Plastics are ingrained in just about every facet of modern life. From computers, to food storage, to the clothes we wear, plastic has a significant presence in just about everything we do. One of the biggest roles plastics play is in the form of plastic resin. This is an umbrella term applied to a massive range of materials serving a wide variety of applications. Looking at just a few of these resins is an illuminating journey into the world that surrounds us.
Thermoplastics is the first major group of plastics. These are resins which can be heated and shaped into different molds after initial processing. This concept may be deceiving, however; many thermoplastics are hardened into resilient materials with a variety of uses. Acrylic forms the basis of many items, such as aquarium tanks, motorcycle helmet visors, and airplane windows. But other thermoplastics, like nylon, can be woven into comfortable clothing. Teflon is the brand name of a thermoplastic resin (known as polytetrafluoroethylene) and is widely used as a nonstick agent in cookware. Still another called polystyrene is molded into one of the most recognizable substances that you may not even recognize as a plastic resin: Styrofoam.
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The other main set of plastic resins is known as thermosetting plastic. These materials are malleable while heated but take a permanent shape once set. Thermosets are heavily resistant to heat and other corrosion. The most well-known of these resins is epoxy. With applications in maritime and aerospace industries, epoxy is one of the strongest bonding materials and adhesives currently in use. When used in conjunction with fibrous materials, thermosets can create lightweight and durable products that can withstand some of the harshest conditions in this world and beyond. A graphite-epoxy was even used to construct the payload doors on the space shuttle.
The word plastic itself has a synonym in the word pliable, meaning easily bent or influenced. In this vein, some plastic materials qualify as both thermoplastics and thermosets depending on conditions. Polyester is a well-known component in many clothing items, but given certain processing techniques it can be turned into a heat-resistant coating for electrical wires. Polyethylene plastic, the most common plastic in the world, is probably most famous for its use as plastic bags. In addition, the thermoset variety has significant usage as hot water piping.
Given these varied applications, plastic resins are certainly a uniquely valuable modern material with almost endless uses in a myriad of applications.
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