A thermoplastic is a type of plastic made up of polymer resins that becomes soft as the material is heated and hard as it is cooled. These materials do not show any chemical property changes when heated or cooled multiple times, making them more suitable for recycling. Thermoplastic materials can be homogenous and heterogeneous in their makeup. Unique properties can be achieved by blending thermoplastics, co-extruding, or including special property enhancing additives.
Thermoplastics can be manufactured and fabricated using several standard methods. Most thermoplastic sheet and film is produced using an extrusion process. Cast methods can also produce some sheet materials. Nearly any sheet thermoplastic material can be formed by using thermoforming, vacuum forming, or cold forming methods. Thermoplastics with or without reinforcement can also be injection molded into complicated shapes with features not achievable through standard machining.
Thermoplastic materials are suitable for numerous applications – Aerospace, defense, medical, satellite communications, food service, and electronics are just a few industries that utilize thermoplastics. Although thermoplastics are often processed similarly, performance characteristics, workability, and cost can vary greatly.
Amorphous vs. Semi-Crystalline
Thermoplastics can be broken into two groups by composition: Amorphous and Semi-Crystalline thermoplastics. The molecules in an amorphous polymer are oriented randomly, whereas the molecules in a semi-crystalline polymer are packed together and organized in an area.
Amorphous thermoplastics are more conducive to thermoforming. They soften over a range of temperatures and have better bonding ability when combined with adhesives. Amorphous plastics often have better dimensional stability and impact resistance than semi-crystalline thermoplastics of a similar grade. However, amorphous plastics are more prone to fatigue and cracking due to stress.
Semi-Crystalline thermoplastics are excellent for wear and structural applications. Compared to amorphous thermoplastics, these semi-crystalline tend to have better chemical resistance, electrical properties, and a lower coefficient of friction. However, semi-crystalline plastics are challenging to thermoform, difficult to bond, have a sharp melting point, and have lesser impact strength.
Thermoplastics can be further categorized into families by temperature rating. Each family is comprised of amorphous and semi-crystalline plastics with distinct advantage and disadvantages depending on what is trying to be achieved.
At the bottom of the pyramid, cost-effective commodity plastics such as PP, PE, PVC, PS, and PET polymers are found in semi-crystalline and amorphous forms. These plastics don’t require highly engineered properties and are produced at larger volumes to support many everyday applications. Although the operating temperature of these materials is lower and they are generally weaker than higher-performing plastics, they can offer good chemical resistance and machinability (although there is variability between commodity plastics). Commodity thermoplastics are by far the most common plastic and are widely used worldwide.
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Although they share many similarities to commodity thermoplastics, engineering thermoplastics are designed for environments that require higher strength, temperature resistance, and durability, among others. Common engineering plastics include polycarbonate, nylon (PA), acetal (POM), and UHMW-PE. Variation in characteristics between these materials does exist, but in general, they are all used in environments unsuitable for commodity thermoplastics. Engineering thermoplastics are generally more expensive than commodity thermoplastics, but both are relatively inexpensive.
- Bearings, Springs, Valves
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High Performance and Imidized
High-performance plastics and imidized plastics may be necessary for more demanding or specialized applications. High-performance plastics such as PEEK, PTFE, and PSS can withstand very high temperatures and offer excellent chemical resistance. Imidized plastics are often suited more for aerospace applications but can also be used for thermal insulators, high-performance bearings, and electrical connectors in extreme environments. Imidized plastics such as polyamide-imide (PAI), polybenzimidazole (PBI), and polyimide (PI) feature the highest temperature resistance and load-bearing capabilities, among other properties.
- Wear Components
- Food Service
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For an in-depth guide on selecting the right thermoplastic for your application, click here!
The Gund Company is a vertically integrated manufacturer and fabricator of engineered material solutions. Since 1951, we have listened to our customers and learned about their industries’ demanding operating environments. We are AS9100D Certified and ITAR Compliant. Our custom fabricated parts are manufactured according to ISO 9001:2015 certified quality systems.
We understand the challenges of material selection and the demanding operating environment of your application. Our Application Engineering Team takes a consultative approach to understand your requirements. By relying on our material specialists, our customers gain valuable insight into improving component designs to increase efficiency and functionality while reducing cost. In addition to helping with material selection, we challenge ourselves to optimize production for material yield or fabrication efficiency. As a lean enterprise, we focus on continuous improvement and finding the most cost-effective, efficient solutions for our customers.
Please contact us Today if we can help answer material property questions or provide an application-specific quote. Thank you for the opportunity to earn your business.