Materials: High-Performance Films: The U.S. Market
The U.S. high-performance films market reached 1.5 billion pounds in 2013 and is expected to grow to 1.9 billion pounds in 2018, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5%.
This report provides:
An overview of the U.S. market for high-performance films.
Analyses of global market trends with data from 2013 and projections of CAGRs through 2018.
Identification of trends affecting high-performance polymer films and their major end-use application markets.
A breakdown of end markets for high-performance films by material types, with sections devoted to each class of high-performance film.
A look at how structural issues affect the high-performance plastic films industry, such as the roles of film fabricators, converters, and distributors.
Comprehensive profiles of leading companies in the industry.
In the years since World War II, plastics, in their many forms, have become ubiquitous in developed nations, and are increasingly becoming common in the developing parts of the world as well. The United States was until recently the world’s largest producer and user of polymer products. In recent years China, which has become the world’s factory, surpassed North America in plastics production; however, the U.S. remains the largest user of plastics and plastic products. With abundant and cheap natural gas feedstock from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of tight gas shales, large petrochemical and polymer plants are again being built in the Ü.S.
Synthetic polymers are made and used in many different forms, from synthetic fibers to extruded and molded products such as films and bottles, to foam mattresses. Often the same polymer can make products with entirely different properties and uses. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a good example; it was first known and used as a synthetic fiber (Dacron and other brands). Later large use was developed for PET as a blow-molded bottle resin for soft drinks and other beverages, and also as a performance film for photographic film and magnetic media.
In this BCC Research report update by a different author, a Ph.D. chemical engineer who did an earlier BCC Research update several years ago, we study one versatile group of polymer products, high-performance plastic films. The noun film is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as follows:
1. A thin skin or membrane. 2. A thin, opaque, abnormal coating on the cornea of the eye. 3. A thin covering or coating: a film of dust on the piano. 4. A thin, flexible, transparent sheet, as of plastic, used in wrapping or packaging. 5. a. A thin sheet or strip of flexible material, such as a cellulose derivative or a thermoplastic resin, coated with a photosensitive emulsion and used to make photographic negatives or transparencies. b. A thin sheet or strip of developed photographic negatives or transparencies. 6 .a. A movie, especially one recorded on film. b. The presentation of such a work. c. A long, narrative movie. d. Movies collectively, especially when considered as an art form.
It can be seen that “film” has several meanings as a noun and even more as a verb. The firms covered in this report are included in definitions 4, 5.a, and 5.b. Although this definition comes from the most recent edition of this dictionary, the inclusion of “cellulose derivative” is now virtually obsolete since cellulose has long been replaced by synthetic polymers.
There is a difference between film and sheet, with films the thinner form. Plastic extrusions have usually been considered to be films up to about 0.25 mm, equivalent to 10 mils or 0.001 inch. Above this thickness a “film” of most materials usually becomes a “sheet.” However, as film technology has improved the flexibility of films, some markets define films slightly differently. Now thicknesses up to 0.40 inches (40 mils) may be defined as film by some engineers.
Thus, these differential points between film and sheet are not absolute, and engineers can define films in different ways. As discussed in this report, while some greater thicknesses are now considered film instead of sheet, minimum film thicknesses are also trending thinner toward micro thicknesses as new technologies emerge. Many high-temperature films are in the range of 0.001 inches to 0.010 inches (10 to 100 mils). At these thicknesses, a little film resin can go a long way.
A note on thickness units: in film technology, both English and metric units are commonly used. In addition, in the U.S. film thickness is commonly expressed in gauge. In film technology gauge is a measurement of film thickness, where one gauge unity equals 0.01 mil or about 0.25 micrometer or micron. Perhaps the easiest way to remember the relationship between these units is that 100-gauge film is 1 mil or 25 microns thick. In this report, film gauge will be referred to in the manner that is the standard in the industry under discussion.
High-performance thermoplastic (TP) films, the subject of this study, are playing an increasingly important role as engineers design products in increasingly demanding environments and demand higher performance from the products they use. Historically, the most important applications for these films were for photographic and reprographic applications, both of which are disappearing from use as digital formats take over these businesses. Fortunately, new applications are constantly being developed to replace those lost to technology. Today, these films may make possible safer and lighter packaging, economic electric vehicles, better liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and the growth of an economically practical photovoltaic (PV) solar power industry.
Major polymer and film producing companies are important technology drivers and invest significant capital in R&D to improve their technologies. Innovations were driven initially by polymer chemistry, but increasingly, they are being driven by improved fabrication and treatment of films. One example is the complex development of specialty polyolefin films as membrane separators for lithium-ion batteries.