The use of plastics in electronic products is increasing quickly. In our homes we have new categories of products: smart speakers, wireless networks, home theaters, and robotic appliances which are completely new. These product categories which did not exist ten years ago. What the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner did for floors (iRobot), and Sonos did for wireless speakers twenty or more years ago, Amazon and Apple are doing with smart speakers. Essentially developing a class of home products with technology and intelligence we only expect in ecommerce websites. The opportunity for plastics is immense. With the opportunity also comes responsibility of fire safety. These products pack small batteries and have high energy density. Like a few early mobile phones that caught on fire (Apple, Samsung), we must use heat and flame retardant plastics.
Electronic products are not the only ones which need to be flame retardant. Essentially any home product, especially children’s toys, furniture and home accessories, must be fire retardant. This also goes for electrical products used in construction. Anywhere people use plastics or electricity is used, fire retardance is a must have property.
Flame retardant additives essentially prevent the spread of flames once sparks start in an electronic product. To assure safety, strict plastics standards assure products meet flame retardant tests. Additive products are usually sold under a specific standard and are tested with many applications. But final products are still sent out to labs to test their properties under real world use. This makes each additive product selection process just as important as other design consideration: finish, color, strength and weight (density). We are not going to see the result of our decision until final tests, so we need to rely on the manufacturer’s experience to make the right decision.
Additive application specialists will help you design the right solution. In designing a new product, knowledge from previous application is a starting point. In some situations, prototypes and testing may be needed. Starting points may not be enough. First test results will give you an idea how to improve results. Other design and even manufacturing factors can also change the next formulation steps. Looking forward, even cost and manufacturing ease needs will also help in changing the application of a certain flame retardant masterbatch. We always want to improve our product and optimize processes. This makes the relationship with a supplier helpful. Working with one key supplier for each product category is a method we see in the industry. Essentially, each supplier is critical in one or more solutions to a product designer.