Polymers: What They Are and Why They’re Important to Manufacturing

by Josh Biggs in Tech on 13th January 2022

Polymers are a very important part of our daily lives. They are substances that are made up of small molecules that come together to form long chains. There are two types of polymers: synthetic polymers and natural polymers. Synthetic polymers are created by humans, while natural polymers are naturally occurring compounds that exist in plant and animal cells.

Both synthetic and natural polymers have many different uses, but their most common use is as plastics. Polymer chains can be used to form hard plastics such as plastic bags or soft plastics such as the kind found in packaging materials, and so on.

What is a Polymer?

Polymers are typically highly abrasive materials that can be used to clean surfaces. Polymers are also used in the production of the following items:

  • Adhesives
  • Building materials
  • Cleaning agents
  • Detergents
  • Food packaging materials

How Do the Properties of Polymers Affect Manufacturing?

Polymers are long-chain organic molecules. They are primarily synthetic and are created by linking simple chemical units. Each polymer has its own properties, and which determine how it is used in the manufacturing process.

Polymers can either be thermoplastics or thermosets, depending on their chemical structure and behavior during processing. Thermoplastics can be remolded and thermosets cannot. Thermoplastics melt when heated, whereas thermosets do not melt; but instead decompose to form a gas. This makes thermosets unsuitable for use in extrusion processes because when they are heated their molecular chains start to break down into smaller fragments.

How is Polymer Chemistry Used in Manufacturing Processes?

Polymer chemistry is the study of synthesizing polymers. It has various applications in manufacturing processes.

Polymer chemistry is used in manufacturing processes to produce plastics, rubbers, and adhesives. It also has other applications including acting as drying agents for paint and coatings, propellants for sprays, and fire retardants for fabrics. As noted, polymers are made up of long chains of atoms bonded together, and the differences between these polymers depend on how these chains are arranged: some are soluble in water or oil, while others are insoluble, elastic, or brittle depending on the material they’re made from. 

Further Benefits of Polymers

The above characteristics give polymers an important role in manufacturing processes such as pharmaceuticals, packaging, textile production, adhesives, ceramics and metals, and printing. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg: industries such as electronics, personal care, and filtration are adopting polymer products daily.

The application of polymer materials has developed drastically over the last few years, as 3D printing has created new possibilities for designing products. This has opened up options for those who are not necessarily interested in traditional manufacturing processes.

Today, 3D printing is a technology that has earned the trust of many product designers. It offers huge potential for product designers for creating new and exciting products. 

The application is not limited to just prototypes; large-scale production runs are also possible. 

There are several ways to produce larger products using 3D printers, including the use of “binder jetting,” which involves spraying layers of plastic binder onto a platform full of powdered materials. The binder hardens into solid plastic as it dries, forming an object layer by layer until the design has been completed. After each layer is completed, warm air fuses adjacent layers together to create a solid printed object.

When you consider the number of applications and how quickly science is creating more synthetic polymers, it’s easy to see why they have become so widespread.

Categories: Tech