From additives to polymers to coatings to 3-D printables, new materials improve performance
High-performance materials are intended to make consumer goods, industry and the world, in general, function better. Inventive performance materials can be found in all categories, from additives to polymers to coatings and enamels to newer materials, such as 3-D printables. What each brings to the table depends upon the type of material and the intended application, but one thing all performance materials have in common is that they are constantly being innovated to perform better than the materials that came before. This article rounds up some of the newest materials designed to solve industrial challenges within several different categories.
Many additives were developed to solve problems that were plaguing industry. For example, Nanol Technologies’ (Helsinki, Finland; www.nanol.eu) lubricant additive was originally developed for fuel saving and wear protection in marine engines and industrial applications. However, recent testing found that the additive has additional properties, as it can prevent “hydrogen embrittlement” (or white etching cracks) — the process by which metals, such as steel, become brittle and fracture when in contact with hydrogen. “This phenomenon is something that occurs in the structure of the metal,” says Nanol CEO Johan von Knorring. “The metallurgical process disrupts and weakens the structure of the metal. It occurs especially at high loads when hydrogen atoms diffuse into the micro-structure of the metal. This causes unpredictable metal fractures and cracking, but we’ve found that it can be prevented with [the additive, also known as] Nanol.” He adds that Nanol should be viewed as a multifaceted additive that has additional performance attributes, such as viscosity improvement, friction modification and anti-wear properties, as well as protection against hydrogen embrittlement.
The additive has mainly been used in marine engine and power-plant applications, but is finding use in new segments where hydrogen embrittlement is an issue, such as gear boxes and wind-power turbines. Using Nanol in these applications will prolong service intervals, lower friction, reduce energy consumption and decrease wear on parts, von Knorring says.
Eriez’s (Erie, Pa.; www.eriez.com) latest additive was developed to assist food processors that needed a way to detect plastic contamination in food products in an effort to comply with standards, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls. The company’s PolyMag additives (Figure 1) are FDA-compliant and impart metal detectability, X-ray contrast and magnetic susceptibility when added to plastic moldings. Incorporating these additives into the processing of items such as conveyor belts, pallets, ear plugs, gaskets, totes, pens, shovels, scoops, scraper blades and other plastic items used in a food processing facility can prevent plastic-contaminated food products from reaching the consumer, says John Collins, PolyMag business manager with Eriez, as food processors readily use these detection techniques to avoid having contaminants in their product.
The additives are provided in pellet form, allowing molders and extruders to produce metal-detectable and X-ray-visible plastic items used for food contact applications.
New polymers are also being created for use in food-contact applications. For example, a new acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) grade from Elix Polymers S.L. (Tarragona, Spain; www.elix-polymers.com) is for use in products that come into contact with food and which also require extra toughness and resistance to high temperatures. While the company has a high level of experience as a supplier of ABS for medical consumer applications, it intends to transfer this competence to food-contact applications, which are also sensitive applications requiring a high level of support and knowledge in regulation, says Aurelie Mannella, healthcare industry manager with Elix Polymers.
Target applications for the latest grade of ABS include kitchenware, products for preparation and storage of food and toys. “The latest grade has been migration tested with different food simulants,” says Mannella. “This enables Elix Polymers to advise customers about migration issues and regulatory compliance during the product design phase, preventing problems before they occur and shortening time to market.”
M545TF can be supplied pre-colored, with Elix Polymers taking the responsibility for compliance of the pigments with food-contact regulations. A series of actions have been taken to assure no impact on extractables and leachables. For example, no colorants and dyes, dispersants or process aids are allowed in recipes, unless they are approved in the base material, and only FDA/EU pigments are used.
Biopharmaceutical manufacturers also need polymers that are developed to meet regulatory requirements. As such, MilliporeSigma (Billerica, Mass.; www.emdmillipore.com) offers a Poloxamer 188 polymer, a surface-active non-ionic polymer used in cell culture media as a shear protectant and a standard component in cell culture media for production processes. MilliporeSigma’s Poloxamer 188 Emprove Expert polymer (Figure 2) helps ensure lot-to-lot consistency and reliable performance. The product has been cell culture tested, optimized and comes with Emprove Expert polymer dossiers to help manufacturers meet regulatory requirements for risk assessment. “Certain molecular weight species can have a negative impact on cell culture performance,” says Andrew Bulpin, head of process solutions with MilliporeSigma. “Our Poloxamer 188 Emprove Expert has a tight and well-controlled molecular weight distribution, which shows superior performance compared with other suppliers and quality grades.”
Other industries, too, are reaping the rewards of new performance polymers. For example, GreenMantra Technologies (Brantford, Ont., Canada; www.greenmantra.ca), a clean-tech company that uses a proprietary thermo-catalytic system and patented process to cost-effectively convert and upcycle waste plastic, is the first company to depolymerize waste polyolefin plastic into a synthetic wax on a commercial scale, according to Domenic DiMondo, senior director, research and business development with the company. “The novelty of our process is in the non-discriminatory features of the process with regard to the polyethylene or polypropylene plastic used. This allows us to use a full range of polyolefin waste plastics as feedstock,” he says. “Future commercial products will include a portfolio of styrenic polymers derived from waste polystyrene.”
