DÜSSELDORF, GERMANY (Nov. 13, 9:35 a.m. EST) — James D. Miller worked overtime at the K show to turn a cool idea into a hot business. Operating out of a tiny corner booth in the U.S. pavilion at the massive plastics fair, Miller demonstrated Cool Polymers Inc.'s thermally conductive polymers and said he raked in well over 500 commercial leads.
Just following them all up will be a huge project in its own right. But Miller, who is product manager for the Warwick, R.I.-based firm, is not complaining.
He used the show, and an educationally oriented news briefing, to spread the gospel about thermally conductive materials in general and about several new applications for his firm's CoolPoly compounds.
Cool Polymers, one of three firms under the umbrella of recently renamed parent Cool Options Inc., is an odd combination of materials-science and testing lab, design house, compounder, resin supplier, toolmaker and injection molder. The 30-employee Cool Polymers runs 10 injection presses with clamping forces of about 70-350 tons, and makes its own prototype and production tooling.
Miller, who holds a Ph.D. in polymer chemistry, used the K show to introduce a new range of conformable thermoplastic elastomers, for use in such products as gaskets, gap pads, etc. The products are filled materials, he noted, so 40 Shore A is the lowest-durometer grade available.
Next up is custom masterbatches.
“We're just making the materials now,” Miller said Nov. 9 in a telephone interview from his office after the show, “and we can begin sampling in a few weeks.”
The planned range of masterbatch materials will allow people to formulate for thermal conductivity enhancements in existing compounds, he said. Such properties are desirable for use in components where heat buildup can degrade a conventional plastic. By spreading heat load throughout the component, no single area gets overheated.
“We would be expecting the user to need to put in between 20-50 percent of our masterbatch,” so it's not like a low-dose color concentrate. “Our hope is that it can be used across the board, with various resins,” Miller said.
He noted that there has been a lot of interest in applying thermal conductivity not only to engineering resins, but also various polyolefins, especially polypropylene.
CoolPoly materials offer conductivity ranging from 2 watts per meter-degree Kelvin (similar to glass) to 100 W/mK (similar to cast aluminum). The price can vary dramatically, from about $4-$40 per pound, based on the degree of conductivity, the base polymer used, whether the material is insulated, and whether it is electrically conductive, thermally conductive, or both. He said he recognizes that CoolPoly's prices “need to fit in the range of [engineering thermoplastics].”
At his Oct. 25 K briefing, Miller vaguely estimated the market for such materials as in the “tens of thousands of pounds” in the United States.
“We need to educate the engineering community, to bring possible applications to the fore. Everybody is not very far along the curve,” in either the United States or Europe, he said. “It's not that difficult, it's just heat-transfer engineering, but it hasn't come up that much in plastics until now.”
Cool Polymers began operating as a separate corporation in January 2000.
“Within the first two calendar years of introduction,” Miller said, “we injection molded and sold 2 million piece parts. Then we transitioned from selling parts to selling materials.”
The privately held firm currently earns about half of its undisclosed annual sales from selling molded parts, and the balance from selling its materials.
Why do both? Miller explained that it is important “not just to throw our materials over the fence” to users. He feels the company's integrated activities not only accelerate applications development, but also help to ensure success.
He is quick to point out that Cool Polymers has no desire to be a custom molder, or to compete with its customers.
“All our molding and tooling is to support our development effort. … We probably need to evolve eventually into a materials supplier.”
Though Cool Polymers is a young firm, its parent has a heritage dating back nearly half a century. Born as a maker of specialty metallic handles, the parent evolved into a manufacturer of heat-sink products, out of which grew the thermally conductive plastics business. Formerly known as ChipCoolers Inc., the firm became Cool Options Inc. last spring, after Tyco International Ltd. bought the ChipCoolers name and its heat-sink business.
Today, Cool Polymers is one of three Cool Options units, the others being the original Handles Unlimited business and Cool Shield Inc., which makes specialty heat sinks.