The Advantages of Plastics Compared to Other Materials

The Advantages of Plastics Compared to Other Materials

The term plastic generally refers to synthetic or semi-synthetic polymer materials that are soft enough to modify into any shape or form. High-strength plastics such as engineered thermoplastics and thermoset plastic composites are highly valuable raw materials for rigid applications in industries such as aerospace, engineering, and electrical.

Thermoset plastics are suitable alternatives to materials such as metal due to properties like malleability, versatility, and durability. They also offer significant cost savings compared to other materials. Below are the benefits of plastics over metals and other elements that make them suitable for various applications.

High Strength-to-Weight Ratio

A material’s strength-to-weight ratio is a crucial metric that determines its suitability for various applications. For instance, plastics’ high strength-to-weight ratio ensures they have excellent tensile and flexural strength, which allows this material to withstand heavy loads and tons of stresses without deformation or damage. As a result, plastic is suitable for various weight-critical applications where metals don’t measure up, such as aerospace and automotive industries. In these applications, plastic’s lightweight nature is crucial in ensuring fuel efficiency and reducing energy consumption.

Different plastics have varying strength-to-weight ratios, depending on their type and formulation, making them suitable for differing applications. For instance, composite plastics’ high specific strength gives them metal-like durability while maintaining advantages like corrosion resistance and design flexibility. The tenacity comes from the lightweight reinforcements used to create this type of plastic, such as Fiberglas and carbon fiber.

Durability

Plastics consist of a long chain of polymers that create a sturdy material that doesn’t decompose easily and can withstand normal wear and tear. They last for decades without degrading in natural environments where they encounter harsh and fluctuating weather conditions, making them ideal for applications requiring long-term stability.

Additionally, while organic materials like metal quickly oxidize or rust due to harsh chemicals and moisture, plastics are immune to rust or corrosion when exposed to water and other chemicals. They can resist damage when they are in contact with acids, bases, lubricants, paint strippers, and many other substances. 

Durability and chemical resistance make it better to use plastics over metals for various industrial and chemical applications where metal and other materials may fall short. These include marine, chemical processing, and offshore industries. 

Notably, composite plastics boast impressive impact-resistance properties that enable them to absorb and distribute energy caused by sudden impact or shock without fracturing and deforming. They’re also highly resistant to fatigue, which typically causes metal to crack or fail over time when the material weakens due to substantial loads and stress. 

Design Flexibility

Plastics are excellent for industries looking to create a customized range of forms or structures. Its malleable nature offers more design flexibility in the shapes, sizes, textures, and fixtures you can create to meet specific requirements, made possible by adjusting the chemical formulations and densities and choosing the appropriate manufacturing process. 

Modern techniques like plastic injection molding and computerized numerical control machining allow manufacturers to create highly complex designs and geometries. With plastic injection molding, thermoplastics go through multiple rounds of heating, cooling, and recasting without undergoing chemical property changes, ensuring you can reuse and redesign them without losing their structural strength and integrity.

On the other hand, CNC machining automates thermoplastic prototype development, cutting, shaping, and spinning. Various types of CNC machines produce plastics in different shapes and forms, including the following.

  • CNC mills: A cutting tool that shapes plastic from a block of raw material using a rotating spindle.
  • CNC lathes: The material attaches to a spinning spindle that cuts around it as directed by computer-fed prompts. 
  • CNC routers: Routing involves using a rotary tool to slowly cut away from a material.

Easier to Produce

Manufacturing plastic is easier and more efficient today than ever, thanks to improved processes and lower raw material costs.

For instance, CNC machining automates plastic manufacturing to reduce labor costs and margins of human error, producing high-quality thermoplastic products with the correct strength and density. Additionally, CNC machines enhance production speeds and eliminate manual repetition through pre-programmed software with specific prompts.

Other methods that have made it easier to produce plastic include the following. 

  • Injection molding: This approach commonly used to manufacture thermoplastics and small, high-volume components involves pushing a thermoset material into a heated mold and allowing it to cure.
  • Compression molding: Applying heat and pressure turns materials into complex shapes with high dimensional stability, resulting in thermoset composite plastics.
  • Blow molding: Manufacturing lightweight and durable hollow plastic products like bottles involves melting plastic and using compressed air to expand it in the mold cavity.

Raw materials required for plastic production are readily available and not subject to the price fluctuations of petroleum-based products and organic ores. That’s because petrochemicals, natural gas, and crude oil are accessible worldwide, and so are recycled post-consumer and post-industrial plastics. The high demand for plastics also contributes to a lower cost per unit and significantly drives down production expenses.

Good Insulators

Plastics’ poor conductivity makes them excellent thermal and electrical insulators, allowing for better design flexibility in applications requiring temperature control. The construction industry extensively uses plastics like spray foam and foam boards because these materials reduce heat transfer between the building’s interior and exterior to maintain stable indoor temperatures.  

Thermoset plastics insulate electrical wires, cables, and circuit boards to reduce the risk of electrical short circuits and shocks. Curing and hardening them ensures they don’t melt or deform due to high heat or electricity. 

The automotive and aerospace industries use plastic to thermally insulate seats and other furniture upholstery to prevent extreme temperature changes that could cause discomfort for the occupants. However, metals and ceramics are more desirable in applications requiring high thermal conductivity. These include industrial processes where heat dissipation is necessary or when electrical devices need cooling.

Reach out to Atlas Fibre for High-Quality Plastics 

Atlas Fibre is North America’s largest manufacturer and distributor of thermoset composite plastics. We use CNC machining to produce thermoset materials for various applications requiring high strength, durability, and impeccable insulation. Our dedicated team can answer all your questions and help you find the best thermoset composite plastic for your application and budget.

Contact us today to learn more about our plastic offerings or request a free quote.

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