Polycarbonate, one of the fastest-growing engineering polymers in recent years, looks like it’s in for some hard times. On one side, the clear thermoplastic is getting battered by concerns over adverse health effects of biphenyl A (a key constituent) and on the other by declining sales of CDs and DVDs.New clarified polypropylenes are replacing PCs used in food and beverage containers. The economics favoring polyolefins is also changing. The price differential between the two polymers, already substantial, is likely to widen further as massive new PP supplies come on one. PC is easily twice as expensive as PP right now.
Meanwhile, one of the giant markets for PC is under siege. Since the introduction of the MP3, sales of CDs have dropped in seven out of the last eight years. Large label CD sales dropped 20% in 2008. The outlook is grim as it becomes apparent that movies and other content will be increasingly delivered over the Internet.
That’s why you see so many concept cars (like the first Chevy Volt) featuring polycarbonate roofs. Automotive glazing has been the Holy Grail for PC for at least five years. But that won’t be coming anytime soon because of concerns over performance issues.
What does all this mean for mechanical engineers? Look for major producers (such as Sabic IP, Bayer, Dow or Mitsubishi) to show more interest on working with you to develop new applications. Key candidates are components requiring clarity, stiffness, temperature resistance and impact resistance.