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Thermoplastics: The Advantages and Applications for OEMs

An Introduction to High-Performance Polymers and Vertically Integrated Providers

Toughness, versatility, and recyclability – these are just a few of the traits that make thermoplastics an innovative solution for the challenges today’s OEMs face.

This page is your business’ road map to the diverse applications and advantages of thermoplastics, including their unique qualities and characteristics as well as how to select and customize them for optimal performance. Read on to discover the ways thermoplastics are empowering manufacturers across industries to create more efficient, durable products.

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Section 1

An Overview of Thermoplastic Properties

A thermoplastic is a type of plastic made up of polymer resins that become a soft material when heated and hard when cooled. When thermoplastics are heated their physical property changes but not their chemical composition, and they become a homogenized liquid that can be reshaped, resized, remolded, and, at times, recycled.

Each with a different composition, crystalline structure, and density, thermoplastic materials possess many beneficial properties. This page will provide a brief introduction to some of the primary properties that make thermoplastics such an attractive and effective material option for critical operations. 

As we’ll cover below, vertically integrated providers understand the chemical and physical properties of the different thermoplastics and can help engineer and customize a material solution to meet the demands of the diverse, demanding conditions.

Thermoplastics – A Highlight of History

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Reusability and Recyclability

Arguably the most critical property of thermoplastics is their ability to be reused, repurposed, and even recycled. Thermoplastics soften when heated, and in this more fluid state, they can be remolded into new shapes. Because no chemical bonding takes place, this process is completely reversible, enabling manufacturers to recycle the material virtually indefinitely – without the risk of material degradation – and while reducing plastic waste in the process.

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Flexibility

As stated above, thermoplastics are moldable or pliable at high temperatures. They typically have a greater tensile strength-to-weight ratio than metals, and certain additives can be used to increase flexibility or rigidity, as needed. Depending on the specific material, thermoplastic elastomers can reversibly extend anywhere from 5% to 700%; some can even return to their original length after being stretched repeatedly.

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Strength and Durability

Thermoplastics’ exceptional strength-to-weight ratio is especially useful for industries in which weight is a critical consideration, such as aerospace and automotive, making thermoplastics the preferred choice over metal parts. Additionally, engineered thermoplastics are unparalleled in their durability, featuring high resistance to abrasion, temperature, pressure, and fatigue relative to other plastics or polymers.

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Chemical Resistance

In addition to the above resistances, many thermoplastics are also highly chemical- and shrink-resistant, meaning they are slow to corrode, degrade, or lose performance when placed in contact with gases or fluids – often outperforming even the best metals in these aggressive environments. This makes thermoplastics an ideal choice for seals and valves, especially in can’t-fail applications or extreme environments, such as energy production and transmission, water filtration, pharmaceutical production, medical implants, or aerospace.

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Ease of Production

The ability to remelt and reform thermoplastics means that the same piece of material can be used for numerous different shapes and situations. They also don’t require refrigeration for storage or added fasteners to attach components to each other. Plus, being able to mold them to precise dimensions and geometries reduces waste due to excess material.

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All of these factors mean that a project that uses thermoplastics requires far less energy expenditure than one that uses metals. To learn more about how thermoplastics are benefiting the environment and global economy, visit our blog.blog

 

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To learn more about the critical differences between these two different material types, check out our blog post on this topic.blog

 

6 Benefits of Converting Metal Components to Plastic 6 Benefits of Converting Metal Components to Plastic

Section 2

Applications and Industries

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Thermoplastics’ unparalleled range of properties allow for innovative manufacturing approaches within a variety of major industries. Here are some of the industries that can benefit from thermoplastics.

 

Aerospace

Thermoplastics are increasingly defining the future of the aerospace industry. One of the most trusted and frequently used materials in aviation, high-performance thermoplastics like PEEK (Polyether Ether Ketone) in particular boast a number of key properties that help solve critical engineering problems:

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Head over to the blog to learn more about how these properties are enabling thermoplastics to transform aviation. blog

 

Medical, Biomedical, and Pharmaceutical

Certain thermoplastics have features that make them suitable for a range of medical, biomedical, and pharmaceutical applications.blog Their distinctive properties – flexibility, durability, extendibility, sealability, low friction, and chemical and bio compatibility – have proven particularly well suited for goods like medical devices, catheters, syringe tips, medication vial closures, tubing, and hoses.

They can also be ideal for medical implants for their inherent corrosion resistance, bio compatibility, wear resistance, low friction, high strength-to-weight ratio, and dimensional stability. Pharmaceutical production often relies on thermoplastics for filtration systems, sterilization, and other medical handling processes. Choosing the right thermoplastic for a medical device or component is an important step in creating the ideal part.

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Automotive

Thermoplastics offer a major advantage to automakers, auto drivers, and the world. With the promise of improved efficiency and lighter weight, the automotive industry has embraced the power of thermoplastics to revolutionize the industry.

Better vehicle strength-to-weight ratio results in greater fuel economy (lower fuel costs), which translates to lower emissions (reduced carbon dioxide in the atmosphere). Thermal characteristics of thermoplastics are important in the design and selection of automobile parts and components.

