Composite Plastic-Metal Conductor

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials Research in Bremen, Germany have successfully created a plastic and metal composite conductive material. Cheaper and lighter than traditional metal conductors, this new material could significantly reduce the cost of printed circuit boards as well as decrease their size and weight with particular applications in the automobile and aircraft manufacturing industries.
 		  Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Applied Materials in Bremen (Credit: Fraunhofer Institute)
Fraunhofer Institute for
Manufacturing Technology
and Applied Materials in Bremen
(Credit: Fraunhofer Institute)

Currently various parts used in the automotive and aircraft industries incorporate printed circuit boards into plastic components by adding punched and bent metal sheets to the plastic parts in a complex and expensive process. Plastic conductors would enable manufacturers to create these same parts in a single step, making them much cheaper to produce. The lack of metal would also make the resulting parts much lighter.

New plastic conductive parts may be safer than current standard parts in some cases. In particular, replacing metal or carbon fiber composites used in airplanes with the new plastic conductor would protect them from failure during lightening strikes. Conductors struck by lightning would safely discharge the applied electricity across the surface of the components without damaging them in any way, whereas current non-conductive components have no such protection and often fail entirely when struck by lightning.
 Granules and rods of the plastic conductor (Fraunhofer IFAM)
Granules and rods of the
plastic conductor (Fraunhofer IFAM)

In addition to potential benefits to the aircraft industry, car manufacturers could replace expensive metal parts with this new material. For example, most cars include punched metal sheets fitted inside plastic headlight housings in order to illuminate the light. The headlight housings could be replaced entirely with the new conductive material, eliminating the second piece entirely without impeding headlight function.

Fraunhofer researchers have not released much information about the specific process used to create the new plastic-metal composites, but the initial state of the material is a powder that can then be softened and molded into other shapes and solid forms for use in circuit boards and other components. The new material can be processed in existing machinery, further reducing the cost of its adoption by industries that can benefit from it.
TFOT has reported on another plastic conductor created by researchers at Delft Institute of Technology in the Netherlands. TFOT has also reported on other innovative circuit boards and electronic components including stretchable and bendable components that can be integrated into textiles, efficient thin plastic solar cells, transistors the size of molecules, and bendable polymers generated using principles of non-Euclidean geometry.
You can read the Fraunhofer’s press release in English here. German speakers can also read more about the Fraunhofer IFAM group in Bremen’s page here.