Note: This is the first article of a three-part series covering plastics in electrical and electronic (E/E) device (1) trends, (2) material/process advances and (3) applications.

The electrical and electronic (E&E) market ranks as the third-largest plastics end-use market, only exceeded in volume size by packaging and building and construction. Yet the E&E sector uniquely crosses over all of the 20 major plastics markets, namely packaging, building and construction, automotive, electrical and electronics, appliance, medical, consumer products, toy, recreation and leisure, furniture, office products, lawn and garden, marine and boat, aerospace, industrial, agriculture, waste management, government, export, and other and emerging.

Many of today's new technical developments in the E&E sector capitalize on or promote "new generation" plastics. Miniaturization of electronic devices and the convergence of electronic product features leads to product wall thinning and increased operating temperatures. The growing use of high-temperature lead-free solder to comply with the EU's RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive also adds to this demand, as does the increased use of plastics in under-the-hood automotive electronics applications.

Electronic devices such as fast-growth LED lamps can lose lighting efficiency, undergo reduced service life or experience outright failure if they overheat, and thus are driving the development of high-heat, thermally-conductive plastics.

Elsewhere, new metal-replacing plastics are enabling injection-molding process efficiencies in the manufacture of electronic part devices. Laser Direct Structuring (LDS) technology, with their highly-specialized engineering plastic compounds, permits an electronic device housing to incorporate conventional electronic circuit board patterning and electrical antenna modeling in smartphones. Also, more compact, more powerful and lower-cost electronic devices possible are achievable.

Let's take a closer look at these emerging E&E technical marketing trends. To start off, flame-retardant polycarbonate (PC) blends of the new product generation Bayblend FR4000 from Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialScience) are ideally suited as housing materials for electronic components like laptops.

Bayblend FR4000 laptop housing.

In terms of fire resistance, these products are superior to conventional PC/ABS (Polycarbonate/acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) blends. The new materials are based on a flame retardance package employing environmentally friendly technology and have been developed for applications including thin-walled components in the E&E industries.

In terms of fire resistance, grades of Bayblend FR4000 meet the requirements at the maximum glow wire temperature of 960 degrees C and burn only briefly. The results of tests according to the strict U.S. Underwriters Laboratories UL 94 V standard provide evidence of its high flame retardance. In this case, the blends achieved the top V-0 classification at a specimen thickness of 1.5 millimeters.

The materials display improved resistance to hydrolytic degradation and chemicals, including fatty acids and hydrocarbons, along with good heat resistance and ultraviolet stability. They can be produced with a range of customized properties and in fiber-reinforced variants.

The properties of the product types of the new series are optimized for specific applications. For example, one variant of the material has been designed with good chemical resistance and low-temperature impact strength in mind, making it well suited for encapsulating lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles.

Next, the ChromaLit linear LED boosts lighting efficiency. Office lighting and other commercial applications have been challenging for white LEDs because of the need to diffuse the point sources, reducing system efficacy.

Intematix Corporation, a manufacturer of phosphor solutions for LED lighting, has introduced ChromaLit Linear, a remote phosphor offering uniform luminance, high flux density and a sleek profile. Intematix Corporation collaborated with SABIC Innovative Plastics to create the ChromaLit Linear LED for the lighting industry.

Remote phosphor is a lighting system architecture that uses a phosphor component separated from the blue LED energy source. The independent phosphor emits high-quality white light when excited by a blue light engine. When the phosphor has been separated from the energy source, it results in better lighting uniformity and consistency. Compared to conventional LED designs, where blue chips are coated with a phosphor compound, ChromaLit leverages a phosphor composite separated from the blue LED energy source.

Intematix Corporation
ChromaLit Linear LED lighting module.

The LED uses SABIC IP's Lexan Lux resins. Lexan Lux transparent, diffusion and reflective grades were selected for their efficiency and flexible processing capabilities. In addition, the Lexan Lux base material provides a UL94 (Underwriters Laboratory) flame rating of V-0.

ChromaLit enables system efficacy gains of up to 30 percent compared to conventional LED lighting systems by operating at lower temperatures, maximizing photon extraction and removing the need for a diffuser. Relocating the light generating surface away from the energy source produces significantly more light per input power, increases LED package lifetime and reduces the LED chip junction temperature.

Finally, superior wire and cable sheathing performance in harsh environments is rapidly evolving. Wire and cable and markets are diverse with their biggest end-users being telecommunications and power companies. Some of the most common materials include rubber, copper, aluminum and various plastics, including thermoplastic and thermosets.

Electrical cable products are in the growth phase of the product life cycle and include coaxial cable, halogen-free cable, multicore cable and axial cable. Rubadue Wire, in cooperation with DuPont, has developed the first UL-approved 300-degree C AWM (Appliance Wire Material, AWM Style 11540) wire cover construction.

The new high-temperature single conductor appliance wire is based on DuPont's unique high-performance fluoroplastic material, ECCtreme ECA-3000. ECCtreme ECA is a class of melt-extrudable perfluoroplastics, which combines the advantageous mechanical, electrical and chemical properties of PTFE (polytetrafluorethylene, or DuPont Teflon) with high thermal stability.

Wire sheathing produced with ECA (Epitaxial co-Crystalline Alloy) exhibits the same beneficial properties of typical fluoroplastics with the additional capability to maintain operational performance under elevated temperatures (up to 300 degrees C versus the long-standing upper use limit of 260 degrees C in a conventional perfluoroplastic insulating material), and harsh environmental conditions, for extended periods of time.

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ECCtreme ECA-3000 cable sheathing benefits include the following:

  • High thermal stability
  • Continuous service temperature of 300 degrees C
  • Excellent dielectric properties
  • Superior chemical and permeation resistance
  • Harsh environmental applications
  • Low flammability
  • Increased stress crack resistance

In conclusion, many new developments still in the research stage have the potential to significantly impact future electronic devices.

For example, Samsung researchers have discovered a method that could allow a single crystal of graphene to retain its electrical and mechanical properties across a large surface area that in turn could allow graphene to be used at its full potential in future electronic devices. Graphene and graphene-like materials will be particularly crucial in developing wearable devices such as high-speed Internet-connected wristbands.

Apple Watch
Wearable electronic wristband concept.