History of Plastic Manufacturing
Plastics have indeed come a long way since their creation by Alexandre Parkes in the form of Parkesine, a cellulose based semi- synthetic thermoplastic substance. Although Parkesine gradually became obsolete owing to soaring development costs, plastic manufacturing continued unabated and the world witnessed the advent of synthetic resin, cellophane wrap, rayon fabric, polyethylene PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and many others. Soon, we were inundated with bottles, cups, boxes, and utensils made of plastic, revolutionizing our day-to-day life. So, what is the current state of plastic manufacturing?
The Current Look of Plastic Manufacturing
Rapid developments in technology have triggered the creation of a variety of plastic materials, which in turn has radically increased the consumption of plastics. From 2000 to 2010, the world’s yearly consumption of plastics registered a massive growth from around 350 billion pounds to over 550 billion pounds. In fact, the development of new products have led to additional demand and enhanced consumerism in emerging economies like China, India as well as developed economies like the United States.
As the world focuses on plastic engineering and plastics increasingly become a commodity, there is a natural shift towards more productive manufacturing methodologies that will lower the production cost. So far, plastics can be broadly classified into elastomers, thermosets and thermoplastics. Elastomers are known for their flexibility and include substances like silicones and neoprene. Melamines, polyurethanes, phenolics, and epoxy-based materials, which have a soft consistency and are resistant to re-melting, fall under the category of thermosets. Thermoplastics, soft in consistency with re-melting and recycling capabilities, are the most widely used type of plastic. Polystyrene, nylon, polypropylene and polyethylene fall under this category.
New Trends in Plastic Manufacturing
The search for new high performance plastics have always been one of the major goals of the plastic manufacturing industry. Here are some newer trends currently entering the market:
- Smart Polymers: These are in fact a set of polymers which can manipulate their dimensions according to changes in environmental parameters such as amount of light, temperature, availability of water and so on. These materials find numerous applications in the medical sector.
- Nanocomposites: When nanotechnology combines with plastic engineering, performance is enhanced at the molecular level. Nanocomposites generally include materials like nanotalcs, carbon nanotubes, and nanoclays, which are characterized by high electrical conductivity, dimensional stability, and flame retardancy along with resistance to scratch, dent and heat. These nanocomposites are frequently used in the automotive and aerospace sector as well as in food packaging, electronics, military hardware and more.
- RF or Radio Frequency embedded plastics: In these resins, a plastic medium embeds a signal generator and can assume various shapes. These plastics are used in clothing inventory tags, security system badges, hospital patient tracking, highway toll tags, cargo container seals and many more industrial applications.
- Bioplastics: With the pioneering advancements being made in this industry, the world is increasingly becoming aware of the environmental effects of these materials. Greener, more environmentally friendly plastics are increasingly in demand. Eco-friendly bioplastics, which are based on polymer resins from plants, find a wide array of applications in electronics, telecommunications, aerospace, automotive and other markets. Plastics that decompose with the help of bacteria have also been developed.
Research and development are an integral part of the plastic industry, as older products become obsolete and newer materials with better performance become widespread in the market. It is imperative for industries which rely on plastics as one of their raw materials to stay abreast of new developments in order to take advantage of them.
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