In the meantime, the technology allows the company greater control of the polymer depolymerization and resulting product properties, enabling them to produce drop-in offsets or novel synthetic polymers, waxes and additives. Ceranovus waxes, some of the newest products, are sold commercially for applications in asphalt modification for roofing and paving, polymer processing, masterbatch, inks, coatings and adhesives. These products stand out from other waxes as they can improve throughput and productivity in manufacturing processes such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) extrusion and plastics processing, while also helping to reduce energy costs and equipment wear. As a modifier, they can enhance the physical properties of the end product, depending on the application, providing greater stability or performance in the field, says DiMondo. And because the waxes are produced from post-consumer recycled plastics, they enable end products utilizing the wax to qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other environmental credits.
Other polymer developments include the introduction of Makrolon, a thermally conductive (TC) polycarbonate from Covestro LLC (Pittsburgh, Pa.; www.covestro.com). The material can be used for thermal management in a variety of components. Relevant applications span the electronics, automotive lighting and light-emitting diode (LED) lighting industries. Makrolon TC polycarbonate can be used as a replacement for aluminum, a material often used in heat sinks. Heat sinks molded using these grades provide dissipation of the heat generated by the OEM’s product in order to maintain desired operating temperatures and meet product performance goals. “Many existing applications are over-engineered using die cast aluminum since the effect of higher conductivity is lost in certain low-convection conditions,” says Kevin Dunay, electrical industry manager, polycarbonates with Covestro. “Unlike aluminum, the processing temperature of Makrolon TC polycarbonate enables insert molding of components. Molding in components allows for parts consolidation, which translates into reduced costs. Furthermore, the material is lighter weight and provides enhanced design freedom when compared to aluminum.”
Coatings and enamels
High-performing coatings and enamels are also being developed to improve upon existing solutions for challenging industrial applications. For instance, Larry Grimenstein, owner of Stonghold Coatings (Franklin, Ohio; www.strongholdone.com) says he noticed that thermal spray coatings often failed. “What I found was that the coatings had porosity and the sealers being sold actually did not perform well in service,” he says. “I found a special resin and ran some tests and it worked better than anything in the current market.”
He adds that following some modifications in formulation to meet safety requirements, the resulting product, Dichtol, became a material used to seal thermal-spray coatings. “I was approached by automotive and pump companies to use the sealer on cast aluminum parts. These parts had been sealed in vacuum pressure tanks, but there were still a small percentage of failures, and some of the parts were so expensive that a small percentage of failures became a major cost problem. Companies started to mark small failure areas on the part and coat it with Dichtol. Failure changed from a few percent to tenths of a percent.”
Since then, several new Dichtol products have been launched, including Dichtol 1532 (Figure 3), a polymeric capillary sealer for castings and composites. It impregnates micropores and hairline cracks without vacuum or pressure, forming a protective barrier to gases and liquids that is invisible when cured. It penetrates deeply into the coating to prevent corrosion of the metal substrate. Pressure-resistant to 8,700 psi and temperature resistant to 932°F, the product is easily applied by dip, brush or spray, dries in minutes and cures at ambient temperature.
ZYP Coatings (Oak Ridge, Tenn.; www.zypcoatings.com), which specializes in paintable high-temperature ceramic refractory coatings, pioneered the use of paintable boron nitride (BN) coatings for everywhere that molten aluminum is melted, transferred or cast. BN has properties usable to above 3,272°F in inert atmospheres and to 1,832°F in air. It exhibits high thermal conductivity, high electrical resistivity, high lubricative nature and chemical stability. The company produces its own very high-purity grade of BN powder using continuous furnace technology, according to Cres Holcombe, senior development engineer/president with ZYP. Based on this core technology, ZYP recently launched its Boron Nitride Cera Patch product, a ready-to-use, water-based ceramic putty/patching material that can be filled into any fissure, crack or defect in refractory materials to achieve non-wetting with molten aluminum. This repair product is completely free of refractory ceramic fiber (RCF), and is engineered to expand to fill damaged areas and does not sinter, shrink or crack with use. It adheres well to all refractory surfaces, dense or porous, and is applicable for all environments to 1,472°F for continuous use, and to 1,832°F for intermittent use. BN Cera Patch is ready-to-use after applying with putty knife or trowel followed by drying. No special cure is needed.
In an effort to provide another industrial solution, DeDietrich Process Systems (Reichshoffen, France; www.ddpsinc.com), a provider of process equipment for the fine chemical, chemical and pharmaceutical industry, developed its DD3009 enamel for re-glassing glass-lined reactors to provide optimum properties of chemical resistance to acidic and alkaline mediums and mechanical resistance to shock and abrasion.
