What Are the Types of Thermoplastics and Their Uses?
Thermoplastics are used in a wide variety of industries for all types of different products; but what are the different types of thermoplastics and their uses?
Thermoplastics are highly versatile materials which are made from polymers. A polymer is constructed of monomers, or tiny molecules which are electrically joined.
When a thermoplastic is formed, it is a resin which is heated; as it cools, it becomes flat after rolling or takes the shape of a mold.
Because they can be easily melted down into liquid form and restructured, thermoplastics are recyclable and environmentally responsible.
Thermoplastics are also used to manufacture other various materials, which could be employed in the industries like aerospace, ballistics, defense, marine, transportation, etc. One such material is prepregs, a high-performance reinforcement material that is impregnated with either thermoplastic or thermoset resin and carbon fibers. This composition can be lightweight and could create high-strength and durable laminates and fibers. The basic use of materials like prepreg can be in the sports equipment manufacturing industry, which might have a regular prepreg supplier to provide the material.
And since thermoplastics are malleable materials, they have varied and diverse uses, and they are probably used in nearly every industry.
Understanding Different Types of Thermoplastics
Thermoplastic materials can withstand cooling, heating, and reshaping. They are all around you:
- The Rubbermaid container in your refrigerator
- The LEGOs in your child’s room, the conditioner container in the shower
- The rubber insulation around your doorstop
- The disposable water bottle next to you in the gym
They are available both in everyday consumer products as well as highly technical industrial applications, from construction to medicine to space exploration.
There are several different types of thermoplastics.
Here are just a few.
The word “nylon” tends to bring to mind applications for women’s clothing, from stockings to sportswear. The reason is nylon fibers are strong, elastic, and lightweight. It is lustrous and easy to clean. It is, in fact, due to its high stretchability that the clothes are agile and comfortable for strenuous movements. The material is known to stretch 100 times its original size, making it a favorite among sportswear manufacturers worldwide. That is why it is so popular among sportswear. However, there are other fabrics that are quite popular in sportswear, such as polyester. The reason is that it is more water-resistant, which is great for people who sweat a lot while working out. As a result, people might want to purchase their workout gear (whether t-shirts or shorts) based on their needs and comfort. Whether you participate in competitive sports or just for fun to stay fit, you might need the proper sports clothing. Having appropriate activewear can help to improve your performance and enjoyment, as well as reduce your risk of injury.
However, coming back to nylon – it has far more uses, and is in a myriad of places and uses.
Nylon, designed in the late 1930’s as a cheap and easy-to-dye alternative to silk, is a thermoplastic composed mostly of distilled petroleum.
It’s used in more ways than can practically be listed:
- Tennis rackets
- Military equipment
After processing, nylon is usually off-white. It’s fairly low-friction and is a favorite material for
- Industrial injection molding
- Emerging consumer 3D printing technology
Pros of Nylon
Nylon melts nicely for restructuring, but it is also more flammable than other fabrics and does not hold up well under UV rays. Adding flame retardants and UV stabilizers can usually help strengthen nylon products.
Nylon is strong, relatively cheap, usually doesn’t shrink much, and incredibly light. It also repels water quite easily when used as a fabric.
Cons of Nylon
However, its resistance to regular wear might come at a cost to the planet: Nylon decays slowly, so it is a less environmentally friendly form than other thermoplastics.
However, new techniques allow nylon to be produced from biomass materials, which means that it will decay more quickly than forms of nylon which are completely synthetic.
It sounds like a toddler’s game, but PEEK is a grown-up industrial giant when it comes to types of thermoplastics.
PEEK stands for PolyEtherEtherKetone, and is common in high-temperature manufacturing applications.
Although a synthetic material, PEEK is also usually strengthened with composites of glass and carbon to make for a stable and strong material. Its usual melting point is 350 degrees C.
Pros of PEEK
PEEK is a relative newcomer to the thermoplastics family. It became available from the FDA in the late 1990’s and stands up well to harsh environments.
Because of its toughness, PEEK is a popular material for manufacturing conditions which see exposure of:
- High heat
- Harsh chemicals
It does not catch fire nearly as quickly as nylon and can even withstand certain amounts of radiation, which makes it highly useful in the field of medical equipment.
