What are thermoplastics?

Thermoplastics are polymers that are highly pliable at a high heat, but return to a solid state upon cooling. They’ve been created to offer a number of desirable properties. For instance, they can be made to be less vulnerable to cold temperatures, a valuable trait when dealing with automobile parts; a good insulator, as with polystyrene cups; or shatter-resistant, as with milk jugs. They can also be made to be resistant to environmental stress and to chemical attack. Examples of thermoplastics in our everyday lives include:

• Thermoplastic Polyurethane – Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is remarkable for being extremely elastic and transparent. This compound is used for cases for mobile phones, instrument panels for vehicles, sporting goods, power tools and drive belts.

• Acrylic – Widely used in place of glass in items like eyeglasses, airplane windows and motorcycle helmet visors.

• Polybenzimidazole – Also known as PBI, this thermoplastic can withstand extremely high temperatures. Commercial uses include washers, seals, valves and similar parts for the semi-conductor, oil and gas recovery, and photovoltaic industries.

• Polyethylene – This type of thermoplastic is durable and resistant to chemicals. Commercial uses include milk jugs, retail shopping bags and water drainage pipes.

• Polystyrene – This thermoplastic is commonly used for foam cups, restaurant take-out boxes, home disposable plates and packing peanuts. This compound is noted for being a good insulator.

Thermoplastics, developed and championed in the post-World War II era, have changed the way Americans — and the world — lives. Look around you and you'll likely see examples on your computer, your clothing and your automobile. Uses for these compounds are not limited to consumer goods. There are many industrial and manufacturing uses as well, in things like washers and seals that will withstand high temperatures and crush-resistant product casings.

The differences between thermoplastics and injection molding

Thermoplastic items are most often created by injection molding. This manufacturing process involves filling a mold with the hot, liquid polymer and waiting for it to cool. The material is injected into the mold under pressure so that every corner of the mold is filled. The mold is then allowed to cool and the thermoplastic to harden before the part is removed.

Injection molding, the most widely-used manufacturing process in the world today, is particularly well-suited to use with thermoplastics and is commonly used to create everything from combs to buttons to knobs for automobiles to medical devices to keys for laptop computers.

To learn more about how thermoplastics can work in your business, contact a First American Plastic representative and get started on your project today.