Victrex is celebrating 40 years since the invention of PEEK (polyetheretherketone), a high performance polymer which is now used across a range of industries and often in demanding applications that initially seemed an unlikely candidate for the thermoplastic.
Developing new markets and applications for PEEK, a member of the PAEK polymer family, Victrex has helped to progress the material, as well as its applications, with product forms such as film, pipe, fibres and components. Today the potential for further innovation remains huge.
“PEEK is an invention that inspires others to invent,” observes Jakob Sigurdsson, Victrex CEO. “Delivering solutions is what motivates the continuous development of our VICTREX PAEK-based offerings, whether they be new polymer grades or product forms and components in selected areas.”
Currently, the company´s products are used in demanding environments including approximately 9 million implantable medical devices, more than 75 million seals, 100 million industrial machines, 500 million automotive applications and 4 billion phones.
“Being just a material supplier of such a highly specialised thermoplastic is not enough,” adds Sigurdsson. “We have a complete solutions offering, where we partner with customers, research centres and universities to realise the further potential of the polymer and help to build markets to develop the applications of the future.”
Innovation never stops
After PEEK had begun to capture the imagination of a handful of people, the first batch of the HPP was manufactured at ICI, a major chemical company, on 19 November 1978. Three years later the commercialisation of the first PEEK polymers, the VICTREX PEEK family including glass- and carbon-filled products, followed. Today, the material is used to solve complex engineering challenges, often replacing metals. The VICTREX AE 250 composites and the TxV joint venture for aerospace, the new extended food grade portfolio VICTREX FG, medical trauma plates and dental prosthetics in the medical field, with new PAEK products for additive manufacturing (AM) in development, are further milestones.
“Today, PEEK´s impact can be felt high in the sky, deep in the ocean and even under the skin,” says Sigurdsson. “There seems to be no limit to the ways people are turning PEEK into brilliant solutions. Starting with a handful of employees, today more than 900 people wake up every day and focus on PEEK around the world, seeing success in Asia and the US, as well as in Europe. We operate three state-of-the art polymer manufacturing facilities with a total nameplate production capacity of 7150 tonnes. We also have facilities that enable us to make film, pipe, composite tape and other product forms and components. Although we’ve grown significantly, the heart of our business remains with our customers and the innovation, focus, knowledge, and passion of our people.”
The reasons behind its success
The inert properties of the versatile PAEK polymers are one main reason for their success. This family of polymers is ideally suited to extreme and demanding environments. Whilst alternative materials can meet specific needs, PEEKs are located at the top of the polymer pyramid and can support multiple requirements. Their properties include light weight, high strength, and high resistance to wear, high temperatures, fatigue and aggressive chemicals. Together, these properties contribute to enhanced fuel efficiency, extended part life, greater comfort (smooth operation, less noise), more design freedom and greater cost efficiency. Victrex decided to strategically focus on this particular family of PAEK high performance polymers, committed to innovation, success and delivering total solutions to customers.
Image provided by Victrex
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