Cons of PEEK
Although it can work with organic acids (such as citric acid) to a certain extent, PEEK cannot withstand high amounts of sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acids.
PEEK can also be used in the production of electrical connectors.
In addition to manufacturing, PEEK is common in the aerospace industry, and, because it does not absorb water, in marine and oil extraction environments.
Carbon-PEEK is a form of PEEK which is reinforced with carbon fiber. This addition makes it much stronger and offers more consumer applications than PEEK alone.
Mechanical engineers are especial fans of carbon-PEEK.
Pros of Carbon-PEEK
When combined with carbon, PEEK is stiffer and has a vastly increased load capacity. It also has a higher compressive strength, which means that it can increased pressure without fracturing.
With more thermal conductivity, Carbon-PEEK does not expand as much as other thermoplastics might, and since it is a semi-crystalline polymer, it can stand in for most metals for without risk of corrosion.
Because it’s tough as well as light, many prosthesis or orthopedic implants use at least some PEEK.
Like original PEEK, it does not burn easily, and when it does, it does not emit worrying amounts of smoke or toxic gases.
Cons of Carbon-PEEK
Carbon-PEEK, however, is more expensive than in its original form.
It typically uses carbon fibers as 30 percent of its composition, which means can be almost as lightweight as nylon.
Carbon-PEEK makes an appearance in the automotive, aeronautical, and aerospace industries due to its resistance to heat and low weight ratio.
Unlike nylon, because of its relatively high carbon content, carbon-PEEK exits manufacturing a dark black color.
Where would home decorators be without acrylic? You probably know this clear, strong material by its usual trade names of Lucite and Plexiglass.
Acrylic is a lightweight, popular substitute for expensive and high-shattering glass in
- Helmet visors
- Shower doors
- Eyeglass lenses
Artists and contractors are familiar with acrylic paint, which is available in an incredible range of colors, ages well, and dries quickly.
Pros of Acrylic
Acrylic reached the market in the early 30’s and is widely available commercially.
Acrylic types of thermoplastics are available in two categories:
- Extruded acrylic begins manufacturing as a liquid plastic, then is available commercially in sheets. While this kind of acrylic is cheaper than other forms (sometimes it even cracks during the manufacturing process), it is softer and scratches more easily.
- Cell cast acrylic begins in a mold and is far more expensive, however it is much stronger and more durable. Half as light as glass and clear from the greenish tint of thick glass, cast acrylic is popular in skylights, airplane windows, and bulletproof materials. You can buff scratches away, unlike glass, and although some cheap forms of plastic cannot withstand UV rays, proper cast acrylic can.
Cons of Acrylic
Acrylic, however, melts and burns fairly easily and at lower temperatures than PEEK and carbon-PEEK. It can also crack under heavy loads or repeated use.
When it burns, acrylic is liable to liquify quickly while releasing toxic fumes. Nevertheless, acrylic is typically in yarns, furniture, and LCD screens.
There are many types of thermoplastics that are available to use.
Depending on your industry, your manufacturing process, and your products, you will want to choose between these types of thermoplastics.
- Nylon: popular for industrial injection molding and 3D printing technology due to its strong, cheap, and light-weight qualities. However, it is not environmentally friendly.
- PEEK: popular for aerospace or medical equipment, or in conditions of high heat, chemicals, water or steam since it does not catch fire easily and can withstand radiation. However it cannot withstand acid.
- Carbon-PEEK: popular for automotive, aeronautical, and aerospace industries prosthesis or orthopedic implants due to its inability to burn, resistance to heat, and it’s lightweight material. However it is much more expensive.
- Acrylic: popular for plexiglass, furniture, and windows as it is lightweight and strong. However, there are two types to choose from, and it melts and burns much more easily and can crack under use.
Use of Thermoplastics in Different Industries
Thermoplastics have become essential materials in a wide array of industries, reshaping how we approach the design, construction, and maintenance of a diverse range of products and structures. Renowned for their versatility, lightweight characteristics, durability, and resilience in challenging environments, thermoplastics have become the material of choice in sectors where both performance and reliability are of utmost importance. Let’s explore some of the key ways in which thermoplastics offer significant benefits to several industries:
Thermoplastics in Aerospace
Thermoplastics play a critical role in the aerospace industry, primarily due to their lightweight and durable properties. They are used in the construction of aircraft components, such as interior cabin panels, tray tables, and even some structural elements. Thermoplastics offer advantages like ease of molding into complex shapes, resistance to chemicals and moisture, and compliance with stringent aviation safety standards. Their use helps reduce aircraft weight, which, in turn, improves fuel efficiency and reduces operating costs.
