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- 10/05/2018

Silicones: making the EU’s digital innovation agenda a reality

TKS News

There are two types of people in the world: those who take technology for granted, and those who are amazed at how far we’ve come in recent years. For me, the pace at which digital innovation has progressed over the last decade is simply mind-blowing. With a 12% growth rate year-on-year in Europe alone, the digital economy is shaking up all aspects of our lives – from telecoms and banking to healthcare and cars. Our devices are ever-smaller, sleeker and faster, and technologies such as batteries, LEDs and semi-conductors are revolutionising sectors which we had never even envisaged them for. We live in an era of possibility.

The EU is rising to the challenge and meeting the Fourth Industrial Revolution head on, with its new Industrial Policy Strategy, R&D funding programmes such as Horizon 2020, and the emergence of myriad initiatives to get the EU’s innovation ball rolling – such as the recently launched EU Battery Alliance. Next month’s European Industry Days will focus on innovation and technology as a backbone for growth. Guided by the concept of ‘Made in Europe’, the upcoming EU policy proposals will certainly push European innovation forward.

But Europe’s continued participation in the global technology race requires a solid production chain. A great idea cannot materialise without great execution. Working ‘behind-the-scenes’ to deliver innovation to markets, silicones have provided solutions to some of the biggest challenges faced by innovative technologies: How do you prevent overheating? How can we protect electronic components from corrosion? How can we shield batteries from the risk of electric surges or fires – and how can we regulate the temperature of batteries as we move to large-scale applications, such as electric vehicles?

A unique set of characteristics has enabled silicones since the 1960s to fix many technical headaches, spurring innovation forward.

Silicones are stable over a wide temperature range, meaning they can effectively dissipate heat in increasingly compact and powerful components, making electrical products more reliable – a fundamental prerequisite for electronic chips and semi-conductors in industrial motors, locomotives and power supplies that require high voltage switches. Silicones can withstand this high voltage, and can provide excellent electrical insulation and – which is essential for semiconductors, in cell phones, base station satellites and radars, or for protecting optical fibres in the telecoms sector. Silicones give electronics the ability to absorb vibration and shock, an essential feature for safety in transport – particularly as we increasingly move towards autonomous vehicles.  Silicones form airtight seals which protect equipment from dust and other contaminants, and are resistant to UV, ozone and moisture, providing improved light performance and extended product life, and protection from the elements. In LED devices, clear silicone gels and elastomers are used to encapsulate individual diodes in applications such as aviation display lighting, industrial machine lighting, rail and road signalling systems and stage and theatre lighting.

This is why silicones are natural partners for digital technologies and innovation. Industry figures from 2015 reveal a total of 35,000 metric tons of silicone products were sold in Europe to the electronics market alone, with a value of €600 million, and the industry employs 1.7 million people across Europe in related sectors. As the EU raises the bar for home-grown technology, silicones continue to provide the support which will make innovation work, and work better.

To me, technological progress will always be astounding, for the simple fact that innovation tends to deliver the unthinkable. But with silicone technology, there’s a high chance that if someone has thought of it, it can become possible.

Dr Pierre Germain, CES Secretary General


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