Material Trends to Watch
by Adam J. Wozniak
AMCO Polymers LLC
Looking back on 2012 for one recipe of success has been difficult. Instead, many varied scenarios with the same innovative roots seems to be a constant with plastic converting companies that are thriving and staged for more growth in the coming year. Utilization of creative supply chains remains an integral part of their innovation and differentiation from competition. Most, if not all, growing companies have made extensive efforts in bringing innovative solutions to OEMs and consumers alike. Focus on multi-layered, multi-component processes has increased sharply as the search for lower cost material solutions continues to be paramount. Advancements in new processes, specialized additive packages, improved blending technologies and reduction in supply chain bottlenecks will lead to improved processor-to-OEM relationships, as well as providing value-added services to the plastics community in 2013.
Lighting Remains a Focus of Polycarbonate and Acrylic
Multi-layer molding continues to be in high demand for lighting OEMs and producers. Multi-layer molding can allow clear parts to be thicker without warp and sink experienced in traditional converting processes. Requests for these technologies have been pronounced in LED lighting applications. Suppliers continue to identify materials that are suitable for this process with limited to no loss in transmittance and clarity, and suppliers have begun to implement technologies and processes which help to support the multi-layer molding trend.
Polycarbonate and Acrylic continue to dominate this market and will continue due to their UV stability, light transmittance and ability to withstand temperatures associated with lighting applications. High demand for lower energy consumption and reduction in carbon emissions will fuel continued efforts to develop higher reflectivity, improved light dispersion and greater transmission of light through complex geometries.
Demands of the lighting industry also have driven producers to develop innovative materials that can improve thermal conductivity in plastics. These polymers are being called upon to replace die-cast metals that traditionally are used in heat dissipaters and allow for complex design capability and reduced scrap. Advancements have allowed for creation of materials that continue to approach thermal conductivity levels of Aluminum. Modification of Polycarbonate with specialized thermally conductive additives has increased and has helped engineers to create seamless lighting structures. Incorporation of thermally conductive Polycarbonate materials that have been over-molded with LED grade clear Polycarbonate can offer all-in-one light transmission with built-in heat dissipation. This also can be incorporated through secondary welding and bonding operations.
LED technologies will lead the way for many municipalities to reduce energy expenditures. Replacement of incandescent bulbs and florescent lighting has proven its worth in many studies and has shown great potential in energy cost reductions. Initial cost for implementation can be high, but in most if not all cases the initial cost of conversion has paid for itself in a short period of time and has paved the way for future conversion throughout communities. Producers and suppliers alike will be pushed to bring to the forefront improved optics and advantages geared towards improving design and function. Partnering with suppliers that have the ability to adapt to changing regulatory and environmental requirements will remain a crucial puzzle piece in this market segment.
Traditionally Compounded Materials Redesigned into Specialty Blends
Market demands to be innovative and cost-effective continue to be challenging, but technological advances in materials offer creative solutions to traditionally high-cost compounded materials. Advances in material miscibility and modification processes have helped to bring creative blending formulations to the forefront.
The combination of flexible and rigid materials into multi-component products has increased to allow for elastic properties while maintaining a rigid structure. Utilization of these technologies has peaked due to increased consumer demand for cosmetic and aesthetic appeal, while also reducing part and application weight without sacrificing safety. Advanced processes have evolved to allow multiple functions to be incorporated and rotated into single work cells.
Multi-shot molding is utilized in automotive interior components for weight reduction, increased durability and increased functionality. New breakthroughs continue to be developed to improve adhesion of elastomeric materials to most substrates. Innovations in polarized additive packages have shown promise in creating multi-component material blends that promote adhesion to a wide variety of substrates and offer significant cost savings over traditionally compounded product offerings. Formulations have been established to allow for hardness ranging from 60 to 90 Shore A and can be produced in most colors while maintaining tight tolerances for improved cosmetic appearance.
Advancements in elastomeric modifiers have paved the way for new generations of blended Thermoplastic Olefins. Improved miscibility and compatibility have led to traditional reactor grade thermoplastic olefins being replaced by multi-component blends. Processors have benefited by creating their own custom products and generating cost reductions over traditional material options. Many new formulations of blended thermoplastic olefins enter the marketplace without sacrificing cold temperature impact and ductility versus traditional reactor grade and compounded thermoplastic olefins. These blends also can be custom-formulated to tight color tolerances for all types of applications. Low cost, low specific gravity and improved durability continue to keep TPO products in the forefront for automotive, electrical, consumer and industrial markets. Today, many of these products are found in interior trim and garnish components, as well as exterior applications such as mud flaps, splash guards and bumper fascia.
Specialty Additives in Blends and Masterbatches
Incorporation of siloxane masterbatches has helped to solve and reduce high-cost solutions to improved coefficient of friction. When OEMs look for improved coefficient of friction and wear resistance, they typically incorporate Acetal (POM) or compounded materials that are modified with PTFE or Molybdenum Disulfide.
Recent developments in masterbatch technologies have allowed for Siloxane-based materials to be incorporated into applications that require improved coefficient of friction, improved wear resistance, scratch resistance and reduction of noise due to interfacing components. Formulations are available that incorporate materials such as Polypropylene, Polyethylene, Thermoplastic Vulcanizate, Thermoplastic Elastomers, ABS, Nylon, Styrene, Acetal and Polycarbonate. Utilization of all of the aforementioned technologies help to improve dimensional stability, lower part weight and create unique solutions to traditional high-cost, low-wear materials.
Drive for antimicrobial and anti-counterfeiting technologies are widely discussed, but cost implementation continues to be a limiting factor. New advancements have allowed lower cost additives to be implemented into antimicrobial and anti-counterfeiting solutions, and systems now can be added in concentrate, blended and compounded formats.
Antimicrobial materials continue to become more economical and safer through improved delivery systems. Demand for these technologies continues to be focused on medical and consumer markets need for protection against harmful microorganisms. Previously utilized systems for delivery of antimicrobial ingredients are being phased out or limited in many hygiene applications where food or human contact is anticipated due to potentially harmful environmental and biological effects. Systems now can be operational without the implementation of harmful depositing additives through innovative masterbatches, compounds and blends that offer a safe, affordable and reliable solution for antimicrobial properties in plastics.
Anti-counterfeiting technologies can offer multiple layers of brand protection, as well as provide traceability of finished goods and product deviations. New technologies allow for increased security through the covert ability to confirm authentic products. New concentrates, blends and compounded formulations offer a wide variety of options and price levels to meet most budgets and requirements. The aforementioned has proved to be helpful in reducing brand theft and in reducing the servicing of defective components that were not produced or commissioned by the brand owner.
In todays marketplace, strong relationships with suppliers will remain paramount to growth and profitability.