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Natural Gas, Oil, and Renewable Energy

Oil and gas exploration and production equipment must survive the extreme conditions found in oilfields, offshore drilling rigs, and petrochemical processing plants. When high pressures, high temperatures, abrasive fluids, and seawater are combined, plastics are an excellent choice. When the appropriate material is used, performance plastics may outlast most metals under conditions that would drastically degrade them over time.

Thermoplastics and other polymers are frequently the ideal choice for oil and gas drilling applications when cost, downtime, and rig personnel safety are crucial. These high-performance plastic materials result in equipment component solutions that offer significant cost savings, long life, and little maintenance. These materials are maybe the most efficient to use because they were developed expressly to be adaptable and durable in a variety of demanding conditions.

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LNG and Cryogenics

Cryogenic sealing is frequently required for liquified natural gas (LNG) procedures. Thermoplastic materials are frequently employed in place of elastomers to meet the sealing requirements of LNG proceduresblog.

Due to the large temperature swings, dynamic movement and pressures on seals and equipment, the corrosive nature of the media and lubricants used in transmission, and the cold creep and deformation that occurs at cryogenic temperatures, thermoplastics can provide the stability and reliability necessary to withstand these conditions. 

Not all thermoplastics are suitable for LNG solutions, particularly those with large diameter seals up to 100” in diameter. Understanding the material's characteristics is critical for picking the appropriate thermoplastic for the operation.

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Semiconductor

Every phase of the semiconductor manufacturing process presents its own set of challenges, from the start of the wafer processing cycle to chip processing and handling to packaging. When dealing with extremely high temperatures, exposure to highly aggressive chemicals, contact with abrasive solvents, and plasma conditions under a vacuum, choosing the right materials can mean the difference between success and failure.

Thermoplastics deliver the chemical and corrosion resistance necessary for optimal performance and offer other beneficial characteristics like electrical conductivity and antistaticity. With the strict design requirements and high level of intricacy and tolerance, thermoplastics can deliver results with tangible ROI.

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Fluid Handling and Water Management

Thermoplastics have numerous advantages that make them ideal for fluid handling and water management applications. They are dielectric and offer lower thermal conductivity, and they maintain efficiency and performance far longer than metal, even when in contact with corrosive liquids. Due to their inherent chemical stability, thermoplastics do not contaminate the fluids they transport.

They are also lightweight, weighing around one-sixth the weight of equivalent metal materials, and have lower total material and installation costs than traditional metal systems. Overall, thermoplastics deliver:

  • Chemical inertness
  • Resistance to permeation and impurity absorption
  • Abrasion and freeze resistance
  • Ease of manufacturer and install
  • Quality and reliability

These characteristics are crucial for such critical operations as water filtration, fluid handling, and waste management.

 

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Can Plastics Handle Today's Critical Manufacturing Challenges? Can Plastics Handle Today's Critical Manufacturing Challenges?

 

Section 3

Manufacturing and Development: Custom vs. Standard Approaches

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Combining the versatility and flexibility of thermoplastics with advanced manufacturing methods makes them an innovative solution for virtually every imaginable industry. However, the manufacturing and development process involves many challenges, and each of these steps requires special expertise and technology.

From careful material selection to precise testing practices, here are some of the capabilities that go into a successful thermoplastic project. As we’ll cover below, these are just some of the factors that a vertically integrated provider can house under a single roof, allowing OEMs to streamline projects.

 

Material Selection: Standard and High-Performance Polymers

The thermoplastic family of materials is vast and ever-expanding. However, not every thermoplastic material is a high-performance polymer – that is, not all of these thermoplastics can meet the demands of high temperatures and high stress or other site-specific conditions. 

The following is an overview of some of the most common injection-molded thermoplastics, as well as how they stack up to PEEK – a high-performance material that can handle more challenging conditions than its counterparts.

Polyethylene (PE)

The most common plastic material in the world, polyethylene is known for its simple chemical structure. It comes in a number of forms, each of which is used for a variety of applications.

Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) has good flexibility, elongation, impact strength, and transparency. You’ve probably most recently interacted with this material in the form of a plastic grocery bag, but it’s also used for making plastic bottles and other packaging products.

High-density polyethylene (HDPE) has a high melting point, rigidity, hardness, and strength, as well as low water absorption, outstanding electrical properties, and good radiation resistance.

Its corrosion resistance and insulating properties make it a popular source material for 3D printing filaments, as well as a durable option for pipes, toys, and plastic furniture.

Finally, ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene has high impact strength, fatigue resistance, and wear resistance. It is effective in the manufacturing of anti-friction, wear-resistant, and transmission parts, making it especially valuable for the automotive and marine industries.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

You’ve probably heard of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) due to its common use in various types of pipe. However, PVC has come to replace a much wider variety of traditional building materials, such as wood, metal, concrete, rubber, ceramics, and more.

