Düsseldorf, Germany — German supplier of silicone materials and technologies Wacker Chemie AG had a good reason to present its liquid silicone rubbers as the star of the show at this year's K show, despite having displayed the range during the previous K event in 2016.
The company has now completed product development and carried out a number of capacity expansions for its LSR products over the past three years.
At K 2019 in Düsseldorf, the Munich-based chemicals group presented its Elastosil LR 5040 product series, which, without post-cure, delivers excellent mechanical properties and meets strict regulatory requirements for sensitive applications in the baby care, food and medical technology sectors.
The LSR cures to translucent elastomers whose volatiles content — without thermal post-treatment — usually ranges from 0.2-0.3 weight percent, well below the limit value of 0.5 weight percent that applies to the volatiles content of silicone articles intended for food contact and baby care applications.
The product fits in Wacker's "low volatiles LSR initiative," which, according to Christian Gimber, head of the engineering silicones unit, is one of the company's main topics at K. Wacker has managed to reduce the content of volatile Dx siloxanes in all of its LSR grades manufactured at its sites in Germany by 90 percent.
In the mid and long term, Wacker expects industry requirements and regulatory issues to stay challenging for silicones, as the material is adopted in a broader range of applications.
In the short term, the trade disputes between the U.S. and China and their effects on world economy are the greatest challenge, Gimber added.
"The loss of momentum the world economy has suffered this year has affected several industry sectors," Gimber said, pointing to the ongoing trade disputes.
Given the fact that business and demand for silicones was extremely dynamic in 2017 and 2018, the Wacker official said the market was "back to normal" this year. Although figures may vary from region to region and within segment to segment, the silicone rubber market as a whole has always shown robust growth between 5-6 percent annually.
Global trends such as electromobility, digitalization, increased life expectancy, medical and health care standards have driven and are expected to continue to drive the demand for high-performance materials, including silicones.
With a positive outlook, the top silicones producer has recently upped its investments to renew its commitment to the industry.
The company unveiled a 100 million euro silicone expansion plan late last year, which would see the company's annual silicone-rubber production capacity rise by a total of 40 kilotonnes by 2021.
The global program includes expansion projects at Wacker's production sites in Burghausen, Germany; Adrian, Mich.; and Zhangjiagang, China, this year, covering products such as liquid silicone rubber, high-consistency rubber and room-temperature vulcanising silicones and thermally conductive silicone compounds.
In 2018, the company commissioned a new production site for silicone sealants and thermally conductive silicone compounds in Jincheon, South Korea, and started the production of RTV silicones and LSRs in Amtala, India, where it manufactures silicones in a joint venture with Metroark.
In October, the company opened a plant for pyrogenic silica at its U.S.-based site in Charleston, Tenn., with the annual capacity of 13 kilotonnes per annum.
"Despite the economic uncertainties we are facing presently, our global growth strategy remains in place," Gimber said.
In addition to its LSR portfolio of products, Wacker introduced several other "novelties" at K. A new flame-retardant solid silicone rubber that meets the new European fire safety codes for rolling-stock components was on display.
With the product, Wacker has become one of the first silicone producers worldwide offering a certified compound approved for the new standard.
The company also displayed its self-adhesive liquid silicone rubber grades, which feature intrinsically low-friction surfaces without exuding oil.
Wacker also launched Nexipal silicone laminates, which have been described as "world first" ready-to-use electroactive silicone laminates.
Based on Wacker's Elastosil film, Nexipal consists of several ultrathin silicone rubber precision films coated with an electrically conductive material prior to lamination.
The product acts as a flexible electroactive capacitor that changes its size when electrical voltage is applied.
The laminates can be used in a broad range of applications, including in valves, switches, sensor-actor components or in interactive game consoles.
At K 2019, Wacker showed a display that produced haptic signals perceptible with fingertips, allowing users to operate the display without looking.
"While studying the market, we found that only few manufacturers are capable of processing silicone films and producing ready to use laminates in the required quality," Gimber explained.
As a result, Wacker is now investing in an industrial-scale manufacturing line for silicone laminates close to its Burghausen site in Germany. Production is scheduled to start in the second half of 2020.