firmness. In some applications feel is the primary concern, in others it's natural frequency.

Then there are the material properties. Foam used externally must resist water ingress, endure the rigors of the carwash, and withstand UV exposure without crumbling or cracking. Closed cell foams are generally selected when sealing is a priority, although the increased compression resistance can raise clamping loads. Inside and under the hood high temperatures can be a huge challenge, yet the same vehicle could also see bitter winter lows, so temperature ranges will be important.

When selecting foam for a particular application, it's essential to remember that it's not all the same. The decision should be made based on science and engineering, not "poke and hope!"

Foam Manufacturing Processes at Merryweather
Merryweather has foam fabrication equipment suitable for both low volume or sample production as well as long runs and high quantities.

Water jet and digital knife cutting are ideal processes for prototype development and pre-production samples. With no special-purpose tooling lead times are minimized and the machines can be programmed direct from the CAD files.

For volume production of gaskets it's hard to beat the efficiency and consistency of die cutting. Steel rule dies slice through thin foam sheets, producing excellent dimensional repeatability and good edge quality. Nesting gives excellent material utilization and "kiss-cutting" allows gaskets to be delivered on a roll for easy storage and peeled off when needed. Foam sheets can be given a pressure sensitive adhesive coating that eases application.

A Problem-Solving Material

Auto companies face an array of challenges, from lightweighting to improving perceived quality. What engineers need is a robust yet inexpensive material that takes up manufacturing tolerances, stops water penetration and prevents squeaks and rattles.

Flexible foam fabrications are ideal for addressing all these problems. A conversation with Merryweather will highlight the many ways in which carefully selected and shaped foam pieces can help. To learn more about Merryweather's automotive capabilities, contact us today!

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4 Reasons Why Our Membership with the GFA Benefits You

As proud members of the GFA, or Gasket Fabricators Association, Merryweather foam is committed to delivering the best cutting-edge solutions to their customers. Through our engagement in GFA resources and events, our company connects with the best suppliers and innovators in our industry to ensure we remain competitive, agile and powerful for our end customer - you. We aren't content to rest on our laurels, despite having some of the industry's most cutting-edge choices in cutting edges - Water Jet Cutting, Die Cutting, Contour Cutting and more - as well as customer-focused production techniques and a commitment to overall product quality. Partnering with the GFA as a member has allowed us to expand our expertise:

Annual Meetings
As with many fabrication-based industries, a single piece of technology or technique breakthrough can provide better products, pricing and efficiency virtually overnight. GFA membership gives Merryweather Foam access to twice a year membership meetings. These gatherings allow us to peruse new suppliers and lock in component and equipment deals that empower us to deliver a more valuable product to you, our customers. 

A Strong Network of Peers
The seminars, presentations and networking opportunities enjoyed by GFA members allow us to meet and stay in contact with peers that can offer guidance for unique challenges. We pride ourselves in staying up-to-date on the latest problem-solving techniques in the foam fabrication field, and GFA seminars give our team the knowledge and network contacts they need to serve you.

Technical Webinars
Important industry news travels fast, and if it happens between annual meetings, GFA webinars help us stay informed. By virtually connecting with and learning from the brightest minds in our field, we're always well ahead of changes and ready to take advantage of any potential opportunities on your behalf. 

The TechTeam™
The TechTeam™ is a valuable panel of experts assembled and serving in conjunction with the International Association of Die cutting and Die making. The team is a unique GFA membership benefit that extends the reach of our problem-solving skills by giving us access to sharp industry minds outside of our factory walls. If you have an unusual product or unusual fabrication needs, we are able to confer with the TechTeam™ for new ideas and a fresh outlook, giving you the benefit of efficiency.

At Merryweather Foam Inc, our membership in the GFA is only part of our commitment to our customers. We know that the needs and demands of the marketplace - whether they're for retail goods, equipment operation and protection, filtering or other applications - deserve to be met as affordably and quickly as possible, and with the highest degree of skill and quality available. We're proud to meet those demands every day, and invite you to contact us for all of your foam fabrication needs.

To learn more about the Gasket Fabricators Association, visit their website. Also, we would love to help you with your next project--please get in touch with us if you are in need of help. 

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Thick Material? No Problem! We can cut with Pressurized Water

Our water jet cutting machines leaves clean, straight edges in thick foam. Try it on your next custom foam fabrication job.

Cutting soft materials like foam is hard. Try pushing in the blade of a knife and the material compresses. The thicker and softer the foam is, the more it deflects. The only way is to use the point of the knife: once the surface is pierced the blade can go through.

That's why we have a waterjet cutting machine. Like an incredibly sharp knife, it lets us cut complex profiles from soft materials up to 6" thick. If you need pieces for a flexible foam fabrication, talk to Merryweather about waterjet cutting.

Process basics

In waterjet cutting a needle-thin jet of water moving at near supersonic speed slices through soft material. By moving the jet over a sheet of material it's possible to cut out intricate two-dimensional shapes. Recessed pockets can't be cut with a waterjet though, because it goes all the way through. Instead, the way to make those is from two separate pieces of foam. Combining waterjet-cut pieces that way allows creation of almost any custom foam fabrication.

Why cut with water?

It's a fast way of cutting out large, complicated shapes. It's a clean process with no chemicals or hazardous wastes, and has many other useful characteristics too.

  • Pierce straight through so there's no need to cut in from the outside. Essential for creating contiguous shapes with hollow centers (as you'd need for a pocket.)
  • Cuts very square, even on materials like thick reticulated polyurethane foam, and leaves smooth edges needing little to no finishing.
  • Very narrow cut width or "kerf" thanks to the thin beam. This allows cutting of very intricate shapes and lets us nest shapes to use a sheet efficiently.
  • No sideways forces, so there's no material distortion. This also lets us cut very thin wall sections.
  • No heat, unlike laser cutting, so there's no unsightly edge melting or heat affected zone.
  • There's no tooling or fixturing. All that's needed is a program for the waterjet's computer, and that comes from the CAD of the shape needed.

When is waterjet cutting appropriate?
With no need for tooling, waterjet cutting is ideal for one-offs such as for prototypes or for custom applications needing only a few identical shapes. As a single point-of-cut process, it's not the fastest method but does yield excellent results on thick, soft materials like reticulated polyurethane foam. Waterjet machines are also capable of cutting out very large shapes: ours handles sheets of material up to 60" by 132".

Small quantities that look good
Materials that are thick and soft, like those you might use in a custom foam fabrication, are difficult to cut cleanly. When appearance matters, tooling-free waterjet cutting is a cost-effective method of producing the shapes you need. If you're interested in learning more, contact us today.

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