Metals have traditionally been the materials of choice for many applications due to their conductive properties. Engineered plastics, however, have rapidly evolved to include materials that can be lighter and tougher than metals and also be made to conduct electricity. Because of this, product designers are reassessing their material of choice to improve their product's performance and have more freedom in their design. In this post, we will further explore conductive plastics and their benefits when compared to metals.
What Are Conductive Plastics?
Conductive plastics are engineered materials that are filled with conductive additives to attain a specific level of electricity. Traditionally, this is accomplished through the use of carbon fillers, such as carbon black, graphite, and other conductive elements. Conductive plastics usually range between E4 to E12, making this material only semi conductive.
Why Use Conductive Plastics
Conductive plastics are ideal for dissipating static build-up or transferring an electrical charge. If not properly controlled, static build-up, commonly referred to as Electrostatic Discharge (ESD), may lead to severe mechanical failures or electrical shocks. To prevent these risks, incorporating conductive or semi conductive materials in your product design can greatly improve your product's performance. Depending on design requirements, there are many conductive materials available to meet your exact design requirements. For instance, thermoset polyurethanes is a type of plastic that can be made as strong and rigid as metal or soft and flexible as a foam cushion. Due to their chemical composition, thermoset polyurethanes can meet the most demanding specifications while achieving a specific level of conductivity. To learn more about polyurethane and conductivity, click here. While different grades of metal can naturally offer higher levels of conductivity, this may not always be beneficial to your product design. Depending on design requirements, most plastics can have modified properties that will not be harmful to your product's performance.
When to Use Conductive Plastics
Conductive plastics have two basic uses in product design. The first is to play a conductive role in an electro-mechanical mechanism and the second is to play a role in dissipating unwanted static from a machine. When making a material decision it is important to consider the properties required for successful operation. For example, most paper-media handling applications require a key set of properties in their components, such as tear strength, Coefficient of Friction (COF), and hardness. While metals can provide high levels of conductivity, this material will most likely not provide enough COF to perform properly. For this reason, conductive plastics are often used in many applications, including medical devices, food processing systems, military & defense, and industrial applications to name a few. This flexibility allows designers the freedom to design what they envision, based on their material requirements, part complexity, and volume demand.
Not All Conductivity is Created Equal
There are many ways to make plastics conductive. In the case of our Durethane® C conductive formulas, we use our patented metal salt technology to achieve conductivity. Unlike carbon black, Durethane® C provides products and components with uniform conductivity and does not leave streaks. To learn more about polyurethane conductivity, download our conductive overview, here, or click the banner below to download our material data sheet.