This is a good question, and like good questions, there is no easy answer. But let’s start with a simple definition, which can also be found in the encyclopedia. Plastic, or sometimes plastic, refers to a material that has been synthetically produced. These materials and products are produced through compounds of polymers, which usually consist of organic groups. While this is usually true, it doesn’t mean much to the layman. In other words, perhaps it can be put this way. Organic substances are made up of molecules that are composed atomically in a way that gives the substance its properties.
Macromolecules and Polymers
When many of these molecules with the same structure are bonded to each other, they are called macromolecules. Macromolecules that have certain properties are called monomers because their atomic composition gives them a chemical or physical tendency to react with the corresponding molecule. Monomers are stimulated to join together organically or artificially to form long chains consisting of thousands to millions of units.
Depending on the nature of the monomers, they are linked only to their own kind or cross-linked to various other monomers. The result of this repeated bonding is called a polymer. Natural or biological polymers are the basic building blocks of life. They are found in our DNA, genetic material, as well as in hair, skin, or other organic matter.
Humans learned early on to use polymerization for their own purposes. Of course, they didn’t know exactly what happened 100,000 years ago, for example, when they distilled birch bark and used birch pitch to make powerful adhesives. But the principle became clear. Through certain chemical influences, the molecules or polymers of a substance can be affected in such a way that they have different properties. This leads to properties that are not recognizable in the original materials of nature. The Mayans had already used the sap of the rubber tree, which they mixed with the sap of other plants, to play ball or make a kind of rubber boot with the resulting elastic substance. When the Europeans discovered this material, an entire industry quickly developed around it, as the elastic material was virtually unknown until then. In addition to its waterproofing properties, this rubber had other important characteristics. It was later discovered that it also had excellent insulating properties, and Goodyear discovered in 1839 that rubber could be made by simply adding sulfur and that no other plant sap was needed. The market immediately boomed, rubber seeds were smuggled around the world, and Goodyear made a fortune from tires.
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Polymerization and Plastics
When rubber became scarce during the turmoil of war in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, an army of researchers embarked on the task of artificially producing rubber polymerized in combination with sulfur. For this was nothing but polymerization. Since the beginning of the 19th century, different researchers have used organic polymerization to produce, for example, Celluloid, Bakelite, NBR, and other useful substances. But it was not until Hermann Staudinger, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize, that an understanding of the true polymerization of plastics was gained from 1917 onwards. Thanks to Hermann Staudinger, once researchers understood these principles, they were able to conduct more focused research on plastic and its production.
Types and Classification of Plastics
In the next blog post, you will read about the classification of plastics as it still applies today. The world of plastics is defined by three groups – elastomers, thermosets, and thermoplastics – and almost every plastic can be classified into one of these three groups. However, there are also various hybrid forms. Today, new plastic is actually developed according to the desirable properties that the corresponding product should have. The number of different plastics and their infinite hybrid forms has long exceeded 100,000 plastics. Whenever a new plastic or a new property is needed in the industry, a glance at the extensive database is sufficient. However, the main group still consists of thermosets, thermoplastics, and elastomers.
The Age of Plastics Has Begun
It has been discovered that certain acids and resins are particularly well suited for forming chain reactions by heating or adding so-called initiators, in which macromolecules link up almost endlessly to form substances with new properties. Since 1910, these substances have been known as plastics. For example, in 1933, one of the most successful plastics ever produced, polyethylene, was first produced from gaseous ethylene under high heat and pressure. Years later, another researcher discovered a catalyst that allowed this plastic to undergo the same chain reaction even at room temperature. Soon, new plastics were invented all over the world.
Epoxy resins, nylon, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride, nylon, and acrylic glass were added within a few years. All plastics had “artificial” production in common, but differed, sometimes dramatically, in their properties and production. In summary, it can be said that all plastics are composed of polymers. Polymers are also found in nature and can also be produced by converting organic substances such as rubber. Or they are produced as synthetic substances through the use of chain polymerization or related polyaddition or polycondensation processes.
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