Electrical and electronic products are benefitting from new materials and compounds that provide optimal mechanical properties such as antistatic and thermal conductivity, while offering eco-friendliness for applications in several markets.
Electrical and electronic products span a variety of markets including automotive, computer, telecommunications, industrial controls, and more. In fact, E/E has been a major driver in the development of innovative polymer materials in automotive applications, according to Richard Frissen, application/business development manager–automotive hybrid/lighting at DSM Engineering Plastics (Evansville, IN).
“For years, the value of electric and electronics content in automotive has been growing between 5% and 10% per annum. New electrical systems and components are added to improve comfort, safety, or fuel economy,” says Frissen. “Engineering plastics play an important role in this segment, mostly as casing to contain and protect electrical and electronic content from its environment and/or to secure electrical insulation.”
Frissen currently is dedicated to hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs), and notes, “What is clear is that thin-wall insulation systems is a major trend for these vehicles, next to halogen-free VO materials. Stanyl is one of the interesting materials to evaluate due to its optimal flow/toughness balance.”
Typical applications in automotive include electrical components such as junction boxes, ECU housings, E-motors, gear housings, bobbins, connectors, switches, and wire harness insulation, Frissen notes, adding, “Another main driver is the hybridization and advanced battery technology as the most predominant ‘green’ trend of the industry, with its main goal to realize fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions.”
Electrically driven components are replacing mechanical components to meet the growing need for new “on-demand systems” such as electrical power steering and electrical water and oil pumps. “For instance,” says Frissen, “replacing a mechanically driven water pump with an electric one, offers as additional benefits that it can be regulated and operated independently from the engine, approximately 0.2 l/100 km of fuel can be saved.”
Materials used in these types of applications tend to be engineering plastics such as polyamide (PA) and polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) because they offer either easy processing and assembly (PA6) or dimensional stability and high dielectric strength (PBT).
Computers and connectors
Solid state drives (SSDs), which are flash-based storage devices with no moving parts (as opposed to hard disk drives), have experienced strong market growth as they contribute to higher data reliability, lower weight and noise, faster access times, and power reduction. Serial Advanced Technology Attachment (SATA) and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) are set to be the dominant interfaces to interconnect SSDs to notebooks or the strongly growing netbooks.
Molex Inc. (Lisle, IL), a leading supplier of interconnect products, was seeking a halogen-free insulation material that would meet the material requirements for surface-mount technology. Molex successfully tested the F11 grade of DSM’s Stanyl ForTii polyimide for its latest high-speed SATA connector with a speed of 6 G/sec, finding it offered the highest pin retention forces as well as a range of key processing and performance benefits including flame retardance, dimensional stability, and high-temperature properties. Last year, DSM Engineering Plastics announced that, in order to meet high market demand, the company significantly expanded production capacity of Stanyl ForTii.
Molex also selected Ticona’s (Florence, KY) Celanex XFR 4840 PBT from its newly enhanced XFR portfolio to give an existing electronic connector line a cost-effective, eco-friendly upgrade that will comply with anticipated environmental laws and regulations and meet industry requirements. Those enhancements, coupled with the material’s improved processability, met Molex’s environmental and performance criteria for its three-year-old SPOX Blind-Mate Interface (BMI), and enabled the E/E interconnect product manufacturer to replace another company’s PBT without having to modify the SPOX BMI design, said Ticona.
Compounded materials for E/E
Demand for independently compounded thermoplastics in the U.S. is forecast to rise 2.7% annually to 7.5 billion lb in 2010, according to a new study from Cleveland-based industry research firm The Freedonia Group Inc. E/E products accounted for 11% (738 million lb) of all independently compounded thermoplastic markets in 2008. That is forecast to rise to 781 million lb by 2013 and to 823 million lb by 2018, according to Freedonia.
Applications include computers and office equipment, telecom equipment, E/E machinery, electronic components, instruments, and related products. Good opportunities are expected for compounded thermoplastics based on growing needs for lightweight, high-strength, heat- and corrosion-resistant materials as obsolete equipment is replaced.
Opportunities in mobile phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other uses will be based on the increasing importance of aesthetics and design features as manufacturers strive to differentiate their products in an increasingly competitive environment. The role of compounders in this segment will continue to increase in light of the rising need for highly customized components and the subsequent close interaction between material supplier and end-product manufacturer. Common additives used in E/E products include stabilizers, colorants, flame retardants, and conductive materials such as carbon black. These additives are key to meeting demanding performance requirements for plastics in these applications, said the study.
Compounder RTP Co. (Winona, MN) worked with one of its customers, Connectors Unlimited, a producer of interconnect devices for the E/E industry in Painesville, OH, to formulate and supply plastic materials for a shielding product used for analog cable and circuit connectors. Several static-dissipative and conductive compounds were chosen for the improved static control they provided.
“The fundamental reason for using RTP’s conductive plastics in our analog connectors is to minimize noise interference in the electronic signal, which is primarily caused by static charge,” says Marty Ignasiak, president of Connectors Unlimited. “By effectively reducing static charges, we’re able to significantly improve the signal-to-noise ratio in our connectors and thus upgrade overall performance of devices.”
Electrical and lighting
LED lighting is becoming more popular in the Solid State Lighting (SSL) industry, so much so that last May Molex announced the launch of its Solid State Lighting Business Unit, and introduced the company’s new series of patent-pending SSL products—the Transcend Lighting series—bringing a fully integrated LED solution to lighting fixtures manufacturers worldwide. These new SSL products became available during the summer of 2009.
Mike Picini, VP of Molex SSL, noted that “Molex’s core business—connectors and electronics—will address the problem of integration, one of the largest barriers to widespread LED adoption.” The company’s goal, said Picini, “is to provide a standard interface so that lighting designers, fixture manufacturers, LED manufacturers, and individual customers can cost-effectively, reliably, and easily implement a full SSL solution.”
To further its SSL products, Molex partnered with 103-year-old Leviton Mfg. Co. Inc. (corporate offices in Melville, NY and an injection molding and manufacturing plant in El Paso, TX), one of North America’s largest manufacturers of E/E wiring devices. In a joint release last year, the two companies announced a strategic alliance to deliver LED lighting solutions to manufacturers of commercial, industrial, and residential lighting fixtures. The partnership aligns Molex’s Transcend Lighting Series of LED products with Leviton’s extensive distribution and sales networks, helping to drive the adoption of LED light source technology to fixture manufacturers on a global scale, according to the companies. —Clare Goldsberry
Sustainability concerns are encouraging new product development for a wide array of products, and advancements in solar technology are making solar energy as portable as your cell phone. Read all about it Harnessing the sun's energy, off the roof.