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Hi-tech Plastics

  • 4-19-2012

Hi-tech Plastics

The use of synthetic materials has become increasingly widespread since the middle of the 20th century. Just look around, and you’ll see plenty of objects made of plastics. There are, however, several types of plastics that are used for special purposes.

A material produced by the human race

Synthetic materials – as their name clearly indicates – are substances that do not occur in nature, that is, wouldn’t exist without human intervention. Today, however, they play an essential and ubiquitous role in our everyday life. They are widely recognized for their versatility and their ability to serve in a large number of fields: from the automotive industry through food packaging and building insulation to electronic devices and pieces of furniture.

High-tech plastics in the automotive industry

Due to its durability and resistance to heat, plastic is one of the favourite materials used in the automotive industry. The joint concept vehicle developed by Daimler and BASF comes up with some major innovations of the plastics industry. Representing a new generation of electric cars, smart forvision leads to a considerable weight reduction and a unique design thanks to its all-plastic wheel, a pioneering achievement in the automotive industry.

The wheel developed by BASF from a new high-performance material results in a considerable weight saving of three kilograms per wheel. Unlike conventional polyamide composite materials, this new plastic has long reinforcing fibers, which improve its mechanical properties. The result is excellent thermal and chemical stability, dynamic strength, toughness and good continuous operating characteristics.

Further components, such as doors and other body parts, are made of carbon-fiber-reinforced epoxy resin – a high-performance composite material. The use of such materials enables a weight saving of more than 50% to be achieved compared with steel or 30% compared with aluminum.

Plastic and art

Although plastics are regularly used in the furniture industry, award-winning pieces, such as the MYTO chair designed by the much celebrated designer Konstantin Grcic, which combine creative design with innovative technology are hard to find. This supreme example of standalone seating furniture is made completely of one single piece of the new injection moldable plastic Ultradur® High Speed from BASF. The easy-flow plastic can be reinforced with much higher glass fiber content than before. This allows thinner walled parts to be produced that are also very strong. The chair's delicate design combined with its high strength was only possible with this material.

Through the selective control of nanometer-sized structures, the plastic can be processed at 230 degrees Celsius instead of 260 degrees Celsius, improving flowability by 50%. Processed with the injection molding technique, this special kind of plastic solidifies twice as fast as other solutions, which significantly shortens production time. The innovative plastic Ultradur® High Speed is utilized in a vast range of manufacturing industries and can be found in wide variety of components, including the mountings for rear windshield wipers, laptop plugs and the housing for the steering wheel lever of the BMW Mini Cooper.

Synthetic materials in medicine

Although the majority of medical equipment is made of metal, an astonishing quantity, annually one million tons of synthetic materials are used for manufacturing medical applications. Possessing a broad range of good physical properties, polycarbonate offers an unusual combination of strength, rigidity, toughness, and glass-like transparency. What is even more important from a medical point of view: polycarbonate grades comply with biocompatibility testing standards, which means that the applications may get into direct or indirect contact with endogenous substances (blood, tissue, dentin, other body fluids). This is exactly why it is used for manufacturing surgical instruments and equipment containing blood and other fluids.

The odd-one-out synthetic applications used in medicine are artificial bones, which are produced in several hundred types and which are lifelike replicas of human bones. They form a special group as they are not directly used for therapeutic purposes but in medical training. Medical students use these artificial bones to gain professional skills in kinetic surgery, for instance in placing staples or replacements.

Biodegradable plastic

It is public knowledge that plastic may take several hundreds of years to decompose naturally. Ecoflex®, BASF's pioneering and completely biodegradable plastic, is ideal for trash bags or disposable packaging: produced of bacteria and funguses, water, carbon-monoxide and bio mass, it decomposes within a few weeks without leaving any residues. This aliphatic-aromatic copolyester is ideal for bags, paper coating, disposable packaging or agricultural sheeting because it decomposes without leaving harmful residues. One of its utilization areas is that of biodegradable bin liners. Find out more about this environment-friendly plastic material.

Did you know?

There are plastic materials that can conduct electricity. Although plastics are normally used for insulation, there are polymers that are able to conduct electrons, and so, electricity. In 1977, Alan J. Heeger, Alan MacDiarmid and Hideki Shirakawa reported high conductivity in oxidized iodine-doped polyacetylene, and this research earned them the 2000 Nobel prize in chemistry. Conductive polymers enjoy a few large-scale applications and they are also promising in organic solar cells, printing electronic circuits, organic light-emitting diodes, flexible transparent displays, electromagnetic shielding, etc.

Interesting facts

Players of the 2010 South African world championship played on high-tech artificial turf. The unique element of this hybrid natural grass system is the 20 million artificial grass fibres injected 20 cm deep into the pitch. In this way the natural grass fibres are well protected against tackles and sliding, while the players are protected against ligament and other sports injuries.

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