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High-tech composites for mobile electronic devices

News International-French

23 Sep 2016

The demands consumers place on electronic devices are growing all the time. Covestro develops high-tech material for mobile electronic devices.

The demands consumers place on electronic devices are growing all the time. Covestro develops high-tech material for mobile electronic devices.

Consumers want their notebooks, tablets, TVs and smartphones to be ever faster, thinner and lighter, yet also increasingly robust. Devices should combine a sophisticated and fashionable design with a cool and authentic feel, but also be made from sustainable materials. Metals and conventional composites rapidly reach their limits when faced with such demands. 

Covestro has recognized this trend and developed a completely new composite technology for the efficient manufacture of housings and other components, that is based on thermoplastics and carbon fibers and meets these requirements. Covestro uses them for the manufacture of continuous fiber-reinforced films and sheets, for further processing by customers.

Ideal strength-to-weight ratio
Covestro CFRTP (continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites) solutions come into their own when used in consumer electronics products.

“They provide the best strength-to-weight ratio of all standard composites on the market and also outperform metals in this respect, which means they’re ideal for making parts for IT devices that are impressively robust despite their thin-walled, lightweight design,” says David Hartmann, who is heading the area of thermoplastic composites at Covestro, together with Dr. Michael Schmidt.

They also fulfill the high standard of Underwriters Laboratories’ UL94 V-0 flammability rating. 

The composites are based on films of endless unidirectional carbon fibers (UD films). Several layers of these films are positioned one on top of the other, cut and then laminated. This produces extremely stiff and lightweight composite sheets with no distortion or shrinkage. The number, direction and sequence of layers can be optimized for the relevant application. 

The external appearance of the sheet blanks is different from typical semi-finished plastic materials. They have an “organic” grain pattern, feel cool thanks to their excellent thermal conductivity and sound like metals on impact. 

Fast and flexible manufacture
Unlike small-series production with thermosetting plastics, Covestro CFRTP solutions enable flexible, cost-efficient mass production. Two of the reasons for this are short cycle times – with minimal manual work – and high yields. 

The supply chains are clearly defined. Covestro CFRTP sheets are easy to transport without any cooling or special treatment. The customer then proceeds with further processing using thermoforming, back molding, CNC milling or other processes. Further design features can also be added at this point or at a later time. Unlike thermosetting plastics, the composites can be easily recycled at the end of their service life. 

Thanks to these benefits, Covestro is confident its thermoplast-based composites have a good chance of enjoying future market success and is investing in their further development. Besides research and last year’s acquisition of a company specializing in composites, current activities are focusing on gradually establishing a global production network and an expanded product portfolio.

“We’re also working with machine manufacturers and carbon fiber suppliers to press ahead with the rollout of this technology,” says Dr. Michael Schmidt. 

Trendy design with high-quality surfaces
The composites give product designers an unprecedented degree of design freedom. Different combinations of resin and fibers can be used to create specific visual effects and textures – in the mold or using sandblasting, CNC milling or laser cutting, for example. Coating and various printing/embossing processes open up further possibilities. 

Openings and functions can also be integrated into the components themselves. It is possible to vary the wall thickness or to incorporate windows that allow RF (radiofrequency) radiation to pass through them. 

Automotive and transport industry another target market
Thanks to the aforementioned benefits, Covestro CFRTP solutions also offer new design options for components used in the automotive and transport industry. These include door trim, bodywork parts and backrests for automobiles. The materials’ lightweight design helps reduce both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. In buses, trucks and railroad cars, the composites could be used for applications such as interior and exterior paneling.