As everyday Americans, we are seemingly well versed in the role that plastics play in our lives. From our toothbrushes to our countertops, our floors to our phone cases, we pretty much use plastic for everything. What we don’t realize, however, is just how much everything encompasses.
If you are like most people, you might be fairly unaware of how the products we use are made. In general, manufacturing seems like more of an unseen, magical force that spits out stuff we want, when we want it. When it comes to plastic, it’s even more magical, and yet pervasive in just about everything. In fact, it’s surprising just how much we rely on plastics, not only for our everyday consumer products, but for factories, planes, cars, jet skis, boats, wiring, communication, and water transportation… and much, much more. When we say we use plastics for everything, we genuinely mean just about everything.
Let’s take metals, for example. We often use steel and aluminum in a variety of applications because of their high strength and, in the case of metals like aluminum, they’re light weight. If you were as naïve as we were, then you would have thought that metals would be the end-all be-all of industry. We use metals for cars, planes, buildings, and in our razors, right?. It turns out we were completely wrong. Modern high-performance plastics, often called Thermoplastics, have increasingly taken the place of metals for industrial use. Thermoplastics are used from products like ball-bearings to fasteners, from important structural components in cars to most of our modern aircraft. Plastics have nearly taken over what metals have done for hundreds of years.
Why plastic instead of metal?
1) Plastics are almost always the cheaper option.
Plastics can be injection molded into any shape you might desire, which means multiple metal components can be reduced to one, plastic component. Plastic is also easier to machine, or carve down, to exact specifications, which means less time is spent than on metals. Add the fact that plastics are synthetic, or man-made, and you have a recipe for some very small production times on plastic parts in comparison to metal competitors. In-fact, plastics play an important role in replacing America’s aging water infrastructure as old metal and ceramic pipelines wear out. Plastic pipelines are corrosion resistant, cheap, and leak less than traditional piping.
2) High grade plastics meet the same requirements as metal alloys, but at a fraction of the weight.
There is a reason automakers and the aerospace industry have adopted plastics: Plastics are simply lighter. With increasing demand for more fuel efficient vehicles, industrialists need to cut weight. Usually manufacturers look to aluminum, but plastics are even lighter, and with modern plastics, manufacturers don’t need to sacrifice safety standards to achieve their goals. Thermoplastics are naturally fire resistance, have the equivalent strength of steel, and are corrosion and chemically resistant, which means they last longer than metals.
3) Plastics can be infused with other materials to make them stronger.
Need a plastic that needs to be stronger? No problem, just infuse some glass beads to increase its strength, or perhaps some carbon fiber. Plastics have the amazing ability to increase their weight bearing loads just by adding other components into the plastic.
So where has plastic replaced metal?
In lots of places. Here’s a short list:
1. Fuel tanks
2. Industrial bearings and fasteners
3. Most metal parts of airplanes
4. Drinking water lines and sewage lines
5. Watercraft bodies
6. Most modern car parts
7. Metal foils for packaging electrical components
8. A lot of other highly technical applications
We use plastics more often than we think. At the moment it seems that plastics have an almost infinite amount of uses, from cars to planes, to everyday objects. With advances in plastic technology, we are bound to use them for even more than we already do. And if you fear the wide use of plastics and their worrisome effect on Mother Nature, then we have good news; Biodegradable plastics are becoming more and more common, and not just for water bottles, but high strength industrial plastics as well. The future for plastics is looking cheap, strong, and green!
If you are a manufacturer and are considering plastics, be sure to evaluate your specific needs first. We specialize in helping manufacturers find the right fasteners, whether they be plastic or metal machined. While plastics are a wonder material, they do not always make sense in every application. If you have any questions about plastic fasteners we are here to help.