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Thermoplastic materials are a class of polymers that become pliable or moldable at a certain elevated temperature and solidify upon cooling. Unlike thermosetting plastics, which irreversibly cure, thermoplastics can be remelted and reformed repeatedly, allowing for recycling and reshaping. This property is due to their molecular structure, where polymer chains are not covalently bonded to each other, enabling them to slide past one another when heated. Common examples include polyethylene (PE), used in plastic bags, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), found in pipes and cable insulation. According to Statista, the global production of thermoplastics reached approximately 368 million metric tons in 2020, highlighting their widespread use in various industries.
The versatility of thermoplastic materials makes them integral to modern manufacturing. They offer a range of properties such as transparency, elasticity, and resistance to chemicals and electricity, which can be tailored to specific applications. For instance, polycarbonate is prized for its impact resistance and is used in bulletproof glass and eyewear lenses. The ease of processing thermoplastics also contributes to their popularity; they can be injection molded, extruded, or thermoformed into complex shapes and sizes. This adaptability, combined with the potential for reuse, positions thermoplastics as a valuable resource in both economic and environmental contexts, promoting sustainability through recyclability.
Thermoplastic materials are those that take the hardened form of plastic when cool but are converted to liquid when heated. This process of heating and melting can usually be completed many times. Each time, a new shape or form is possible. Materials that fall into this category include polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride, and ethylene-vinyl acetate.
Polystyrene is a material produced from an oily liquid that tends to have a distinct odor. When in its hardened form, polystyrene is generally colorless. A good example of the substance in this state is a CD case. Color is often added to make other items such as plastic cups, DVD cases, and razors. Polystyrene is also used to make foam products such as plates, egg cartons, and packing insulation.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is one of the most common thermoplastic materials. Chlorine is an important component in its production. It is usually produced in sheets that are later formed into a wide range of products. Additives known as plasticizers are used to make PVC more pliable and flexible. It is used to make hoses, pipes, and inflatable toys.
Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) is a material composed of ethylene, a mass produced chemical compound, and vinyl acetate, a colorless liquid. When these two substances are combined, a flexible material is made that can easily be formed into a number of products. EVA is used in plastic wraps to make medical gloves and coverings for electrical wires.
Polyurethanes are thermoplastic materials whose characteristics can vary greatly. It can be very elastic and it can also be very tough. Rubber products are often replaced by those made of polyurethane because this material is more resistant to oils, greases, and to tearing. This material can also be used to produce foam, which is often used inside of seats. Other items made of polyurethane include gaskets, belts, and surfboards.
Liquid crystal polymers (LPCs) are considered a special class of polyesters. These materials have a strong ability to resist chemical and heat damage. In the liquid form, these thermoplastic materials can produce the liquid crystal displays (LCDs) found in clocks and other electronics. In the hardened form, LPCs are used for the production of printer parts, electrical parts, and cooking wares.
Polycarbonate is a material that is generally lightweight but strong. It is considered more environmentally friendly than many other thermoplastic materials. Polycarbonate also tends to have exceptional optical properties, which makes it popular in the production of eyeglasses. This material is also used to make bulletproof glass, DVDs, and bottles.