Published November 2015
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.
The electronic/electrical industry consumed a little over 80% of global demand for LCPs. The major component here for LCPs is in SMT connectors and other electronic devices. Growth is also attributed to the expansion of the electrical and electronics industry in Asia. LCP is utilized in a vast array of applications focused on electronic components such as smartphones, personal desktop and laptop computers, and tablets. The remaining demand for LCPs is for industrial and automotive applications, as well as uses in medical, aerospace, and cookware applications.
Key findings in the overall LCP market include the following:
- LCPs will continue to 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.
- Developing lightweight materials for automobile components to increase fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions is likely to aid LCP growth.
World consumption of LCP neat resin is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 4–5% during 2015–20. This estimate represents a more conservative view based on the deceleration in the Chinese economy. Even with a “conservative” growth rate of 4–5%, this is still an exceptionally healthy rate compared with that of commodity products.