“Glass-lined steel equipment is used in processes when service conditions are particularly difficult,” says Laurent Drummer, marketing manager for enamel activity. Re-glassing is the process by which older or damaged glass-lined steel equipment is refurbished to like-new condition. During the re-glassing process, the old glass lining is removed, steel repairs and modifications are completed and corrosion resistant DD3009 enamel is fused onto the prepared steel in a computer-controlled electric furnace. The end product is a high-quality, glass-lined steel vessel.
Drummer continues: “All enamels are not of the same quality, so we developed our own enamel to improve the characteristics and to provide the best enamel dedicated to chemical and pharmaceutical industries.”
Another coating, XuperCOAT (Figure 4) from Eutectic Corp. (Menomonee Falls, Wis.; www.castolin.com), was developed for the protection of molds in metals casting. The coating was designed to increase the lifetime of the mold plates or tubes and to ensure longer campaigns of first-class cast products in terms of cast shape and surface quality. “The coating also helps reduce operational costs for molds and increases high-quality output ratios,” says Thilo Krah-Tomala, global industry segment manager for steel and non-ferrous industries with Eutectic. “Standard solutions in the market are nickel- or chrome-based electroplating coatings,” says Krah-Tomala. “XuperCOAT can increase the lifetime of molds from two to five times compared to these solutions, depending on base material and process parameters. Our customers also managed to lower costs for molds by up to 30%, at the same time reducing the appearance of surface defects like stickers or longitudinal corner cracks.”
Other performance materials
A variety of other materials are also being developed to solve industrial dilemmas. For example, in an effort to help address industry challenges, such as food waste and product end of life, The Dow Chemical Company (Midland, Mich.; www.dow.com), through its own R&D and collaboration with industry partners, has been working to develop high-performance technologies that enable next-generation packaging to be developed and manufactured faster and more cost efficiently, all while providing sustainability efforts, says Nathan Wiker, group marketing director, Dow Packaging & Specialty Plastics.
As such, the company recently launched its Evercap closure resins. “The caps, closures and fitments market faces many challenges as the range of innovations in packaged food, beverages, cleaners and other chemical markets continue to diversify. In addition to the basic tasks of preventing leakage and preserving freshness, cap-and-closure technologies need to be durable, lightweight, safe and recyclable,” he says. The Evercap portfolio enables wide-ranging chemistry and processes, giving customers a way to create a range of closures, caps and fitments. This offers the industry many diverse, proprietary polyethylene (PE) technologies, ranging from high-density (HDPE) to linear low-density (LLDPE) to low-density (LDPE), says Wiker.
Another company, Element Six (Santa Clara, Calif.; www.e6.com) wanted to develop thermally conductive heat spreaders for use in high-end, high-power applications, such as high-power radio frequency, optoelectronics and high-voltage power semiconductor devices, says Thomas Obeloer, business development manager with the company. Diafilm ETC700 CVD diamond heat spreaders (Figure 5) were the result. The material is the first thermal management material engineered to offer electrical conductivity alongside the exceptional thermal performance of diamond. The innovation offers low dielectric and resistive losses, making it a suitable material for devices that demand optimal thermal management with minimal impact on electrical radio-frequency (RF) performance.
“The material outperforms other commercially available non-diamond heat-spreader materials, such as metallized dielectrics,” says Obeloer. A high conduction cross-section enables better RF performance by improving the ground-plane isolation, reduces the slow wave mode and capacitive coupling between ground planes at low frequencies, maintaining a bulk thermal conductivity greater than 650 W/mK and reduces conductive losses at higher frequencies.
With the growing use of metal 3-D printing, many industrial customers are seeing benefits from moving certain applications to 3-D printing [additive manufacturing (AM)], including reducing part count, creating new advanced geometries or simplifying the supply chain, notes Harald Lemke, senior vice president and general manager of engineered powders with NanoSteel (Providence, R.I.; www.nanosteelco.com), a steel-alloy design company with a focus area in designing new steel powders for use in additive manufacturing. “Our customers voiced a desire to 3-D print high-hardness components such as tooling, including molds or dies and parts like valves or gears. These components typically call for the use of high-hardness steels, such as D2, M2 and H13,” he says. “However, these materials are incompatible with laser powder bed fusion, the most common metal 3-D printing process.”
To overcome this challenge, NanoSteel launched the first high-performance tool steel for the laser power bed fusion AM process, called, BLDR metal L-40 (Figure 6). This material is case-hardenable steel powder that provides both high hardness and ductility (case hardness > 70HRC, 10%+ core elongation). It prints easily on standard commercial metal printing equipment, which means that it can be used on existing printers.
“Through the combination of our selected powder chemistry and printing process parameters, parts are created on standard commercial laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) equipment that demonstrate high hardness and ductility, along with exceptional surface finish,” says Lemke.
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