Specialized Thermoplastics in an Evolving Global Market

Originally published on 10 November 2016 on IEEE Engineering360.

High-performance thermoplastics (HPTPs) are specialized polymers used for demanding applications, largely due to their thermal resistance in comparison to engineering thermoplastics (ETPs) such as nylons and polycarbonates (PC). One tradeoff, however, is that their prices are often higher.

In general, economics play a major role in product design, says Anthony Vicari, Advanced Materials Lead Analyst at Lux Research.

“When designing a product, companies will choose the cheapest material that meets their needs; an expensive HPTP like Polyetherimide (PEI) or Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) is not freely chosen if a cheaper ETP like PC can suffice.”

A thermoplastic is a plastic type made from polymer resins that becomes hard when cooled and a homogenized liquid when heated. However, when frozen, it becomes glass-like and easily fractures. A variety of thermoplastics exist, with each type varying in crystalline structure and density.

HPTPs are also typically defined as high-temperature thermoplastics with a melting point above 150 °C.

“A high melting point for a thermoplastic correlates with other important characteristics such as mechanical strength and chemical resistance/inertness,” says Vicari.

Commodity thermoplastics, ETPs, and HPTPs fall into a structure often depicted as a “thermoplastic performance pyramid” with HPTPs at the top. Vicari says that, in general, the higher the performance of the polymer, the higher its price and location on the pyramid. The pyramid itself is divided into four stages with each stage split into two categories: amorphous and semi-crystalline. The four stages of plastics from bottom to top are: commodity, engineering, high temperature, and extreme temperature.

IEEE Engineering360, November 2016.


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