A Fortune 100 appliance OEM contacted me looking for an opacity switching smart plastic material. They had spent three years developing a dishwasher with a transparent plastic door only to find customers didn’t like it and complained that they could see their dirty dishes through the door.
The OEM asked me if I knew of a plastic that is opaque at room temperature to hide the dirty dishes, but then becomes transparent when the hot water hits it so you can see the cleaning action. I checked and there was no such material on the market so I set out to create one from scratch.
The requirements for dishwashers are demanding because such a material has to withstand hot water, high pH and detergent exposure for thousands of hours. I decided to start with a styrenic thermoplastic with high chemical resistance and modify it with additives to give the reversible opacity switching behavior. I took three guesses at formulations and one of them had exactly the right transparency temperature for a dishwasher door, 60°C. In just eight days from the customer request I had a cost-effective, injection moldable material with full mechanical and optical data ready for the customer. Trial amounts were produced for a full evaluation of the new smart plastic.
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