Plastics engineering

Plastics engineering

Plastics engineering encompasses the processing, design, development, and manufacture of plastics products. A plastic is a polymeric material that is in a semi-liquid state, having the property of plasticity and exhibiting flow. The nature of plastic materials poses unique challenges to an engineer. Mechanical properties of plastics are often difficult to quantify, and the plastics engineer has to design a product that meets certain specifications while keeping costs to a minimum. Other properties that the plastics engineer has to address include; outdoor weatherability, thermal properties such as upper use temperature, electrical properties, barrier properties, and resistance to chemical attack.

In plastics engineering, as in most engineering disciplines, the economics of a product plays an important role. The cost of plastic materials ranges from the cheapest commodity plastics used in mass produced consumer products to the very expensive, so called engineering resins. The cost of a plastic product is measured in different ways, and the absolute cost of a plastic material is difficult to ascertain. Cost is often measured in price per pound of material, or price per unit volume of material. In many cases however, it is important for a product to meet certain specifications, and cost could then be measured in price per unit of a property. Price with respect to processibility is often important, as some materials need to be processed at very high temperatures, increasing the amount of cooling time a part needs. In a large production run cooling time is very expensive.

Some plastics are manufactured from re-cycled materials but their use in engineering tends to be limited because the consistency of formulation and their physical properties tend to be less consistent. Electrical and electronic equipment and motor vehicle markets together accounted for 58 per cent of engineered plastics demand in 2003. Engineered plastics demand in the US was estimated at $9,702 million in 2007.

Plastics engineering specialties

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