Makrolon® has been through quite a lot in its time, but it still has a lot ahead of it. Even now, scientists and engineers are working on products for tomorrow, coming up with ideas no-one has ever had before. Only if you sow visions can you harvest progress. How many of them will actually be turned into reality and become established on the market, nobody knows.
New storage miracle
The industry has long been working on storage media with an even greater storage density than DVDs. The pits – the tiny rows of indentations that hold the data – must be smaller than they are today and the gaps between the pit tracks must be narrower. This also calls for new kinds of laser, above all lasers with shorter-wavelength light. Fairly recently, it has become possible to economically manufacture very small, blue lasers, and these have now come on to the market.
This development opened the door to the so-called "Blu-ray disc", a new standard on which leading international manufacturers agreed in February 2002. The pits and track gaps are smaller by a factor of two than they are on a DVD. As the dimensions get smaller and smaller, so the quality of the plastic that serves as the substrate becomes increasingly important to eliminate the possibility of reading errors. The "Blu-ray disc" should hold about five times as much data as a DVD, in other words around 25 gigabytes.
In a future generation of optical storage media – so-called Surface Recording Discs – the information will be stored directly on the surface of the disc. Here, too, a new suitably tailored Makrolon® grade could be the material of choice in view of polycarbonate's fundamentally superior properties. Experts expect such storage media to have a capacity approaching 100 gigabytes.
A new dimension in car glazing
A start has been made to volume production in the car industry, with the rear, fixed triangular window of the Smart being made of Makrolon®. But automotive designers are already looking further ahead into the future, because they are fascinated by the design and styling potential inherent in plastics like these. Some idea of the shape of cars to come is provided by the Concept Car from Smart, which features a largely transparent roof made of plastic. The designers were also able to incorporate numerous functions into the complex molded windows. The taillights, for example, are completely integrated into the rear windscreen.
One key factor is that Makrolon® enables weight savings of up to 50 percent compared with glass, and also makes an important contribution to safety thanks to its high impact resistance.
Polymer fibers can control cars and make clothing intelligent
A large proportion of international communications – phone calls, documents, music and images – is transmitted via glass fibers, encoded in flashes of light. Because of their low light loss and sophisticated technology, they need not fear any competition from light waveguides of transparent plastic where long distances are concerned. However, polymer optical fibers (as these plastic conductors are also called) have already taken over various applications in the communication systems of many cars. Because of its heat resistance, coupled with balanced mechanical and optical properties, Makrolon® now offers brand-new possibilities for application. In future, the importance of polymer fibers will increase further, because car engineers, as part of the introduction of 42V vehicle electrics, increasingly want to dispense with hydraulic power transmission and control the drive functions via electro-mechanical "drive by wire" functions.
In addition, Makrolon® fibers could be woven into textiles to make them "intelligent". Pioneers talk of underwear that monitors the pulse and other body functions and can even make an emergency call if the need arises. Another vision involves T-shirts that are equipped with sophisticated search data programmed to keep a lookout for the dream woman or dream man with the appropriate personality profile!
Last but not least, it may well be possible to build large screens of polymeric optical fibers that have no dividing lines and outstanding picture quality. One particularly clever thing about these giant screens is that, if they are let into the ground, they can withstand pedestrians walking over them or even cars driving on them without damage.
Luminescent plastic articles
It was an eyecatcher at the K2001 exhibition in Düsseldorf: a big plastic button that lights up on its own without a separate light source. Bayer MaterialScience and the Swiss company Lumitec AG have developed a technology that makes it possible, for example, to manufacture particularly flat, simply structured car instrument panels from these plastics in a single operation. These shining materials also have the power to light up our day-to-day lives. They can provide light in bags or freezers, indicate emergency exits, make rescue services visible in smoke or fog, or illuminate the floors and walls of swimming pools.
The outer skin of the luminescent plastic is made of Makrofol®. This film (which is made of Makrolon®) is printed in several layers. A transparent electrode is followed by several electrically non-conductive layers and then a backplate electrode. The inorganic pigments in the non-conductive layers emit light as soon as alternating voltage is placed on the electrodes. Luminescent plastics need very little energy, do not give off any heat, are long-lasting and require no maintenance. They emit a "cold" light in a choice of colors: green, blue, orange or white.
Pictures become speakers
You can already buy "musical furniture" – large, flat speakers that look like cupboard doors, and it is quite conceivable that this technology could soon be deployed to set pictures, transparent wall elements or furniture made of Makrolon® into a state of acoustic oscillation.
Many displays – in mobile phones, for example – are based on organic light-emitting diodes or OLEDs. Prototypes of larger OLED monitors show that this technology delivers fascinating, high-contrast pictures that build up very quickly and can be viewed from almost any angle without any loss of quality. Until now, the organic light-emitting diodes had to be more or less locked in behind glass to protect them from the influence of air. Should it become possible to make Makrolon® film virtually impermeable to oxygen and steam, there would be no reason to prevent the manufacture of extremely flexible monitors just a few millimeters thick.