Metal packaging and the future of TV packaging

Richard Thompson, commercial director of Alvant, outlines the dawn of a new era in the potential of sustainable materials for televisions and other consumer tech products.

Packaging as we know comes in all shapes and sizes, but we don’t often think of its wider uses. Take televisions for instance. The protective housing is just longer-term packaging that we ultimately end up throwing away when our TVs have reached end of life or, as is the case in our modern disposable society, we just want to upgrade to something more ergonomically streamlined with improved functionality.

The invention of liquid crystal display (LCD) in 1983 meant that the size and weight of televisions could trim down, but they have evolved so much in almost four decades, one may wonder, would Scottish engineer John Logie Baird, inventor of the first working TV in 1924, recognise his brainchild now? If only he knew the transformative role his invention would go on to play in society for almost a century now, but also how much the television itself has transformed. 

Materials he originally used to develop his first prototype such as cardboard and even wax have now been replaced with injection-moulded plastic. However, as electronic applications get smarter, lighter and slimmer, at the same time they’re also growing in size – think of the iPhone 8 Plus weighing 202g with a 5.5in display versus the iPhone 12 Pro featuring a 6.1in screen and a weight of 189g.

Meeting these requirements alongside rising demand for more sustainable and recyclable materials, thus having to comply with stricter legislation, means design engineers and manufacturers are facing increasing pressure.

It’s not just pressure from the industry either. Consumer demands for products that are more energy efficient, stronger, lightweight and cost-effective dictate that the search for new and advanced materials is an ongoing one.

One such advanced solution is aluminium metal matrix composites (AMCs), a class of materials that have proven successful in meeting most of the rigorous specifications in applications where lightweight, high stiffness and moderate strength are pre-requisites. AMCs protect devices from radio frequency and thermal stress (they have a higher thermal operating range) and have wide application potential in the electronic packing system.

This makes AMCs ideal for large screen TVs, as more electronics manufacturers are finding current materials a challenge, particularly when it comes to achieving thermal stability.

The lightweight appeal of AMCs should also not underestimate their sturdiness: their material properties have superior strength compared to steel at less than half the weight, and offer multiple advantages over other materials, including higher transverse strength and stiffness, superior damage tolerance and increased opportunity to recycle. It’s this last factor which may be one of AMCs’ greatest legacies.

With more industries coming under scrutiny as the emphasis on sustainability gains momentum, the focus on the entire product life cycle and the ability to reuse is now very much a factor in design development. The ability of AMCs to separate the fibres from the aluminium at its end-of-life stage is a major benefit to manufacturers who are ever-more conscious of environmental impact. 

And while the potential of AMCs may not be fully grasped just yet, one thing that remains clear is the growing awareness of specific disadvantages with materials such as carbon composites and polymer composites.

It’s not just in consumer applications that AMCs are proving to be game-changing – they are already playing a pivotal part in the aerospace industry, automotive industry and other engineering applications. Alongside the US and Germany, the UK is driving the market and the future looks rosy as it expects to witness steady growth. Surely, this can only be a good thing as we emerge bleary-eyed from Covid-19 and Brexit, to focus on becoming the leading global hub for technical innovation and sustainability over the next decade.

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