ENGINEERING AND PERFORMANCE
PLASTICS, 2005-2015, RAPRA, VIENNA 2005
Françoise Pardos, Pardos Marketing, February 2006
Here are a number of comments that will be better developed in the
next papers, just at random:
New industrial countries
Everything has been said about the promises of the globalization
and the world becoming one through the next fifty years. A vast background
can be found, for instance, in a report from Morgan Stanley in end
2003, about the rise of the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India,
China. Shell, among others, also offers a very broad variety of scenarios
for the coming decades.
Just as an example, as the world watches China, it is said there
that this is just a normal set back to normal. The Chinese economy
was an estimated 30 % of the total world riches up to the sixteenth
century. China’s share of the world went down to 2 % in the
twentieth century, now the target is to get back to the 30 % world
share, as a sort of birth right.
In general, in the world, there will be more cars produced, in the
next ten years, than there have been in the last 100 years.
A major feature at the present time, and accelerating since it started
less than ten years ago, is the migration of business from Europe
and North America to Asia, particularly China.
This shift has variable impacts on the Western industries. It is
particularly significant in industries such as telectronics, electricity,
telephones, computers, office machines, power tools, garden equipment.
The impact is relatively less in the car industry but fast happening.
It is also very strong in some commodity markets, like the retail
bags of PE, for which special temporary protective measures were
taken in early 2004.
The move to China has considerably affected local converters, unless
they were strong enough to follow the trend, and local suppliers
like bag makers in the UK, or smaller compounders everywhere.
Among the other key topics, development and major applications, but
there are many others:
As engineering and specialty plastics can replace metals, glass
and ceramics in very technical applications, in automobile,
electricity/electronics, aerospace and many industrial applications,
the search for flame retardancy has become increasingly important
in materials exposed to high-temperatures in ever diminishing space.
Unfortunately, many of the additives used to impart flame retardancy
to plastics, like the workhorses halogenated organics, now are under
suspicion for environmental and health reasons. New regulations are
phasing them out. Hence, many users of engineering plastics in demanding
applications are switching to polymers that are inherently flame
retardant, thus eliminating or reducing the need for flame-suppressing
Polymers with inherent flame retardancy often have other advantages
as well, such as exceptional strength, dimensional stability, and
chemical and abrasion resistance. But these materials are usually
more expensive than non-inherently flame retardant plastics, even
when the cost of added flame retardants is included.
Need for higher temperatures
In the last twenty years and longer, the miniaturization of components,
or reduced size, at all scale, from electronic to cars, has put the
resistance to higher temperatures as an important requirement.
One of the major stories now starting is the forecast need for heat-dissipating
plastics for the coming 42 volts in cars, instead of the classic
12 volts. Upgrading cars from a 12V to 42V battery means that automakers
will have to contend with greater risk of fire, not only from the
additional heat generated by a bigger service, but also because arcing
at connection points will become more pronounced. A number of higher
performance plastics will gain from this trend to 42 volts, like
PPS, PEEK, polysulphones, LCP, polyphthalamides, high temperature
polyamides, PBT and PET.
The number of electrically-operated systems in vehicles has risen
rapidly over the past few years. At least 2500 watts per vehicle
will soon be required to provide power for all the electrical equipment.
The 12 and 14-volt systems currently in use will then be up against
their limits. Moreover, if Internet access is to be available in
future, together with air-conditioning, ABS braking, heatable rear
windows, door-locking systems, electric seat adjustment and on-board
computers, then the 42-volt systems currently available in prototype
form will be an absolute necessity.
In terms of electrical properties and heat resistance, the components
used for 42-volt electric circuits will need to satisfy more stringent
demands than the 12 or 14-volt systems.
The automotive industry estimates the 42-volt systems to be definitively
introduced in 2007. Individual car models will be equipped with these
systems beforehand, however, and possibly even with two systems in
This is another major development.
