LSR World stopped by Momentive Performance Materials GmbH in Leverkusen, Germany, to take a look at the company's LSR products and solutions development pipeline.
Looking at world markets, Holger Albrecht, Momentive vice president and elastomers business unit leader, referred to China as "a large market that has also really developed in the past 10 to 15 years."
Albrecht expects greater use of new technologies as China shifts from its focus on commodity manufacturing and mass production.
He believes that as Chinese wages rise, LSR is positioned to gain market share from the significantly larger solid silicone market, on account of more precise molding with shorter cycle times.
Albrecht is well-qualified on this subject, as he set up Bayer AG's application development center for silicones in Singapore in the 1990s, and he was global elastomers product manager from 2012-2015.
Global LSR suppliers are active in China, as well as quite a few smaller local players.
"While we have also always been active in China, we see Chinese LSR producers starting to focus on other lower-wage cost countries now, such as Vietnam and Indonesia," Albrecht said.
Although Europe is not the largest LSR market, Albrecht said it is a very interesting one, as it has historically been the technology driver. So there is a strong focus on Europe, along with the United States. But Momentive nevertheless considers China the most dynamic and largest LSR market worldwide.
Oliver Franssen, global elastomer marketing director for transportation, stressed the importance of LSR molders having own mold making, saying: "The biggest risk a LSR molder can take is to give up own mold making know-how to external mold makers."
An obvious exception is some companies that focus on LSR mold and/or turnkey solutions only.
Albrecht pointed out that some Asian molders deliberately produce parts with flash that needs post-molding removal. It gives a sharp edge to parts.
"But here in Europe, the parts have to just fall out of the mold ready. The key to success with LSR in high wage cost countries is fully automatic production without flash, as post-molding work is too expensive here," Albrecht said.
But this will also apply to lower wage cost countries in the future, Albrecht predicted. It also means some business may shift to the U.S. and Europe as unit wage costs rise elsewhere.
Franssen said LSR use in automotive is growing faster than car production. This is because there are new applications involving higher temperatures and more connectors.
"Up to 50 percent of electrical connectors in cars are sealed with silicone," Franssen said.
He added that newer batteries in electric cars will have fewer connector seals, but the ones they do have are much larger, "with a diameter like my thumb, enclosing large cables rather than smaller seals around wires."
Momentive has recently improved its Ultraclear grades, and it has also started supplying LSR for street lighting in North America that needs to meet the UL94 5V-0 flame retardancy category. Street lighting with large lenses is now rapidly developing into the largest LSR market for Momentive in North America, Franssen said.
The company has some other optically clear products in the development to address issues of mechanical properties and volatile materials causing fogging deposits on aluminum reflectors in automotive headlamps. Until this is solved, molders still have to temper LSR moldings. Franssen pointed to another issue here: "If I take these LSR parts and put them in an oven, their sticky surface can easily attract particles."
"Temper-free LSR is definitely achievable," Franssen said, "with some processors already using such material commercially in Japan, for example for connector seals, also manufacturers of baby teats are evaluating this technology for an optimized process and added security."
A recent development is self-bonding LSR that adheres more readily to thermoplastics such as PCs and copolyesters in multicomponent molding, enabling faster cycle time. Polycarbonate otherwise needs some form of pretreatment, such as corona, plasma or flame treatment.
PC, as shown by Kassel University's Unipace operation at the Arburg 2017 Technology Days open house and presented at the 2017 SKZ silicone elastomers conference in Würzburg, can also be well-bonded to conventional self-bonding LSR after in-mold laser structuring the PC. Unipace demonstrated this at the Arburg open house with Momentive's conventional LSR 2740 self-bonding grade.
UV-curing LSRs could open a window to use of lower-heat-resistant polyolefins, such as PP and PE, in multicomponent molding. But Franssen warned "if we succeed to get UV-cured LSR to self-bond with polyolefins, that will not be a story for Fakuma, at least not in 2017! But I am convinced it can be done."
Christian Panofen, director global marketing and strategy in the elastomer business unit, sees good potential for self-bonding LSR to PC in health care applications and in wearable devices such as wristbands. And new self-lubricating LSR grades enable new applications too, for example in needle-free access valves. He sees Momentive profiting from growth in health care through both high organic growth, as well as such new LSR products.
In order to emphasize interest in the health care market, Momentive will exhibit for the first time in the Compamed medical appliances section of the Medica/Compamed 2017 exhibition in Düsseldorf, Germany, in November, following earlier participation in Medical Design & Manufacturing shows in the United States.