Advancements in plastics, metals, and glass have evolved significantly over the past 25 years. Can you think of an example where plastic film disrupted a market?
If we go way back, we can certainly look at some key examples. First, we can look at how music was recorded and listened to. Vinyl records were the incumbent technology for many years. Everything was on vinyl, and all the music was pressed on vinyl. Then, a new plastic film technology became available, which played a key role in the creation of 8 tracks and cassette tapes. That was a case where plastic films took market share away from the incumbent technology. Things have continued to evolve along this path ever since.
Another example would be the use of metalized films as a replacement for foils in many applications, particularly in packaging. While you cannot get the same barrier with metalized film, it is still more than sufficient for most applications. You can metalize film or laminate metallized films on top of other materials to replace foil.
Another way to look at how foils have changed over time is to consider that thicker foils, such as a plate, were originally used in the label industry for asset tags. The metal tags went onto original equipment as a metal stamp. Over the years they have been replaced with plastic films, metalized films that have a brushed effect, or matte films that have been metallized. It provides you the same look as the original metal stamp plate but at a much lower cost. In addition, the use of film labels made printing easier and improved the efficiency of the attachment process.
If we look even further back, in the 1800’s Christmas tinsel was originally made of silver. Of course, this was very expensive and the silver tarnished. Lead was initially used as a replacement because it did not tarnish, but lead, of course, was eventually eliminated over lead poison concerns. The use of metallized films was a much better alternative, which is why it is so popular today. In addition to being safer, it looks better, offers a greater variety of colors, costs less money, and is easier to process.
Paper bags are another example of a product that was disrupted by plastic films. The plastic bag market has almost completely overtaken paper bags used in supermarkets. It has helped reduce cost and reduced the amount of space needed for storage of bags. There is some discussion on whether this is good from an environmental perspective, but no matter how you look at it, plastic bags are far more ubiquitous than any other type of bag.
More recently, the backsheets on photovoltaic modules disrupted the solar market. Glass was the incumbent material, which has since been replaced with plastic films. Specifically, the backsheet material is made up of laminates of different types of film and foils. It reduces the overall weight, helps reduce the cost, and makes the final installation process much easier. In some PV module designs, glass is being replaced with fluorinated films on the top surface.