Chemical Imaging of Thermoplastic Olefin (TPO) Surface Architecture

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In the automotive industry, ethylene−propylene rubber (EPR) is mixed with polypropylene (PP) to form a thermoplastic olefin (TPO) for use as car bumpers and fascia. An adhesion promoting primer, chlorinated polyolefin (CPO), is spray coated onto the TPO surface to increase adhesion of the base and clear coat paints to the low surface free energy TPO substrate. The surface morphology of rubber domains within the CPO-coated TPO substrate contributes strongly to the material characteristics, including impact resistance and adhesion properties. However, elastomer-phase analysis is challenging using traditional microanalysis imaging techniques. We employ fluorescence and Raman chemical imaging to characterize the TPO architecture in order to better understand the surface properties of coated TPO. Fluorescence imaging makes use of Nile red (NR), a fluorescent solvatochromic dye, solvated in the primer, which is effective in differentiating rubber from polypropylene on the basis of large variations in the fluorescence quantum efficiency. Confocal fluorescence chemical imaging performed on TPO coated with NR-doped CPO shows a thin (2−3 μm) layer of elastomer that has migrated to the TPO surface. Raman chemical imaging is in direct agreement with the fluorescence experiments by measuring the intrinsic vibrational signatures of CPO, EPR, and PP without the need for dyes or stains. Raman contrast is enhanced using cosine correlation analysis, a novel multivariate processing technique that provides chemical contrast on the basis of differences in spectral shape.