An introduction to plastics plasticg htm by nikeborome


									An introduction to plastics

What is plastic?
Plastic is a common name for Polymers ( a polymer is a compound of high
molecular weight the structure of which is composed of chains of small repeat
units): materials made of long strings of carbon and other elements. Each unit in
a string is called a monomer, and is a chemical usually derived from oil.

The monomer is made into polymer by chain-linking reactions. This is like making
a daisy chain. Instead of flowers, carbon atoms are joined together. The
appearance of the daisy chain will be different if you use different coloured
flowers, and so will polymers.

There are many different types of plastic, depending on the starting monomer
selected, the length of polymer chains, and the type of modifying compounds
added. Each plastic has been developed for a special purpose.

There are two main groups of plastics:

1. THERMOPLASTICS soften with heat and harden with cooling.

       Some typical thermoplastics are:

      Acrylic (Perspex)
      Acrylo-nitrile (Nylon)
      Polyethylene (Polythene)
      Polypropylene
      Poly Vinyl Acetate (PVA)
      Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC)
      Polystyrene and ABS
      PTFE (Teflon)

2. THERMOSETS are cured or hardened by heat.

Some typical thermosets are:

      Bakelite
      Epoxy
      Melamine
      Polyester
      Polyurethane

Plastics are used because they are:

         Attractive
         Hard and slippery
         Soft and rubbery
         Tough and slippery
         Flexible
         Good insulators of heat or electricity
         Light weight
         Hygienic
         Non-rusting
         Easy to shape and colour
         Cheap


Plastic Manufacturing Methods
Plastics are made into shapes in many ways:


Hot molten plastic is squeezed through a nozzle to
make long lengths of special shapes like pipes,
spouting and wallboard joining strips. It is also
used to make large thick sheets of plastic for


This is used for making plastic films and bags.
While it is still hot, an extruded tube is blown up
like a balloon, with compressed air. This stretches
the plastic and makes it thin. The balloon is made
long enough to allow the plastic to cool. The end of
the balloon is pinched together by rollers, to hold
the air in and make it flat. The flat tube is then wound on to a big roll. You can
see continuous rolls of plastic bags in a fruit shop.


Hot molten plastic is squeezed into a mould to make lots of objects all the same.
They can be very small like a washer or quite large, like a bowl or a clothes
basket. Lots of everyday articles are made this way.

A little bit of hot soft plastic is squeezed into the end of a mould. Compressed air
is used to blow a big bubble inside the plastic. The plastic swells out like a
balloon until it fills up the whole mould. Many bottles, toys and money boxes are
made this way.


Plastic powder is scooped into a mould. The mould is rotated over a big gas
burner. As the mould gets hot, the plastic melts and sticks to the mould. This
method is used for making big hollow things like water tanks and barrels.


This is used for thermoset resins. Dry powder is put in a mould which is
squeezed and heated until the plastic is cured. This is used for making ashtrays,
cups and plates, and some electrical switches.


Two chemicals are mixed together and squirted into a mould. The chemicals
react together. This is how they make car bumpers, some disposable cups and
plates, and the meat trays you get from supermarkets.


A sheet of plastic is clamped in a frame and heated until it is stretchy. Then it is
sucked into a mould. This is how they make the inside of your refrigerator, bath
and handbasin. It is also used to make a lot of packaging for cosmetics,
chocolates, biscuits, some yoghurt containers and some disposable cups.

Some thermoplastics are fabricated like sheetmetal. Sheets of plastic are cut to
shape. They can be folded by heating a narrow line through the plastic. When it
is soft, the sheet will bend along the heated line. Sheets can be joined together
by glueing, or by welding. The join is heated with hot air and a thin filler rod is
forced into the gap. These fabrication methods are used to make acrylic signs
and displays, and industrial tanks and equipment.

Thin flexible plastic sheets are used for making folders, wallets, swimming pool
liners, inflatable toys and raincoats. The seams are welded by ultrasonic vibration.

10. A Special Note About Styrene Foam.

Styrene foam is made in little pellets. To make blocks of styrene foam, or
complicated shapes like a cycle helmet, they scoop lots of pellets into a mould
and heat it with steam. The steam makes the pellets swell up and stick together.
When you break a moulded block you can see how all the pellets have squashed
into each other.


How Plastics Degenerate
Most plastics do not rust or corrode like metals.Plastics are made up of long
strings like congealed spaghetti. Solvents seep in between the strings,
weakening the structure and making it swell. The material usually softens, and all
other properties are also affected. Very strong solvents may even break up and
dissolve the strings.

Other chemicals, and ultra violet light, cause the chain linking reactions of the
plastic to continue and accelerate. The plastic becomes hard and brittle, and
small cracks begin to appear at the surface. Once these cracks appear, they
continue to grow throughout the material.

The cracks usually begin in zones of local stress caused by heating, bending,
glueing, or welding. Moulded articles may also have internal stress caused by
uneven flow of plastic in the moulding process. Internal stress can be thought of
as neighbouring strings within the plastic being stretched by different amounts
when the article is made. It is very important for the moulds to be properly


Some Common Plastic Items
I have already mentioned lots of things around your home that are made from
plastic, and how they are made. Here are some more:

Article                        How made                    Plastic
Tupperware                     Injection                   Polyethylene
Bucket                         Injection                   Polyethylene
Audio Cassette                 Injection                   Styrene
Ball point pen                 Injection                   Styrene
Ruler                          Injection                   Styrene
Shoe soles                     Reaction                    Polyurethane
Electric cables                Extrusion                   PVC
Water pipes                    Extrusion                   PVC
Water pipes                    Extrusion                   PVC
Refrigerator liner             Vacuum form                 ABS
Milk bottle                    Blow moulding               Polyethylene
Plastic bag                    Blow extrusion              Polyethylene

I am sure that you can look around and find lots more things and guess how they
are made.


Here are some more points to ponder
Plastics are used a lot by doctors and dentists because they are hygienic and will
not poison our bodies. Dentists use acrylic to make special white fillings. Can you
think of ways that doctors use plastics?
Many clothes are made from synthetic fabrics. The fabrics are made from plastic
fibres that have been spun out really fine, then made into yarns for knitting or

Plastic fibres are also used to make ropes that are very strong. Fishing lines are
made of nylon.

Teflon coatings on saucepans and irons are sprayed on as dry powder then
baked in a hot oven to make the particles melt together. This is called powder
coating and it is also used to put a very tough layer of epoxy or polyester on
metal articles like furniture.

Many glues are plastics.

PVA white glue is a solution of PVA dissolved in water. When it is used to glue
two pieces of wood together, the water is soaked up by the wood. The PVA is
soaked up with the water. When the water evaporates, the PVA stays behind in
the joint, making a strong plastic bridge.

Hot melt glue is a thermoplastic. When it is hot it can be squeezed into a joint.
When it cools down it goes hard.

Other common glues are epoxy, resourcinol, and urea formaldehyde. They are
all thermoset plastics made by mixing two chemicals (glue + hardener) to react
together. These glues are very important because they are waterproof. They are
used to make boats and plywood.

Most paints are made from plastic resins. Some, like acrylic house paints and
polyurethane varnish are dissolved plastics which dry to form a tough waterproof
skin. Other polyurethane, epoxy and polyester paints have to be mixed with a
hardener which makes a chemical reaction.

Fibreglass resin and automotive body fillers are polyester plastics that you can
make yourself with a chemical reaction.

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