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Established in 1983 and awarded Dun & Bradstreet's highest possible Credit Worthiness Certification in 2015, the Premix Group is the world's leading specialist in electrically conductive plastics and polymers. See what makes them the leaders in innovation and in their industry by visiting their website; alternatively, you can also connect with them on Linkedin.
US-based Conductive Composites is an award-winning company that provides a variety of composite and shielding solutions to the electronics, telecommunications, aerospace, security, medical and defense product markets. They also maintain a presence on Linkedin.
RTP Co. is a US-based and ISO-9001 certified company, providing custom engineered thermoplastic solutions to a variety of markets worldwide. Privately owned and with 17 global manufacturing locations, they guarantee a 5-10 day standard product lead-time. Visit their website, and find them on Linkedin here.
Plasteurope provides daily news and updates on the European plastics industry, along with in-depth analysis and polymer prices, among other things. Find career opportunities, see their suppliers' guide, look through their trade name directory, and watch industry-related videos.
Germany-based Technology group Heraeus provides a wide range of materials, products, and solutions to a wide variety of industries, including electronics, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, medical, photovoltaic, and industrial, just to name a few. With over 160 years of experience in serving customers around the world, they guarantee excellence, innovation, and competitiveness. You can also find them on Twitter and YouTube.
Read a quick overview of what intrinsically conductive polymers are, along with their applications and a little bit of history.
Assembly Magazine's Austin Weber writes about the huge potential of electrically conductive polymers, their applications, and what this means on a larger scale for everyone.
Read about how research from Australia may lead to a polymer film coating that can turn contact lenses into wearable health monitors.
Writing for Plos.org, Simon J. Leigh, Robert Bradley, et al. provide research results on the conductive plastic composites and how the advent of and easier access to 3D printing devices can significantly reduce the costs and production times of manufacturing.
University of Warwick’s Simon Leigh writes about other applications of 3D printing using electrically conductive plastic composites, including custom-designed devices that adapt to the specifications of every user, such as video game controllers that fit perfectly in the hands of users.
Innovations in nanotechnology now allow us to create composite plastics that conduct electricity, which opens up massive opportunities for improvement in current industrial processes.
Current industrial processes that address electrical conductivity in compounds, machinery, and other materials involve using heavy metal-based fillers – or metallic materials outright – to augment conductivity in certain components. The drawbacks being that these metallic substances and parts often require assembly, are difficult to mold, and are troublesome to process in general.
In 1977, three researchers – Alan Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid, and Hideki Shirakawa – observed that oxidized iodine-doped polyacetylene possessed certain conductive properties. This discovery of conductive polymers won them the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. While polyacetylene itself had very little practical applications, the finding sparked massive interest for the development of other conductive polymers, hence the reason for the PolyCond Project.
The Europe-based PolyCond Project involved 5 countries from the European Union and 20 companies that shared a common interest in either research or commercial trades, all of which were vital to the success of the project. The objective of this massive 4 year undertaking (from 2005 to 2009) was to develop polymer-based (plastic) compounds capable of efficiently conducting electricity. The success parameters of PolyCond required that the resulting plastic components would include Electromagnetic Interference Shielding capacity, weight reduction of at least 60%, reduction of processing costs of about 90%, and reduction of production time by about 80%.
The workload of this project was divided into stages, all of which involved small-yet-crucial tasks that would guarantee its success. Speaking of which, PolyCond was a resounding success – having developed a compound based on the polyaniline semiconductor, which when compounded with carbon nanotubes transforms into a conductor akin to metals used solely for this purpose (such as tin or copper) but retaining the same practicality and ease of processing that any composite plastic possesses. The result was a material that is easy to manufacture, is highly resistant to corrosion, conducts electricity like any other metal, is very lightweight, very cheap and – with current technology – can be molded into any shape and size required, either by injection molding or other molding techniques, thus making the assembly process easier compared to what most metal-based components would require.
The legacy of the PolyCond project – paired with current advances in nanotechnology and 3D printing – is that it allows us to create electrically conductive plastics in all shapes and sizes, which significantly reduces the costs and production times, and it facilitates more practical assembly of most machinery in a wide variety of situations, from the energy industry, to health establishments, and industrial complexes, just to name a few. All with the added bonus of being entirely eco-friendly.
The potential applications for these compounds are endless. For example, in 2012, Leigh, Bradley et al conducted research to develop an inexpensive plastic compound using carbon black as a filler for conductivity. They named this experimental plastic Carbomorph, because the polymer matrix used (Polycaprolactone) was easily moldable with low temperatures of only 60°C. This lower temperature requirement allowed the newly developed material to be easily molded using any commonly available 3D printer, such as the RepRap or Fab@Home. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Warwick took this compound and started researching potential applications. As it turns out, Carbomorph is really simple to process using only a computer and a 3D printer. This ease of manufacture opens the door to – in the near future – fully functional electronic devices using only the 3D printer.
This advance could radically change the way we manufacture all our products, with other benefits to boot: like being able to create customized personal devices such as cell phones, video game controllers, or computer peripherals that fit perfectly in the hands of its owners, reducing electronic waste in the process (smaller devices require less materials to produce, etc.). The educational potential is massive as well, as students would be able to create relatively high-tech equipment in their classrooms, using a computer with 3D modeling software and a 3D printer. As I said, the potential for development is virtually limitless.
Unfortunately, current 3D printing technology using electrically conductive plastics is still in its nascent stages. But in a few years, we could be on the verge of revolutionizing the way we produce all our electronics. This could translate into cheaper-yet-better-designed products for the benefit of everyone.
What a time to be alive!
About the Author: Juan López is a freelance writer living in Venezuela, and offers all sorts of writing services to any interested parties. You may contact him at his personal email firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Facebook.