Blackpool-based polymer manufacturer Victrex plc has been shortlisted for the most prestigious UK engineering innovation prize – the Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award.

Synonymous with spotting the ‘next big thing’ in the technology sector, the MacRobert Award has, since 1969, identified world-changing innovations with tangible societal benefit and proven commercial success. The Award judging panel recognised potential of the first CT scanner seven years before its inventor Sir Godfrey Hounsfield received the Nobel Prize. Last year’s winner, SME Cobalt Light Systems, won for the innovation behind an airport security liquid scanner that can now be found in over 65 airports throughout Europe.

Victrex plc has been recognised for the development of its APTIV film technology, which can cast films of polyetheretherketone (PEEK) polymer down to 3 micron thick. PEEK is a colourless thermoplastic which, thanks to its semi-crystalline nature, can be processed to tune its electrical and thermal properties. In addition, it has excellent mechanical and chemical resistance properties that it retains to high temperatures. These properties enable the creation of exceptionally thin films that remain strong enough for small-scale, demanding uses, such as speaker and microphone components in smartphones. Today, this ultra-thin form of PEEK is found in over a billion consumer electronic devices.

Prior to the development of PEEK, speakers had largely relied on polyester. But as the era of the smartphone dawned, there was a driver for even thinner materials, and in these more demanding conditions, polyester was susceptible to breaking apart. Despite being 20 times thinner than the average human hair, PEEK’s fatigue performance is 300% higher than polyester, making it the material of choice for smartphone speakers, the world over.

Given the Award’s track-record of recognising ground-breaking technologies, Victrex is particularly proud of its status as a finalist for the 2015 MacRobert Award. John Grasmeder, Technical Director for Victrex plc, said: “Victrex is a world leader in high performance polymers and to be in the running for the MacRobert award is a real testament to the capability, innovation focus and performance of our people.”

Victrex was established in 1993, following a management buy-out from ICI, which invented PEEK polymer. Today Victrex has a market value of around £2 billion, but may well be Britain’s best kept secret, given that 97% of its revenue comes from exports. It is up against two other organisations for this year’s MacRobert Award - Artemis Intelligent Power who has been nominated for its technology to unlock the power potential of wind turbines, and Endomag who has been recognised for its system that is improving the diagnosis of cancer spread in breast cancer patients.

For more information on the finalists, visit http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/news-releases/2015/may/three-engineering-pioneers-in-the-running-for-2015