Plastic hardware? Metal hardware? Or hardware made from some exotic ceramic alloy?  With thousands of materials available, choosing the right one for your industry and project can be a confusing process.  How do you wade through all the options to ensure that you pick a material that gives you the best value?

While every kind of material can be useful depending on the application, at Craftech we’re a little partial to plastic hardware.  For Valentine’s Day, we’ve put together a list of the reasons why we love plastic hardware and we think you might too.  Read on but watch out-you may find yourself taking plastic hardware out to dinner.

Why I love plastic hardware (and we think you will too):

1)      Because it’s full of variety.

High performance plastics are a diverse group of polymeric materials that offer a wide variety of mechanical properties, chemical resistance, and other unique properties.  Plastic hardware can be treated and altered to create a wide variety of different properties.  Plastic hardware can be hard and rigid or soft and flexible.  Many plastics have special properties that are not found in metals.  For example, Santoprene® has a consistency like rubber and is used to coat handles, insulate, and prevent skidding.  Teflon® is extremely low-friction, giving it a slippery quality.  It also melts at a temperature range in the mid-600’s F°.  This unique combination of properties makes Teflon® very useful as a non-stick coating for pans and other cookware.  Teflon® is also a phenomenal insulator and has non-polar molecules, making it a great dielectric material.

With treatment, plastic hardware can also be made anti-microbial which is why it’s a popular choice in the medical industry.

2)      Because it’s strong and durable.

Think only metal hardware can be super strong?  You couldn’t be more wrong.  With the correct material choice, plastic hardware can be made extremely strong and durable.  For example, PEEK (PolyEtherEtherKetone) offers strength comparable to stainless steel while also being lighter, more flexible, and resistant to heat and electrical.  Polyurethane plastic hardware exhibits superior wear resistance and can often outwear rubber, wood, and metals 20 to 1.  I think I just heard your heart skip a beat…

3)      Because it’s light and flexible.

Many industries require plastic hardware that is at once flexible, light-weight, and strong.  Plastic hardware can be as much as 10 times lighter pound for pound as metal hardware.

For example, over the past 50 years the automotive industry has used plastic hardware increasingly to construct cars.  With plastic hardware, the cars can be lighter, faster and more efficient in order to satisfy the industry’s increasing fuel efficiency requirements.  Car manufacturers also save on assembly costs because the plastics’ moldability allows plastic hardware to be molded in as an integrated part of the plastic structural members.   Decorative effects and over-molded soft plastic finishing touches may also be incorporated into the same part, all of which can be manufactured in one process.  These new vehicles still use a large amount of standard plastic hardware, such as arrow clips, cable ties, Christmas tree push-in screws, and other common items used when fastening body coverings to underlying frame components, fastening wire bundles, and attaching fascia boards.

4)      Because it’s just so darn pretty.

Plastic hardware can have a number of interesting visual properties.  Plastics naturally come in a wide variety of colors from the traditional white and black to green and amber.  Many plastics are transparent or can be dyed a wide variety of colors to blend in better with the rest of the material in their applications.

5)      Because it’s environmentally friendly.  

Plastic hardware can be produced and formed for a lower energy cost than that required by metal and other traditional materials.  Plastic hardware can also be reused and recycled.

6)      Because it’s inexpensive without being cheap. 

Plastic hardware has a widespread reputation for being cheap.  Commonly used plastic hardware materials such as 6/6 nylon can result in the final product having very competitive prices.  For a huge volume of low-cost items such as plastic bedpans, syringes, pens, clips, and other items, the stereotype that plastic is used because it is cheap does hold true.  But like a fine bottle of Valentine’s Day wine, with plastic hardware you get what you pay for.

More specialized plastics that have unique properties, such as PEEK and polyimide, can be extremely expensive.  Some grades of PEEK can cost $100 per pound or more. A short length of Vespel polyimide can cost $1,000 or more for diameters of over an inch.  So while plastic hardware can be quite inexpensive, it is not a universally cheap product.  The assumption that plastic is always ‘cheap’ must be replaced by a willingness to consider materials in light of what they do, rather than just according to whether a thousand small plastic screws costs $30 or $40 per thousand.  That plastic hardware, it sure is classy!

What’s your favorite thing about plastic hardware?  Did we miss something?  Let us know in the comments section below.

Interested in learning more about high performance plastic hardware?  Check out our High Performance Plastics Material Guide!

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