Thermoplastics in Aviation
Within the aviation industry, thermoplastics play a pivotal role in enhancing both functionality and aesthetics. Aircraft seats, interior panels, and galley equipment benefit from these materials due to their exceptional durability, resistance to wear and tear, and inherent fire-resistant properties. This combination ensures that thermoplastics contribute significantly to passenger safety and comfort during air travel.
Thermoplastics in the Automotive Industry
The automotive industry has wholeheartedly embraced thermoplastics for their exceptional versatility and adaptability. In traditional vehicles, these materials are widely utilized in components like interior panels, dashboards, and lightweight structural parts. However, their importance in the automotive sector has surged, particularly with the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) and the expansion of EV charging infrastructure. In the EV context, thermoplastics are pivotal in designing lightweight, aerodynamic exteriors, enhancing battery enclosures for safety, and crafting energy-efficient interior components. As the demand for EVs grows, the development of durable, visually appealing EV charging stations becomes crucial. Thermoplastics are often considered the most favored option for crafting durable EV charger station enclosures, seamlessly preserving their contemporary and sleek aesthetics when exposed to outdoor conditions.
Thermoplastics in Maritime
Within the maritime industry, thermoplastics have become indispensable for a multitude of applications, ranging from shipbuilding to maritime equipment. A particularly noteworthy area where these materials play a vital role is in enhancing ship interiors. Thermoplastics are adeptly employed in crafting wall panels, flooring solutions, and cabin furnishings, where their unique attributes come to the forefront. One of the primary advantages is their resistance to saltwater corrosion, a prevalent concern in the marine environment. Unlike traditional materials that may succumb to the corrosive effects of seawater, thermoplastics remain robust and unaffected. This resilience contributes significantly to the longevity and structural integrity of ships and marine equipment.
Thermoplastics in Construction
The construction industry has seamlessly integrated thermoplastics into a multitude of applications, revolutionizing the way buildings are designed and constructed. These versatile materials find purpose in roofing membranes, where their exceptional properties shine. Thermoplastic roofing, notable for its remarkable durability and energy efficiency, has become a hallmark of modern construction. Insulation materials benefit significantly from thermoplastics, providing superb thermal insulation and weather resistance, making buildings more energy-efficient and comfortable. Additionally, thermoplastic pipes are widely used in plumbing and infrastructure due to their corrosion resistance, longevity, and ease of installation. They ensure reliable water supply and drainage systems, minimizing maintenance needs.
Thermoplastics in Energy
Thermoplastics have established a substantial foothold within the energy sector, playing a pivotal role in various applications, particularly within the realm of renewable energy and the oil and gas industry. In renewable energy, thermoplastics have become indispensable components in the production of solar panels. These materials are favored for their lightweight nature, making them ideal for constructing solar panel frames, which need to support the panels while keeping the overall weight of the installation to a minimum. Additionally, thermoplastic encapsulation materials are used to protect and insulate the solar cells within the panel. Their resistance to ultraviolet (UV) radiation ensures the longevity of the solar panels, allowing them to withstand exposure to the sun’s intense rays for extended periods. In the oil and gas industry, where corrosive environments and extreme conditions are common, thermoplastic pipes and conduits are valued for their corrosion resistance and exceptional durability. These materials maintain their structural integrity even in aggressive environments, reducing the risk of leaks and ensuring the safe transportation of oil and gas.
Thermoplastics in Healthcare
In healthcare, thermoplastics find application in various medical devices and equipment. They are used in the manufacturing of items like surgical instruments, implantable devices, and dental components. Thermoplastics are chosen for their biocompatibility, sterilizability, and ease of manufacturing precise and intricate medical devices.
In each of these industries, thermoplastics contribute to improved performance, durability, and efficiency, making them indispensable materials for a wide range of applications. Their versatility, combined with their ability to meet industry-specific requirements, ensures their continued use and innovation across various sectors.
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