Liquid Crystal Polymers
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Published: October 2012
Liquid crystal polymers (LCPs) are a unique group of linear polymers that can align themselves parallel to one another to form a liquid crystal phase. This alignment is "self-reinforcing," resulting in outstanding mechanical properties associated with a high degree of orientation. In the melt and under shear such as during injection molding, LCPs exhibit very low viscosity and high flow to completely fill small and intricate molds, making LCPs the favorite choice for making miniature and ultrathin parts down to 0.1-mm wall thickness with extremely short cycle times.
LCPs compete with other high performance thermoplastics and engineering resins, including PPS (polyphenylene sulfide), PPA (polyphthalamide), PCT (polycyclohexylenedimethylene terephthalate) and nylon 46, but the best of the competing resins can only fill walls down to 0.25 mm at most, and with longer cycle times during injection molding.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of LCPs:
LCPs' unique combination of high stiffness, high temperature resistance and high flow makes them particularly well suited to the growing trend of miniaturization in the electronics industry and the increasing popularity of microinjection molding. Applications such as connectors with high pin density have been driving the remarkable growth in LCP consumption.
Key findings in the overall LCP market include the following:
- LCPs will benefit from the drive to use halogen-free materials in applications requiring flame retardants.
- LCP use will be driven by tighter packaging, resulting in higher temperatures in consumer electronics, and thinner parts requiring higher flowability in molding.
- Future expansions will most likely be in Asia, mainly China, as well as Japan—no capacity increases are planned for Europe or the United States.
- LCPs' key markets include electrical/electronic (telecommunications and audio/video), transportation (automotive and aerospace), food service and medical.