A Brief Definition of Engineering Plastics
Our society has become heavily dependent on plastic. These synthetic materials can be found seemingly everywhere—they’re used in automobiles, food containers, chairs, pipes, and prosthetics, to name only a bare handful of examples. This tends to come as a surprise to many people who habitually associate plastic with, for example, soda pop bottles or grocery bags. How can such a seemingly flimsy substance have such widespread applications? The answer, of course, is that plastic comes in a very broad range of types, from the pliable low-density polyethylene used in sandwich bags to the extremely tough thermoplastics that provide high impact resistance. Engineering plastics are materials designed generally for industrial applications that demand exceptionally durable materials.
Though not as common as the LDPE plastics often found in our kitchens, these materials form a huge global market. According to Tech Guru Daily, engineering plastics generate over $45 billion in revenue every year, and these numbers are expected to grow substantially in the near future. If you’re involved with recycling in any way, it pays to know more about engineering plastics. Having said that, let’s explore these materials in greater detail.
A Brief Definition of Engineering Plastics
Basically, engineering plastics are significantly stronger than conventional kinds. They’re designed to provide strength and/or durability according to one or more metrics (e.g., heat resistance). Because these plastics have performance characteristics that exceed those of commodity plastics, they are considerably more expensive to produce, and tend not to be manufactured in high-volume runs. For the most part, engineering plastics fall into the category of thermoplastics, which, unlike thermosetting plastics, may be reshaped and reused when needed.
Engineering Plastics vs. Commodity Plastics
Engineering plastics are considered distinct from commodity plastics. The latter term refers to those mass-produced plastics often used for consumer products such as food packaging; these materials include LDPE, HDPE, and polypropylene (PP).
High-performance plastics are characterized by their superior properties when compared with engineering plastics; they’re also more expensive to produce. These may be considered a subset of engineering plastics, or they may be classified separately.
Characteristics and Benefits of Engineering Plastics
So what’s the big deal with engineering plastics? What can they do that other forms of plastic cannot? Plenty, as it turns out. Here we’ll enumerate the various advantages of engineering plastics.
- Easy to shape – Engineering plastics are easy to manipulate and turn into whichever shape is desired. A very wide array of dimensions and surface characteristics can be created with only minimal effort—whether the primary goal is to create a visually attractive object, a durable safety component, or both, this can be easily achieved with these types of materials. For this reason, engineering plastics are frequently used when manufacturers wish to produce small items of non-standard dimensions.
- Fast production times – Not only is engineering plastic easily shaped, it can be formed into the desired configuration in a speedy fashion. This gives engineering plastic an advantage over old-fashioned materials such as metal and wood, which are relatively difficult to handle. As a result, engineering plastics lead to shorter production times and, by extension, reduced manufacturing expenses. Workers spend less time on each unit, and less energy is expended.
- Decreased weight – Engineering plastic also tends to be lighter in weight when compared with wood and other standard materials. Consequently, products with parts made from this category of plastic will weigh less, often substantially so, than products that use traditional materials. This provides a number of cost-cutting benefits. Lighter construction means that bulky products are easier to handle; they can also be mailed at less expense. Furthermore, it reduces the overall weight of cars, which can help with fuel efficiency and other performance issues.
- Shock resistant – Engineering plastics also provide a high degree of shock resistance. These materials are noted for their enormous capacity to absorb vibrations and similar physical phenomena. Why is this such a useful characteristic? Persistent vibration is a leading cause of failure in many types of delicate machine parts. By dampening vibrations, engineering plastics help preserve the operational health of machine components that otherwise might need to be replaced much earlier. This enhances machine safety and longevity.
- Flame retardant – In addition, engineering plastics are flame-resistant. For obvious reasons, this characteristic helps reduce the safety hazard posed by equipment that is otherwise vulnerable to fire, whether originating from within the product or from an external source.
- Heat resistant – Engineering plastics are also heat-resistant. Keep in mind that this is a characteristic separate from flame-resistance—it’s possible for a product to be able to retard the spread of flames while still being vulnerable to heat damage, and vice versa. Plastics of this type often can resist even extremely high temperatures, and, as an added benefit, some of these materials are able to maintain their structural integrity when exposed to very low temperatures. Engineering plastics vary widely in their level of resistance to temperature extremes, but, overall, these materials are superior to old-fashioned machine components.
- Chemical Resistant – Many types of machinery rely on various corrosive chemicals and fluids—oils, acids, and more—for proper functionality. These substances tend to eat away at the surfaces to which they are exposed, and this problem only gets worse with the passage of time. Eventually, materials in close contact with these chemicals may become too badly damaged to perform their intended function. Chemical resistance is yet another benefit of engineering plastics, allowing products and machines to operate effectively in the long run.
- Electrical insulators – Engineering plastics can also provide top-notch electrical insulation. This is particularly advantageous in products that contain components that must be able to resist conducting electricity in order to function correctly.
- Low Friction – Friction can cause serious problems for many types of products and machinery by generating dangerously high amounts of heat as the direct result of the interplay of its various components. Anyone who has ever sustained rope burns during a game of tug-of-war is well aware that friction can be a major hassle. Luckily, this is another area where engineering plastics excel. Some of these plastics, like PTFE, are noted for their extraordinary ability to resist friction.
- Durable – Above all else, engineering plastics can take a beating—these materials will hold up well even when exposed to all kinds of physical trauma. As a result, plastic of this type is less likely than conventional materials to experience serious failure in its protective or operational capabilities. It will not need to be replaced as often—a huge benefit to manufacturers and consumers alike.
Types of Engineering Plastics
There is a huge variety of these kinds of plastics, in a wide range of applications. Engineering plastics include the following:
- Polyamide (PA)
- Polyamide-imide (PAI)
- Polybenzimidazole (PBI)
- Polycarbonate (PC)
- Polyetherimide (PEI)
- Polyether ether ketone (PEEK)
- Polyethylene terephthalate (PETE)
- Polyimide (PI)
- Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)
- Polyoxymethylene (POM)
- Polyphenylene sulfide (PPS)
- Polyphenylsulfone (PPSU)
- Polysulfone (PSU)
- Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
You can find engineering plastics just about everywhere. They’re used in aircrafts, household appliances, medical instruments, Blu-ray discs, domelights, motorcycle helmets, automobile bumpers, parachutes, plumbing systems, bearings, cable insulation, and many other applications.
Like many materials, engineering plastics can create a hazard to the environment if not properly recycled. With the vast amount of these plastics in circulation, they simply can’t be dismissed as a nuisance of no particular importance. Fortunately, a company like Polychem USA has years of experience with recycling a very wide array of materials, including engineering plastics. If you have a substantial amount of these plastics lying around, then you should contact Polychem USA today to make arrangements for their proper disposal.