As transportation evolves into the age of connected cars, the automotive and electronics industries are converging like never before. While electronics represented only 1% of the value of a vehicle in 1950, that number will grow to 35% by 2020, and 50% by 2050 (Statista: Automotive electronics cost as a percentage of total car cost worldwide from 1950 to 2030).
Plastics have played a key role in revolutionizing the electronics industry. They have led the miniaturization trend, enabling designers to push through higher voltages in smaller spaces. They have been engineered to do more with less, improving efficiency over the product’s lifecycle. And they have been engineered to improve safety as devices increase computational power while decreasing size.
As the automotive industry moves to meet the upcoming demands of connected vehicles, autonomous driving, the Internet of Things, and a sustainable circular economy, electrification in cars will continue to increase. With that, the weight of plastics in each vehicle will continue to grow beyond the 350 kg expected in each vehicle by 2020. The use of plastic materials in cars has already risen sharply, with 75% more plastics in today’s vehicles than those in 2014 (IHS: Polymer Demand in Automotive Field).
These trends have knock-on effects in long-established markets. The plastics market is currently in turmoil due to rapid shifts in demand. There is a growing need for speed in the innovation of plastic materials with the right balance of properties for a wide variety of applications. Traditional partnerships are being re-evaluated as innovation and development processes speed up through broader cooperation and swarm innovation. This enables industry partners to capture better ideas, designs and solutions that meet the market’s rapidly changing demands. Engineering plastics will play a key role in this evolution – but only once the market realizes the need to reinvest heavily in innovative thermoplastic technology.
Volatility in the plastics industry
The plastics industry has faced its own market challenges over the last year. We saw supplier consolidations, feedstock holdings and further market domination by a handful of suppliers. We experienced plant outages and factory closures in feedstocks and intermediates in the United States, in the aftermath of a particularly bad hurricane season. We are furthermore seeing increases in feedstock prices – notably Benzene and other Intermediates like Cyclohexanone – as production units in China must make temporary ongoing closures due to anti-pollution measures. Amid all of this, the rapidly changing automotive and electronics industries require fast, flexible and guaranteed delivery of high performance plastics – where and when they are needed. With limited supply, large shifts in demand and increases in raw materials prices, it can only be expected that, consequently, there will be future price increases for high performance plastic materials as well.
Remaining competitive in this rapidly changing world takes a materials partner who can help to seize new market opportunities with a fast and flexible approach to innovation. DSM is such a partner, because we anticipated these industry changes timely, and have been working for many years to build our strong position in both the automotive and electronics markets. About 90% of all new cars and close to all mobile electronics devices incorporate a DSM material these days – everywhere in the world.
As one of the first western-owned engineering plastics companies entering China, DSM has a long track record working with the specific needs and particularities of electronics applications, and no other engineering plastics company is actively investing in the development of new polymers for the electronics industry. Take ForTii® for example, with grades designed to have the strength to withstand thousands of pulling and plugging operations; suitable for high-temperature processing steps such as NMT, LDS and PVD; and with high flowability to enable thin-walled designs and improved cycle times.
The DSM partnership approach is known for its quick and effective innovation through co-creation. Our ongoing innovation work includes new High Performance and Engineering Plastic materials for a variety of automotive and electronics applications. These materials help OEMs to reach the approximately 200 kg of weight they need to remove from vehicles by 2025 to meet stringent CO2 emissions regulations. Our ForTii® Ace for instance, replaces die-cast metals in highly challenging automotive applications such as powertrain, transmission, chassis and thermal management applications. With stable mechanical performance at continuous-use temperatures up to 150°C, ForTii Ace is preferred in applications that need long-term strength at high temperatures, and superior chemical stability. These materials beat out competitive materials by having a significantly higher glass transition temperature than other polythalamides, and higher resistance to automotive oils and chemicals than even high-performance materials like PEEK.
For automotive connectors, control devices and sensors, which are exposed to humidity and high temperatures, we have developed Arnite® PBT. These hydrolysis-resistant grades of polybbutylene terephthalate are ideal for applications around the engine, where peak temperatures continue to rise. Polyamides 6 and 66, as well as standard PBT, do not maintain their mechanical properties in these increasingly hot environments. Arnite PBT demonstrates a higher retention of mechanical properties in high humidity environments with elevated temperatures, and outperforms virtually every competitive material in terms of flow and speed of crystallization to reduce production cycle times.
For intelligent appliances in smart homes, we have developed the Akulon® SafeConnect and EcoPaXX® PA410 grades. These surpass the EN 60335-1 international standard for safety of household and similar appliances, to ensure that electronics that can be operated without direct human supervision will not pose an increased risk of electrical failure with potentially serious consequences. Our materials achieve the highest UL 94 flammability rating of V-0 at a thickness of only 0.4mm. This ensures the products can pass the IEC 60695-11-10 Glow Wire Test (GWT) without igniting at 850°C, and retain a high comparative tracking index (CTI) of 400V. We even offer a halogen-free flame retardant compound with a CTI of 600V.
In addition to continuously developing new grades to meet the latest challenges of both the automotive and electronics industries, we have timely expanded the capacity of our high-performance plastics. This expansion was necessary due to our solid growth in automotive and electronics materials. We are currently expanding the capacity of our specialty polymers plants in Emmen and Geleen, The Netherlands, leading to significant capacity increases for our Stanyl®, ForTii® and EcoPaXX® product streams. We are furthermore increasing capacity of Arnitel®.
Finally, our recent joint venture with NHU will deliver high-performance polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) compounds for automotive, electronics, water management and industrial applications. This will fill out our portfolio in the high temperature performance engineering plastics space, while complementing our offerings in the thermoplastic polyester, polyamide 6 and polyamide 66 space.
With all these developments in product innovation, portfolio expansion and capacity increases, DSM is well-positioned to enable the current and near-future paradigm shifts in the automotive and electronics industries.