High Performance Thermoplastics
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Published: December 2012
This report focuses on high performance thermoplastics (HPTPs), which are high-priced, low-volume highly specialized polymers that are sold for use in specialized applications that require a combination of extraordinary properties. They provide more thermal resistance, as well as other enhanced properties, than engineering thermoplastics (ETPs) like nylons and polycarbonates, but with prices that are significantly higher. Many HPTPs can withstand long-term service temperatures of at least 150°C and short-term use temperatures of greater than 250°C.
Compared with other thermoplastics, even the larger-volume engineering polymers, HPTPs have superior short- and long-term thermal stability (higher melting point, glass transition temperature, heat deflection temperature, continuous-use temperature), chemical and radiation resistance, resistance to burning, and improved mechanical properties (stiffness, strength, toughness, creep, wear, fatigue).
In recent years, most HPTPs have been growing at rates faster than most other plastics, mainly as a result of increased demand in two key sectors: electronics and automotive. Still, demand remains at relatively low levels, making the HPTP business unattractive to many commodity plastics producers. DuPont and BASF are indeed large plastics producers, but they probably regard their polyphthalamide specialty nylons businesses as extensions of their high-volume nylon ETP product lines.
The main markets for HPTPs are electronics, automotive, aircraft and industrial.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of high performance thermoplastics by type on a value basis:
Most major HPTP players are large multinational companies having extensive experience in polymer manufacturing and processing. However, smaller companies with relatively narrow product portfolios can also play a significant role in the industry. For example, Victrex, the leading producer of aromatic polyketones, is a small, highly focused organization, which was spun off from ICI. In Japan, the roster of HPTP producers includes both small, domestically focused producers and large corporations with substantial international interests. China is becoming more of a factor in some markets like PPS, where it accounts for about 30% of global capacity.
Strong HPTP growth in the Asia Pacific region will continue because of the high concentration of electronics manufacturers in the region. Asian automotive manufacturers are also starting to use more plastic as materials of construction to lower vehicle weights and systems costs.