SAN DIEGO — Resin and additive makers and compounders face growing challenges to supply better-performing materials faster and cheaper for the global portable-electronics market. Speakers at Engineering Thermoplastics 2000 discussed targeted material solutions and logistical challenges during presentations. The conference was held May 1-2 in San Diego.
The mobile-phone industry expects more than 1 billion subscribers by 2003-04 with a blending of fixed, cellular and Internet services, said Ton Vet, a senior applications development engineer with DSM NV's engineering plastics unit in Geleen, the Netherlands. There were about 470 million mobile-phone subscribers in December.
Processors demand consistency of product quality and tend to use small storage silos, "each with a batch of [polycarbonate] with known viscosity," Vet said.
More than 1,600 firms have agreed on a Bluetooth wireless communications standard that will facilitate radio-frequency connections between emerging portable-electrical devices, said Curt Peterson, development leader with Dow Chemical Co. in Midland, Mich.
Dow has pegged its Questra crystalline polymers for three-dimensional molded antennae interconnect products using Bluetooth technology.
Questra exhibits low dielectric loss with frequencies allocated for Bluetooth devices, according to Peterson. MID LLC of Rochester, N.Y., is making two-shot molded antenna with platable grades of Questra, he said.
Design of portable computing devices is driving material needs, said Kim Choate, Tokyo-based Pacific product manager for GE Plastics' custom engineered products.
There is a big drive toward more robust materials to assure product longevity, he said. Humidity challenges Japanese firms moving their molding to Malaysia or Thailand, and all processors face the need for recycling capability, he added.
Original equipment manufacturers are looking to plastic industrial design to create brand awareness and have caused big changes in the last year or so, Choate said Sequential gate molding, long used in automotive applications, is boosting efforts to reduce wall thickness of portable devices to as little as 0.88 millimeters in trials, he said. A typical wall can range to about 2mm in thickness.
Expanded color offerings from GE Plastics allow product designers to differentiate appearances, said Leslie Goff, general manager with the GE Plastics specialty products and services unit in Selkirk, N.Y.
"We've gone electric with the ColorXpress Web site," Goff said.
Beyond the ColorXpress Select service for standard items, a microlot matching program enables a prototyper to order 10-50 pounds of resin to see how a color works on a part.
"ColorXpress has thousands of combinations, and we are still doing hundreds of new colors every month," Goff said.
A premium custom color matching service is available for $2,500 per match. Some color limitations exist on base resins such as GE's high-temperature Ultem. "We looked across the product line to see what is possible," Goff said.
Phillips Chemical Co. of Pasadena, Texas, believes its Ryton polyphenylene sulfide resins can penetrate the electronic connector and socket market, now largely using liquid crystal polymers.
The company has marketed the resins on a limited basis for about a year, said Robert Goodman, Ryton product and technology manager with Phillips in Bartlesville, Okla. In his presentation, he said processors are open to alternatives to LCP and want Phillips "to prove they can do everything that LCP can do."
Two new products extend the technology, Ryton R-4-230NA with low gas generation, high flow and low flash, and Xtel PPS alloys using polymer end-group control, filler coupling and post-polymerization additives.
Eastman Chemical Co. of Kingsport, Tenn., advocates high- performance LCPs in an era of increasing miniaturization of products.
"Thermx LG431 has the thermal stability, regrind performance and processability needed for [surface-mount technology] and other thin-wall applications," said Andy Sagcal, market development manager for electrical and electronics with Eastman's specialty plastics unit in Charlotte, N.C.
An environmental trend will remove lead from solder, Sagcal said. That will require solders with higher temperatures and a tendency to marginalize plastics that now warp. "Our material can handle another [68§ F]," he said.
LNP Engineering Plastics Inc. sees promise for its Lubriloy series of polycarbonate materials for the business-machine market.
"Benefits include increased toughness, a lower specific gravity and cost vs. [fluoropolymers], minimized plate-out, improved surface appearance, low noise and dimensional stability," said Mark Stokes, product marketing manager at LNP in Exton, Pa.
In an interview during the conference, LNP's William Feldman said his company is working toward global product equivalency, while some large customers push their operations toward regional customization.
"The business-equipment OEMs are allowing regional engineering departments to come up with their own specifications beyond the original design specifications," said Feldman, LNP information technology marketing manager in Carmel, Ind. "This puts a huge pressure on our account management" globally.
"As we see more globalization, we are seeing — in a very fast pace — regional customization," Feldman said. "It used to be the OEM would develop a product in a design center typically in the U.S. and that is the way the product would remain through its life cycle.
"Now, they develop the product, they send it for manufacture to regional operations, and it is up to them to cost-reduce any way they see fit."
Additive supplier Albemarle Corp. of Baton Rouge, La., is expanding production of Saytex HP-7010 brominated polystyrenes for use in making circuit boards and introducing proprietary brominated and nonhalogen flame-retardant materials, said Samuel Thomas, flame retardants business manager with Albemarle's global styrenic copolymers business.
HP-7010 is particularly suited for use with thermoplastics for applications such as electrical connectors, he said. Albemarle sells catalysts, curatives and antioxidants in addition to flame retardants.
Hyperion Catalysis International Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., is eyeing expansion beyond its current production of "10s of tons of nanotubes per year," said John Hagerstrom, the firm's technical service manager.
Multiwalled nanotubes have a graphite microstructure and high aspect ratio, and are useful as an electrically conductive additive significantly smaller than carbon fiber.
"Within the next 24 months, we are planning a three- to fivefold increase in our capacity to produce graphite nanotubes," Hagerstrom said. Nanotubes are used in conductive plastics for automotive and electronics applications.
Development programs include distributed power for super capacitors, batteries and fuel cells; catalysts and catalyst support; filters; and conductive inks.
Principia Partners of Exton, Pa., organized the conference, which had 27 speakers.