When you should consider plastic fasteners vs. metal fasteners
The world is full of choices. Turn right, or go left. With or without fries. Regular or decaf. Cats or Dogs. Ketchup or mustard on your hotdog. While we all know that mustard is the only choice when it comes to hotdog condiments, most options we face on a daily basis are a matter of taste with no right or wrong answer. There’s no real harm, after all, to laying off the caffeine or opting for a salad over potato wedges for lunch.
When it comes to other, more practical daily choices, your decisions will often be based on the specifications of the problem or job in front of you. Such is the case when it comes to the exciting world of fasteners. Ever since the first synthetic polymer was whipped up in a lab in 1907, engineers have been conjuring up a myriad of ways plastics can improve our lives or replace other materials.
So before you go all in on that flexible, wrappable, plastic fastener for your next application, let’s go back to our roots for a quick revisit of the old standby metal as a solid choice for binding, securing, and, well, fastening. Here we delve into the great plastic fastener vs. metal fastener debate to provide a few pointers to consider before choosing which material is right for tightening up your next project.
How Moist Are Things Going to Get?
When it comes to keeping things in place, fasteners are only as good as their underlying material when it comes to withstanding environmental elements. Metal fasteners have a tendency to rust and corrode when exposed over time to moisture from rain or dampness. As you might imagine, this undermines the structural integrity of your metal fastener and ultimately could cause the application to fail.
Plastic fasteners, on the other hand, get high marks when it comes to withstanding dampness with no rust or corrosion in sight. Saltwater or corrosive materials such as diesel fuel or gasoline may cause some plastic formations to break down. In these cases, talk to your distributor about the need for fasteners made using PVC, Isoplast, or PET which tend to be impervious to most liquid substances while still maintaining excellent strength to weight ratio.
Add a Little Sunlight Into the Mix
Not to be outclassed by water, sunlight is another natural element that can wreak havoc on your fastener needs. If you’ve ever been a child playing on the playground monkey bars on a hot summer day, you know that metal can and does absorb a great deal of heat. This temperature shift can cause the metal to warp and damage any items it touches. Plastic, however, isn’t nearly as heat conductive and can provide protection and insulation to boot. While some polymers are prone to damage when exposed to the Sun’s UV rays, plastic fasteners that utilize polyimides or FEP are strong contenders to withstand even the sunniest of days.
When Less Conductivity is Preferred
There’s a reason why Ben Franklin used metal keys to conduct his infamous kite in a lightning storm experiment, rather than other available materials. When it comes to keeping electrical conductivity, and electrocution, to a minimum, plastic fasteners are definitely the way to go. With its insulative features, plastic is the preferred choice for applications ranging from live wire protection to splicing, making it a safer alternative to metal when voltage is involved.
Let’s Talk About Price
If there’s one quality of plastic that all of our customers can get behind it has to be the cost savings over other materials. Manufacturers in industries from automotive to homebuilding are realizing the versatility and value provided by plastic screws, bolts, paneling and more. Pound for pound, plastic fasteners cost less while performing the same job duties as their metal counterparts. While utilizing metal fasteners for the occasional light project may not see a big improvement in your bottom line, for those projects requiring a great deal of structure, security, and corresponding fasteners, the cost savings can add up.
What About the Case for Metal
Don’t get us wrong; we’re all about applying the right tool for the job. In some cases, this may mean that metal fasteners are the way to go for your specific project. When it comes to ultra heavy, load bearing, workhorse type of use cases, pound for pound metal still has all but the toughest of plastics beat. Likewise, if you’re dealing with sharp edges that could bite into polymers, metal fasteners are likely the better choice. Last but not least, when binding metal to metal, the birds of a feather flock together principle comes to mind and metal fasteners will likely be a better bet. Don’t want to choose between the two? You’re in luck as often times the best equation is metal lined or covered in plastic to create the best of both worlds. In short, while plastics may have the upper hand, sometimes old school metal is still best and has its place in a variety of applications.
The Versatility of Plastics
Metal may still be able to utter a dramatic “I still function” while securing certain goods, it’s a given that plastic fasteners are still the product of choice when it comes to versatility. Plastic fasteners can easily be produced in off-the-shelf or custom shapes and sizes. Need a little color to provide camouflage or to help color code? The rainbow is at your fingertips when it comes to plastic.
In short, for nearly any project plastic fasteners are going to be your best bet for durability, ease, and variety of use. The important part of the equation is that you speak to your fastener distributor about the specifications of your job. A trained and experienced professional knows their product line and the strengths and weaknesses of individual offerings so that they can help you select the fastener solution right for you. If you’d like to learn more about the great metal versus plastic fastener debate give us a call today to speak with a qualified rep to help choose the right product, whatever the job may be.
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E & T Fasteners sells high quality industrial fasteners and components with a wide variety of materials, including plastic fasteners and metal fasteners. To discuss your particular project and the uses of plastic or metal fasteners within your application, please feel free to contact us.