From 2002 to 2006, a Washington company received rave headlines from trade and consumer newspapers for its newly developed conductive plastics. A headline in the Chicago Tribune after an NPE said “New product may electrify plastics industry”.
A decade later, the company—Integral Technologies—has still not earned a dime and has a new management team on the eve of NPE2015. New developments indicate the technology may finally have some life:
- An agreement is in place with Delphi Automotive to jointly develop wire and cable insulation applications using the company’s ElectriPlast technology. The goal is to replace copper braiding in wire and cable applications with the lighter plastic hybrid material originally developed by company founder and inventor Thomas Aisenbrey.
- Engineering plastics giant BASF has signed a letter of intent with Integral to jointly explore the North American market for the ElectriPlast line. BASF would be expected to focus on applications for its Ultramid polyamide 66 resin.
- Compounder Hanwha L&C Corp. has an exclusive license to manufacture, sell and distribute ElectriPlast in South Korea, and a non-exclusive right to Japan, Taiwan and China.
- South Korean molding partner Chang Rim Eng Inc. has completed its testing and development of a motor casing for an Asian automotive customer and said it expects “a significant order.” Chang Rim is also developing an extrusion process for applications that are currently under development.
- North American compounding was recently relocated to a much larger capacity plant run by Nova Polymers in Evansville, Indiana. The move expands capacity 10 fold. Previous manufacturer Jasper Products remains a molding partner. The move presages progress in the Delphi relationship. Manufacturing costs are reduced by half.
Electriplast uses a variety of agents to create a microstructure within a polymer matrix—just about any polymer matrix. Part of the technology is in the conductive agents and part is in the compounding process. One of the keys is maintaining the size of the filaments so that an electric charge can be carried. Loadings are high, up to 50 percent, so one of the keys is also retaining original mechanical properties of the base plastic. Moldability issues, such as cavity packing and tool abrasion, could also be issues.
The company’s most recently issued US patent says that the micron conductor fibers used to make electrical connectors preferably are made of nickel plated carbon fiber, stainless steel fiber, copper fiber, silver fiber, aluminum fiber, or similar materials. Plated carbon fiber significant enhances strength at a low weight while also substantially raising the cost of the compound. Aisenbrey, who now operates independently, is listed as the inventor. His original financial partners have also been replaced as operating and executive officers.
The company’s stock price peaked at just above $4 a share after the last publicity push in 2006, and now trades below a buck a share. The price dipped under a quarter in the past year. The accumulated deficit at the end of its last fiscal year was $48,549,967.
Barrier to market entry for new materials’ technology can be daunting because of the significant investment required in qualification, particularly in industries such as automotive and aircraft with long development ramps. Another major issue is the significant investment in existing production systems. The Obama administration’s new fuel mileage regulations are giving ElectriPlast a boost right now in the automotive market.
Many high-level compounders of engineering plastics across the world have their own proprietary formulations for conductive plastics.