There are lots of different industrial polymers, each with their own unique applications and uses. To put it simply, a polymer is a “macromolecule” which is composed of many smaller molecules called monomers, which chemically react amongst themselves to form a three-dimensional long chain network. Polymers can be both synthetic and natural, and they both play an important role in our day-to-day lives because of their many properties and unique characteristics.
Cellulose is the world’s most common and readily available polymer. It is naturally formed and made from glucose. Over 75% of most plants are made from cellulose. Industrial polymers, however, are synthetic and are made to satisfy the needs of certain industries.
In the commercial production of things such as man-made fibres, adhesives, plastics and surface coatings, many polymers are used and they play an important role in the manufacture of many products we use every single day. Without polymers, we would not be able to access as wide a range of products that we currently have available.
What makes a polymer a polymer is the fact that it forms a hardened three-dimensional network which cannot be softened without the use of heat. It is also insoluble in water.
If you want to learn more about different polymers and find out which ones are used more often in industry, carry on reading! Here are the top polymers used in industry:
There are many different synthetic adhesives which are available on the market, and all of these are polymers. Adhesives are based on emulsions, thermosets, elastomers and thermoplastics. Examples of thermosetting adhesives are the likes of polyurethane, cyanoacrylate and acrylic polymers.
To be effective, an adhesive must have some properties which are common among all the different types. For example, an adhesive must be somewhat wet, so it can wet the substance it is being joined to. It must become solid after it is applied, and it must have some load-bearing ability.
The strength of an adhesive depends on various factors and there are many means by which an adhesive will work. Some use chemical bonds between two surfaces whereas others will use electrostatic forces. It very much depends on the adhesive, what its purpose is, and what it is being bound to.
2: Flame Retardants
As we mentioned before, polymers or products which are created from polymers are used in our everyday lives, and composite materials made from a mixture of organic polymers with natural or glass fibres are used as flame retardants. These polymers have chemical, physical, and thermal properties, which means they can resist flames.
Glass fibre is commonly used on products such as wiring boards. Large amounts of this stuff is reinforced by epoxy laminate. Together, products which use this reinforced glass fibre are able to meet stringent flame retardancy standards and are harder to combust, preventing the release of toxic and gaseous fumes; a smaller amount of combustible gases can meet the flame, which prevents it from going up in smoke.
Technically classed as either an LDPE (Low-Density Polyethene) or HDPE (High-Density Polyethene), these polymers have many a common property. For instance, both LDPE and HDPE are chemically inert, terrible conductors of an electrical current, and are thermally stable. The main difference between LDPE and HDPE, however, is that LDPE is very flexible whereas HDPE has a high tensile strength and is very, very tough.
The applications of these polymers include everyday products such as drinks bottles, toys, pipes and electrical insulation. If you are holding or using a plastic-based product, chances are that it is made from either LDPE or HDPE.
Polypropylene, or PP, is a plastic used mostly in industry and manufacturing because it is very resistant to the effects of acids and alkalis. PPs have a high tensile strength and are mostly used in the car manufacturing process as PPs make great car parts. Their resistance to acidic and alkali conditions also makes PP the ideal plastic for pre-prepared food containers, industrial fibres, and drinks bottles.
Unlike polyethylene, PP will not react with the various chemical properties of food and drink, so you are able to store food and drink in them without the risk of contamination, spoiling or degradation of the container.
Polyvinylchloride, or PVC, is one of the most famous and best-known polymers. PVCs are brilliant insulators and are used in the manufacturing process for pipes, chairs, toys and flooring (such as vinyl flooring.)
PVCs are a very flexible polymer because they can be used to make virtually any product on the market which is not being used for food-related purposes or does not need to come into contact with harsh or abrasive substances such as chemicals, oils and acids.
These are just five of the many different plastic polymers which are available in our world. Some which have not been named here have applications in niche and specialist industries or are used to make products for the manufacturing process of other products. They are highly useful and versatile materials which we rely on more than many of us realize.
As plastic compounds, polymers play a very important role in our world. All you need to do is look around you and see how reliant you are on them. They are used in the production of computers, televisions, chairs, phones, watches…the list goes on. Without polymers, it is easy to see just how different our world would be – we would be lacking many of the products that we rely on and take for granted today.
Polymers are not dangerous, either. Although as a world we are trying to move further away from our reliance on certain plastics, so long as the manufacturing process is carried out responsibly and we do not abuse and take for granted too much the products which rely on polymers (the classic example being plastic straws), there is no reason why we should be cutting down on our production or use of them.