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Thermally Conductive Polymers Targeting $1 Billion Metal Replacement Market

11 June 2004

Principia Partners are producing a report looking at why thermal conductivity is one of the last remaining areas where plastics have not been effective in replacing metals.

Any application that required heat transfer was restricted to a traditional metal or ceramic. These materials offered acceptable thermal conductivity, but also presented significant design and manufacturing drawbacks. Additionally, the high thermal conductivity of certain metals was often wasted in designs where the heat transfer was not conduction limited.

Several engineering resin suppliers and technical compounders have been recently developing heat-conducting thermoplastic compounds that will have thermal conductivity as high as 60W/mk. Initial developments have been concentrated on heat-resistant engineering polymers such as LCP, PPS, PEEK and polysulfones. Newer developments are based on medium temperature resistant polymers such as ABS, PBT, polycarbonate, and nylon. There seems to be an opportunity for PP and PS in non-electronic applications such as food packaging heating and cooling products.

The heat transfer requirements are targeted by this new group of thermally conductive compounds made with carbon, metal, and ceramic fillers. Parts moulded out of this new generation of materials can replace metals and ceramics in some applications, and non-conductive plastics in others. Uses include custom-moulded heat sinks on circuit boards, as well as tubing for heat exchangers in appliances, lighting, telecommunication devices, business machines, and industrial equipment used in corrosive environments. Lighting applications also include reflectors, laser-diode encapsulation, and fluorescent ballasts. Automotive headlamp reflectors are also in development.

Lou Rossi, Senior Partner, says, ""Early success has been made in bases/frames, ceramic replacement, encapsulation, hard disk drive coils, heat exchangers, heat sinks, and sensors/switches. Injection moulded thermally conductive polymer compounds will continue replacing metal at an increasing rate in brand new applications for plastics, much like the early days of metal replacement for the plastics industry starting 30 years ago. The path is being paved by traditional engineering plastics companies and technical compounders who are innovating with the customer in mind.""

Principia Partners is conducting the industry's first study focused on thermally conductive polymers in North America. The new report titled Thermally Conductive Polymers 2004: The Next Metal Replacement Opportunity leverages Principia's well-established expertise in materials and processing markets. The report is scheduled for completion in January 2005.






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