Ticona claims to have solved the problem of costs for fuel cells
by replacing conventional materials with plastics. A prototype has
been produced using components made from LCP and PPS. These
materials cost about half as much to produce as conventional counterparts
such as stainless steel.
The main requirement is that the core of the fuel cell consists
of graphite-filled LCP and polybenzimidazole (PBI). Reformed hydrogen
fuel cell technology is expected to come into the market in 2009-10.
Markets in the automotive industry are predicted to take a little
longer to develop, with the first commercial products expected to
be on sale between 2015 and 2020.
Desktop computer demand has slowed down, and portables are the fastest
growing. According to IDC, in 2005, total global sales of desktops
will be 131 millions, up 6.5 %, versus portables, 58 million units,
up 20 %.
Desktop units themselves are getting smaller. Designers are creating
computers with fewer components, integrated electronics, smaller
chassis and components. The smaller desktops require materials of
higher temperature resistance. Current solutions include heat pipes,
liquid cooling, heat sinks and dual cores. The same can be said about
the increasingly popular multifunction peripherals, such as combination
fax/copiers/scanners/printers, with annual growth rates above 10
The fast growing CD sector opened the future for optical storage
media with capacity in the terabyte range.
The next-generation media formats will develop in a yet uncertain
competition. Equipment makers and replicators watch the trend to
the future choices of the market in the very near future. This is
what the specialists call the “battle of blues”, two
techniques that use blue lasers to read data off DVD-style plastic
HD-DVD is a high definition/high density-DVD discs that use blue
lasers and are almost physically identical to current DVDs but hold
greater data storage capacity than traditional DVDs. This format
is supported by Toshiba and NEC.
Blu-ray Disc, BD is an optical-disc format using a blue-violet laser,
the same size as CD and DVD, to store digital sound and video with
high quality. Sony, Pioneer, Samsung Electronics, Matsushita Electric,
Philips Electronics, Dell, Hewlett Packard and others back the Blu-ray
The future royalties at stake are a major issue.
Blu-ray has many supporters, and HD-DVD has some significant advantages
of its own: HD-DVD machines would be able to play older discs, and
also would enable replicators to retool without major equipment changes
for the HD capability. The revolutionary Blu-ray format would require
mostly new equipment. Blu-ray is suitable for recordable, rewritable
and ROM applications.
There is a possible market split, as HD-DVD might capture the prerecorded
market, and Blu-ray may control the recorded market.
Whatever format dominates, or both, demand for PC, or maybe other
competing plastics, like PMMA, or others, will create a large market,
Light emitting diodes LED
A new area of growing interest is that of luminescent plastic parts,
Smart Surface, Bayer, made of flexible PC film or electrically conductive
Household plastic light bulbs that promise long life and safety
are now ready. Such bulbs, based on light-emitting diodes, are getting
brighter and more flexible, opening new design possibilities for
illumination. LED emits light when low-power electric current passes
through them. They emit very little radiant heat, which means lighting
producers can do away with fragile, high-temperature glass bulbs.
Plastic bulbs and housings are more durable and allow myriad shapes.
This represents a real revolution in lighting.
The bulbs rely on plastics technology to enhance the LED light.
Plastic bulbs can be made by blow molding, extrusion and injection
molding, often in China, of slightly enhanced commodity plastics,
like ethylene/butene polymers and polypropylene.
Rotomolded fuel tanks of PBT
This is a new development, where the standard PEHD car fuel tank
could be replaced by CBT plastics, a derivative of PBT. Pilot-scale
production recently started at the Cyclics/BASF site in Germany.
CBT is an ultra low-viscosity material that polymerizes when heated.
That means “it can be processed in a polyethylene like manner
More demanding technical developments in electricity
Technology demands across the E/E industries, such as thinner wall
connectors and lead-free soldering, will create opportunity for new,
higher performance engineering resins.
This has been true all since the history of plastics, but getting
even more so.
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