The word “plastic” means pliable, or a material that can easily be shaped. This property of plastics along with various other features makes it a highly valuable raw material for various industrial sectors. The article outlines a brief history of its origin and the advantages of using plastics over metals.
History of Plastics
Plastics are polymers that are made of naturally occurring substances or artificially created ones (known as synthetic polymers). Synthetic polymers are long chains of atoms, which repeat in set patterns/units that are usually longer than those found in nature. These long-chain properties give plastics their lightweight and flexible properties.
The first synthetic plastics were invented by John Wesley Hyatt in 1869. The discovery was a revolution in itself. Materials were no longer constrained in their limits.
In 1907, Bakelite, the first completely synthetic plastic was invented by Leo Baekeland. Following the invention, various chemical companies invested in research for invention of new plastic polymers. World War II further created a surge in plastic production thereby expanding the plastic manufacturing industries throughout the globe.
Around the 1950s, plastics began to replace metals in various manufacturing industries. The invention of new plastic resins changed the scenarios, bringing to light the clear advantages of using plastics over metals.
Various factors like durability, flexibility, reliability, cost efficiency, faster production rates, etc made plastics a preferred material for creating industrial parts.
Fabrication Using Plastics
Fabrication is the process of cutting and shaping a material to create a final product. Fabrication techniques are used for both metals and plastics.
While it is true that plastic fabrication results are largely dependent on the type of plastic resin used, there are some clear advantages of the process, as compared to metals.
- Creating shapes with plastics is easy(as compared to metals) due to their low melting point and high malleability.
- Finishing touches are easier to add on plastics. Additionally, color can be added to plastics prior to fabrication which makes the process easier.
- Plastic fabrication is a faster process compared to metals.
- Plastics are lightweight and are easy to move around compared to their metal counterparts.
- Plastics are more resistant to chemical attacks and reactions.
Advantages of Using Plastics over Metals
Following are the top seven advantages of using plastics over metals for various industrial applications:
1. Design Flexibility
Plastics are made out of different resins. While each plastic resin has its own properties, all Fabriplastic polymers in general offer superior flexibility when compared to metals. For industries that need more options in terms of designs, textures, and geometry, plastics are definitely a better choice.
Easy moldability while still offering metal like durability is a key advantage of plastics over metals.
Industrial parts that require complex shapes, aesthetically appealing designs or lightweight characteristics prefer opting plastics in place of metals.
Modern techniques like plastic injection molding make it possible to create mold designs and parts that are highly complex in their geometries while offering efficiency equivalent to the metals.
Plastic resins are cheaper in comparison to metals. The production, as well as the manufacturing cost of plastic parts, is way cheaper than metals. Irrespective of the volume of parts required during a production cycle, plastics are the more budget-friendly option when compared to their metal counterparts.
Further, storing and transporting plastics is also cheaper than metals, owing to their lightweight and resistance to chemical attacks and corrosion. Modern-day plastics are highly durable which makes them less likely to be damaged during shipment or use, thereby adding to the cost-effectiveness.
Plastics can be reused. And this is probably the biggest advantages of using plastics over metals. Used plastics can be melted and reused multiple times which makes them a more economical solution for industry owners.
While metal parts once destroyed need to be discarded and replaced with new parts, plastics can be recycled and used to create new materials. This feature also contributes to cutting down the time it takes to source new materials for production.
Manufacturing metal parts has its own safety risks. Multiple accidents and injuries are common in industries using metals in any capacity. Plastics, on the other hand, are a safer material, owing to its comparative softness and smoother edges.
5. Life Span
The high durability of plastics to chemical, physical, weather and environmental attacks is one of the major advantages of using plastics over metals. While metals generally have a long life span, they are highly prone to chemical and weather attacks which reduces their overall life span.
Plastics, on the other hand, are considered more resistant and have a longer lifespan in comparison.
Reducing the part weight has been one of the biggest concerns for various industries like automotive, aeronautical, medical, etc. The specific gravity of commonly used metals is as follows:
- Aluminum: 2.5-2.8
- Brass: 8.4-8.7
- Steel: 7.7
- Zinc: 6.9-7.2
- Copper: 8.8
In comparison, plastic resins have much less specific gravity which makes them lightweight:
- Polycarbonate: 1.2-1.4
- Polyethylene: 0.92-0.95
- Polypropylene: 0.90-1.04
- ABS: 1.02-1.4
- Acrylic: 1.15-1.2
- PVC: 1.4
7. Faster Manufacturing
The plastic manufacturing process has a smaller cycle in comparison to metals.
When working with plastics, designers can incorporate multiple parts into a single mold, which reduces the overall production cycle as well as contributes to cost-effectiveness.
The world of plastic resins is continually evolving. Properties like lightweight, durability, thermal conductivity, faster manufacturing, etc are some key advantages of using plastics over metals.
With the invention of new polymers, plastics are fast replacing their metal counterparts in multiple industries like automobiles, medical care, agriculture, aerospace, and hospitality.
While environmental concerns over plastic disposal can not be ignored, planned use of plastics (along with focused efforts on recycling and reuse) in multiple industries has various advantages to offer in the coming years.