PVC materials include rigid PVC (RPVC) and semi-rigid (SRPVC) varieties. RPVC properties include high mechanical strength, excellent electrical performance, strong acid and alkali resistance, good chemical stability, but a low softening point. These qualities make RPVC suitable for manufacturing rod, pipe, plate, oil pipe, and acid-resistant parts.

On the other hand, SRPVC properties include a higher elongation rate, lower mechanical strength, better corrosion resistance, and greater electrical insulation than SRPVC. While SRPVC is more prone to aging and decomposition than its rigid counterpart, it’s suitable for making thin sheets, thin film, wire and cable insulation, sealing parts, and more.

Polyamide (PA)

Polyamide, more commonly known as nylon, is another extremely common thermoplastic material. It is tough, wear resistant, fatigue resistant, oil resistant, water resistant, and mold resistant. Some polyamides have considerable elasticity, high-impact strength, and high water absorption. Others offer exceptional abrasion resistance, while still others are translucent and offer better cold resistance.

These properties render nylon and its derivatives a suitable material for a variety of components, including general mechanical parts, anti-friction parts, driving parts, and chemical electrical instrument parts.

 

 

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All of these properties add up to the ability to complete a broader range of projects at a faster rate – all with safer, more durable results.

 

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Manufacturing Processes: The Versatility of Injection Molding

Some of the standard manufacturing processes engineers use to develop high-quality parts include molding, milling, extrusion, pultrusion, machining, welding, and grinding. These methods can produce a variety of stock shapes, such as billets, rods, sheets, films, pipes, and tubes, which are readily available for secondary operations.

In the right hands, a vertically integrated manufacturer can transform thermoplastics into custom-engineered products designed for precision, intricacy, and consistency.

Injection molding is particularly effective in producing high-performance thermoplastic components that meet rigorous mechanical requirements. In this process, machines inject molten polymer materials under high pressure and at high speed into closed molds. This process is appropriate for both high- and low-volume production.

Injection molding not only enables manufacturers to produce high-quality components with an exceptional degree of consistency and efficiency, it also allows them to create custom solutions for specific field conditions. To take a deep dive on the advantages of injection molding, read our blog post on this topic.blog

The cooled part is ejected

Additives: Fine-Tuning the Optimal Material

Additives play a significant role in the processing and fabrication of thermoplastics, allowing providers to customize materials to meet rigorous technical standards, such as those related to strength, rigidity, and melting point.

The five primary types of additives for thermoplastics, along with their primary uses, are:

 

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Each of these properties allows providers to optimize thermoplastic materials for physical, mechanical, electrical, and optical specifications. Along with the manufacturing method and raw material supply, these specifications are an important factor in selecting the right thermoplastic for a specific application.

 

Testing: Ensuring Safety and Consistency for Specific Field Conditions

Various testing processes are involved in the development of thermoplastics. Testing is important not only for creating safe, compliant components but also for ensuring that the material will meet the specific requirements of the environment.

Keep in mind that a lack of testing can result in costly project delays or unwanted changes. That’s why leveraging a broad range of sophisticated test capabilities is essential for ensuring the smooth delivery of high-quality parts that fit the bill. Here are three of the most critical: 

Tensile Tests

Tensile testing measures the force required to break a sample of thermoplastic material, enabling manufacturers to determine key material properties like tensile strength, elongation, and modulus. Tensile testing is conducted to standard methods such as ASTM D638 or ISO 527 to ensure repeatability and to allow meaningful comparisons of the properties and capabilities of various materials.

Flexural Tests

Flexural testing determines a plastic’s capacity to resist deformation under specific weight loads. It is similar to tensile testing in that it calculates the maximum stress a material can handle, plotted against specific standards. In flexural testing however, the data are calculated based on the slope of the stress curve caused by beam loading. 

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Pendulum Impact Tests

Pendulum impact tests are specifically designed to determine the precise impact that materials can handle under particular loading conditions. By measuring the amount of energy a sample absorbs at different temperatures, these tests can help ensure safety and performance within specific environments.

 

5 Benefits of Vertical Integration in Manufacturing 5 Benefits of Vertical Integration in Manufacturing

Section 4

10 Key Characteristics to Look for in a Solutions Provider

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Because every environment is different, a demonstrated ability to test, develop, and optimize new solutions on the fly is critical for your project’s success. Successfully combining these engineering proficiencies allows manufacturers to develop more advanced solutions in an ever more efficient manner. 

Vertically integrated providers grant OEMs access to numerous key benefitsblog while also eliminating the hassles of working with multiple partners. From mitigating delays to improving overall safety, adopting a customized approach is a powerful first step to modernizing your manufacturing process.

Here are 10 tips for identifying a solutions provider that can not only meet your needs around materials, processing, and testing but also act as a partner in helping your business achieve its goals.

 

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Find the Right Partner for Your Next Project Find the Right Partner for Your Next Project

Section 5

Thermoplastics: An Innovation Solution for Businesses

Enabling everything from more durable designs to more diverse projects, high-performance thermoplastics are a game-changer for today’s manufacturers. Housing a comprehensive range of capabilities under a single roof, vertically integrated providers can be your business’ expert partner, empowering you to reach your goals with greater efficiency and innovation.

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