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Keywords of this article:  automotive 
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Preh developed an entirely new generation of tactile surface contours for the air conditioning function of the center stack operating system for the BMW Series 5 and 7.
Preh developed an entirely new generation of tactile surface contours for the air conditioning function of the center stack operating system for the BMW Series 5 and 7.
Photo: 12

Preh GmbH has developed a touchscreen using Evonik's PLEXIMID polymethyl methacrylimide (PMMI) that is easier to operate thanks to haptic localization aids. It is currently used in the four-zone air conditioning unit of the BMW 5 and 7 series.

The challenge involved in providing touchscreen in car is that the drivers must be able to operate the center console without taking their eyes off the road.

"With knobs and buttons, drivers can feel precisely where their hand is on the control unit," explained Hans Karl Heil, a Development Engineer for Mechanical Design at Preh. "That is of course not possible with a touchscreen."

Preh developed an entirely new generation of tactile surface contours for the air conditioning function of the center stack operating system that the BMW Group offers as a special feature to purchasers of the BMW Series 5 and 7.

"The surface is slightly indented in places, making it easier to operate," Heil said.

The localization aids are incorporated into the touchscreen membrane made from the thermoplastic PLEXIMID TT50. This PMMI with a high heat deflection temperature from Evonik is also used, for example, for light guides in the daytime running light of modern LED headlamps.

"Besides its good optical properties, the material also offers very accurate mold surface reproduction, making it ideal for three-dimensional forming," Heil explained. "And we can simply injection mold the component, which is very important in view of the large number of units required by the automotive industry."

In addition, PLEXIMID shows high chemical resistance, which means it is insensitive to traces of perspiration, creams and food on the hands of people operating the system.

The material also possesses strong surface hardness, and with an additional protective coating by Preh, is able to withstand mechanical stress from keys or handbags.

Owing to its high heat deflection temperature, PLEXIMID withstands heat buildup in cars parked in full sunlight, which can easily reach temperatures of more than 100°C. "Its low rate of thermal expansion was another crucial point when it came to choosing the material, because we bond the touchscreen membrane to the silicate glass display behind it," Heil said. "The cover must therefore show very minimal expansion due to temperature fluctuations."

The displays on the operating element can be clearly seen even in sunshine. "No other plastic with a high heat deflection temperature shows such low birefringence. This means there are virtually no disturbing color reflections," added Dr. Lukas Dössel from Global Product Management PMMI at Evonik. The display can therefore be read even by people wearing polarized sunglasses.

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