Victrex celebrates 40 years of PEEK success, with much more to come
November 1978 marked the invention of PEEK (polyetheretherketone), a new high-performance polymer (HPP).
The following 40 years blazed a trail of pioneering innovation, across a range of industries and often in demanding applications that initially seemed an unlikely candidate for the thermoplastic.
The dynamic driver of the success of this versatile, breakthrough polymer is Victrex.
Developing new markets and applications for PEEK, a member of the PAEK1 polymer family, the company has helped to progress the material, as well as its applications, to the next level, with product forms, such as film, pipe, fibres and components, such as gears, part of Victrex’s solutions offering.
As a consequence, these have helped to transform people’s lives, entire industries and the business operations of the company itself. Today the potential for further innovation remains huge.
“PEEK is an invention that inspires others to invent," observes Jakob Sigurdsson, Victrex CEO. “Delivering solutions is what motivates the continuous development of our VICTREX PAEK-based offerings, whether they be new polymer grades or product forms and components in selected areas.”
Currently, the company's products are used in very demanding environments including approximately 9 million implantable medical devices, more than 75 million seals, 100 million industrial machines, 500 million automotive applications and 4 billion phones.
“Being just a material supplier of such a highly specialised thermoplastic is not enough," adds Sigurdsson. "We have a complete solutions offering, where we partner with customers, research centres and universities to realise the further potential of the polymer and help to build markets to develop the applications of the future.”
After PEEK had begun to capture the imagination of a handful of people, the first batch of the HPP was manufactured at ICI2), a major chemical company, on 19 November 1978.
Only 3 years later, the commercialisation of the first PEEK polymers, the “VICTREX PEEK” family including glass- and carbon-filled products, followed.
Today, this versatile material is used to solve complex engineering challenges, often replacing metals. Most importantly, it continues to spur active innovation in the quest for improved applications, an excellent cost-benefit-ratio and environmental benefits.
The VICTREX AE 250 composites and the TxV joint venture for aerospace, the new extended food grade portfolio VICTREX FG, medical trauma plates and dental prosthetics in the medical field, with new PAEK products for Additive Manufacturing (AM) in development, mark the milestones to come in the Victrex PAEK/PEEK journey of the next 40 years.
“Today, PEEK's impact can be felt high in the sky, deep in the ocean and even under the skin.
There seems to be no limit to the ways people are turning PEEK into brilliant solutions," says Sigurdsson. "Starting with a handful of employees, today more than 900 people wake up every day and focus on PEEK around the world, seeing success in Asia and the US, as well as in Europe."
"We operate three state-of-the art polymer manufacturing facilities with a total nameplate production capacity of 7150 tonnes. We also have facilities that enable us to make film, pipe, composite tape and other product forms and components. Although we’ve grown significantly, the heart of our business remains with our customers and the innovation, focus, knowledge, and passion of our people.”
One of the early pioneers was Wolfgang Reimer, Global Strategic Accounts Manager of Victrex. Right from the beginning in 1980 Reimer was convinced that the material would quickly come of age and have a big impact across multiple industries and future generations.
“PEEK promised great potential. However, as a very small speciality business we had to build trust and prove that we and PEEK could deliver according to customer expectations. In addition, we knew that although the idea for an innovation may be developed in little or no time, the success of a business can't."
"First sealing applications for example were developed quite some time ago. Today VICTREX PEEK based sealings are used for example in many automotive and energy applications and in industrial machines.”
The inert properties of the versatile PAEK polymers are one main reason for their success.
This family of polymers is ideally suited to extreme and demanding environments. Whilst alternative materials can meet specific needs, PEEKs are located at the top of the polymer pyramid and can support multiple requirements.
Their properties include light weight, high strength, and high resistance to wear, high temperatures, fatigue and aggressive chemicals.
Together, these outstanding properties contribute to enhanced fuel efficiency, extended part life, greater comfort (smooth operation, less noise), more design freedom and greater cost efficiency.
A second important reason is that Victrex decided to strategically focus on this particular family of PAEK HPPs, committed to innovation, success and delivering total solutions to customers.