Despite plastics constitute the most aggravating environmental concerns worldwide, people continue to use massive amounts of plastics in their routine life, thereby, pushing profit margins for plastics manufacturers. Much to the chagrin of happenings and activists, an increasingly stringent and restrictive regulatory environment apparently has had put a sizeable dent in the plastic industry’s growth so far. It is changing now, with behemoths in the plastics industry starting to adapt and disrupt diverse manufacturing processes across diverse industries, such as electrical & electronics, automotive, and consumer goods, sports & leisure.
Global plastic production reaching a whopping volume of ~390 Mn Tons in 2018, with APEJ accounting for ~50 of the overall production, which was primarily maintained by wide range of applications of thermoplastics across various verticals. The bulk adoption of high engineering plastic for applications across electrical and electronics industry in particular, and automotive sector, and potential lucrativeness in the medical applications are highly likely to grow further in the years to come.
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While highly priced and low-volume polymer -high-performance thermoplastics (HPTPs) continue to garner considerable traction for use in specialized applications that require a combination of extraordinary properties, their adoption is likely to remain bullish in near future. Moreover, HPTPs are also garnering limelight as a potential replacement for metal parts, as industries shift their focus towards various forms of plastics as light-weighting materials for diverse applications.
Liquid Crystal Polymer – A Promising Stand-in for Industries
Materials with versatile profile continue to garner substantial traction, as an increased number of industries have placed their focus on leveraging the multifaceted options, while they aim to suffice the rapidly changing consumer demand for quality-driven products. Thermotropic liquid crystal polymers (LCP), for instance, belong to the super engineering plastics class, and are witnessing adoption for a broad-spectrum of applications in the proliferating electrical & electronics industry. Liquid crystal polymers exhibit unique properties of high flowability for extrusion molding, resistance to heat, and low dielectric constant, which continue to make them an ideal option for manufacturing wide range of products.
Electrical & Electronics Industry – The Prime Growth Vertical
The electrical & electronics industry continues to expand at a steady pace, specifically in Asia-Pacific region, led by China, which is the largest manufacturer of electronic devices and components globally. Growing presence of a large number of manufacturers and high production capacity of electronic devices in China continue to uplift the opportunities for market players in this region. Demand for liquid crystal polymers is increasing by leaps and bounds with correspondence to the growth of electrical & electronics industry with concentrated applications for LCP.
Liquid crystal polymers are widely leveraged for a variety of surface-mount technology, such as connectors — for example, small-outline, dual inline memory modules for laptop and computers as well as flexible printed circuits (FPCs) for tablets and smartphones. While providing excellent flow to fill multifaceted geometries in short cycle times, outstanding thermal and chemical resistance, and unique mechanical properties, LCPs achieve UL* 94 V-0 flame retardance without requiring flame retardant additives, and the scrap can be recycled for future use.
Staggering Demand for Miniaturization – A Compelling Trend
The rapidly growing demand for smaller and thinner electrical components that can withstand higher temperatures and wear has been solidifying the areas of growth for liquid crystal polymer manufacturers. Most of the liquid crystal polymer demand from the electrical & electronics industry is addressed for the production of various types of connectors, electronics components, miniaturized components for smartphones, such as card slots. Liquid crystal polymer offers high flow abilities and faster cycle times in thinner wall application required for the connectors. Growing use of liquid crystal polymer to manufacture connectors that demand high heat resistance has been creating a stream of opportunities for the growth of the market.
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LCP – Material of Choice for Fine-pitch Electrical Connectors?
Liquid crystal polymer continues to witness adoption for an unprecedented number of applications, with a new grade of LCP exhibiting desired compatibility that is required to suffice the perquisites of fine-pitch electrical connectors. Sumitomo Chemical, for instance has developed two novel SumikaSuper liquid crystal polymer grades that are specifically designed to suffice the demanding requirements of fine-pitch connector, thereby, assisting liquid crystal polymers gain stronger ground. The novel SumikaSuper LCP grades for fine-pitch connectors provides exceptional process ability and low war page in extremely- thin wall sections to precisely mold the thin, small, light interconnects and through holes. Additionally, the use of liquid crystal polymer in semiconductor packaging is relatively new area of application, however manufactures are exploring the potential adoption opportunities in this arena to secure long-term gains.
Upcoming technologies, such as 5G, foster the need for high heat resistant materials to be used in laptops, smartphones, communication technology devices and other electronic devices. As various grades of liquid crystal polymers meet these prerequisites, 5G communication is anticipated to emerge as a hotbed of opportunities for liquid crystal polymer manufacturers.
The Plastic Industry is 5G Ready
The 5G revolution is not only changing the smartphone industry, but also presents a lucrative opportunity for the plastic industry, with the highly likely rocket-growing shipment of smartphones and building of novel antenna infrastructure. While the 5G communication getting close and close in the real life, and is becoming the hottest topic in the network industry, LCPs are being look upon at a large scale as a novel material with an optimistic outlook for mobile phone antenna. Several companies in the liquid crystal polymers are leveraging the potential of this trend, while shifting their focus towards exploring the opportunistic value of LCPs in the set to thrive 5G communication revolution.
What Is Forestalling the Market Growth?
While the market for liquid crystal polymer continues to witness heavy flow of applications, thereby opportunities, stakeholders are still struggling to maintain gains in line with the growing emergence of potential substitutes and role of organic polymers in narrowing down their prospects. Though the lucrativeness of 5G is promising manifold growth opportunities for companies, polyimide resin could substitute liquid crystal polymers in smartphone antenna application. Additionally, high cost of liquid crystal polymers as compared to natural graphite has been hindering the growth of liquid crystal polymers market.
What Does it Mean for Market Participants?
The global liquid crystal polymer market is moderately consolidated with leading players, including Celanese Corporation, Polyplastics Co Ltd, Toray Industries, Sumitomo Chemicals, and Solvay S.A. collectively holding sizeable shares. The market frontrunners are constantly leveraging novel materials and exploring potential applications of liquid crystal polymers to maintain their standpoint. New product development and customized application-based offerings have emerged as a key strategy of market players to gain an extra edge in the market, which is heading towards intensifying competition.
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Several companies are investing in R&D to eliminate the risk factor associated with prevailing substitutes in the market. In light of the growing lucrativeness of Asia Pacific, a number of companies have shifted their focus towards the region to squeeze higher gains. For instance, in January 2019, Celanese Corporation acquired the Indian firm, Next Polymers Ltd., which is operational in engineered plastics compounding, such as liquid crystal polymers to expand its market presence in Asia-Pacific region. In February 2019, the company purchased leading India polymer manufacturer- OmniPlastics to extend geographical reach, increase product portfolio, and appeal to a wider pool of customers.
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