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Most thermoplastics have a high molecular weight. The polymer chains associate through intermolecular forces, which weaken rapidly with increased temperature, yielding a viscous liquid. Thus, thermoplastics may be reshaped by heating and are typically used to produce parts by injection molding. Thermoplastics differ from thermosetting polymers, which form irreversible chemical bonds during the curing process. Thermosets do not melt, but decompose and do not reform upon cooling.
Above its glass transition temperature, Tg, and below its melting point, Tm, the physical properties of a thermoplastic change drastically without an associated phase change. Within this temperature range, most thermoplastics are rubbery due to alternating rigid crystalline and elastic amorphous regions, approximating random coils.
Some thermoplastics do not fully crystallize below the glass transition temperature Tg, retaining some or all of their amorphous characteristics. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are used when high optical clarity is necessary, as light is scattered strongly by crystallites larger than its wavelength. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are less resistant to chemical attack and environmental stress cracking because they lack a crystalline structure.
Brittleness can be decreased with the addition of plasticizers, which increases the mobility of amorphous chain segments to effectively lower Tg. Modification of the polymer through copolymerization or through the addition of non-reactive side chains to monomers before polymerization can also lower Tg. Before these techniques were employed, plastic automobile parts would often crack when exposed to cold temperatures. Recently,[when?] thermoplastic elastomers have become available.
Acrylic, a polymer called poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), is also known by trade names such as Lucite, Perspex and Plexiglas. It serves as a sturdy substitute for glass for such items as aquariums, motorcycle helmet visors, aircraft windows, viewing ports of submersibles, and lenses of exterior lights of automobiles. It is extensively used to make signs, including lettering and logos. In medicine, it is used in bone cement and to replace eye lenses. Acrylic paint consists of PMMA particles suspended in water.
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is a terpolymer synthesized from styrene and acrylonitrile in the presence of polybutadiene. ABS is a light-weight material that exhibits high impact resistance and mechanical toughness. It poses few risks to human health under normal handling. It is used in many consumer products, such as toys, appliances, and telephones.
Nylon belongs to a class of polymers called polyamides. It has served as a substitute for silk in products such as parachutes, flak vests and women's stockings. Nylon fibers are useful in making fabrics, rope, carpets and musical strings, whereas in bulk form, nylon is used for mechanical parts including machine screws, gear wheels and power tool casings. In addition, nylon is used in the manufacture of heat-resistant composite materials.
Polybenzimidazole(PBI,short for Poly-[2,2’-(m-phenylen)-5,5’-bisbenzimidazole]) fiber is a synthetic fiber with a very high melting point. It has exceptional thermal and chemical stability and does not readily ignite. It was first discovered by American polymer chemist Carl Shipp Marvel in the pursuit of new materials with superior stability, retention of stiffness, toughness at elevated temperature. Due to its high stability, Polybenzimidazole is used to fabricate high-performance protective apparel such as firefighter’s gear, astronaut space suits, high temperature protective gloves, welders’ apparel and aircraft wall fabrics. In recent years, polybenzimidazole found its application as membrane in fuel cells.
Polyethylene (or polyethene, polythene, PE) is a family of similar materials categorized according to their density and molecular structure. For example:
- Ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE) is tough and resistant to chemicals, and it is used to manufacture moving machine parts, bearings, gears, artificial joints and some bulletproof vests.
- High-density polyethylene (HDPE), recyclable plastic no. 2, is commonly used as milk jugs, liquid laundry detergent bottles, outdoor furniture, margarine tubs, portable gasoline cans, water drainage pipes, and grocery bags.
- Medium-density polyethylene (MDPE) is used for packaging film, sacks and gas pipes and fittings.
- Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) is softer and flexible and is used in the manufacture of squeeze bottles, milk jug caps, retail store bags and (LLDPE) as stretch wrap in transporting and handling boxes of durable goods, and as the common household food covering.
- XLPE or "PEX" (cross-linked polyethylene) is a semi-rigid/flexible material which has gained wide use in cold or hot water building heating/cooling applications (hydronic heating and cooling) due to its exceptional resistance to breakdown from wide temperature variations.
Polypropylene (PP) is useful for such diverse products as reusable plastic food containers, microwave- and dishwasher-safe plastic containers, diaper lining, sanitary pad lining and casing, ropes, carpets, plastic moldings, piping systems, car batteries, insulation for electrical cables and filters for gases and liquids. In medicine, it is used in hernia treatment and to make heat-resistant medical equipment. Polypropylene sheets are used for stationery folders and packaging and clear storage bins. Polypropylene is defined by the recyclable plastic number 5. Although relatively inert, it is vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation and can degrade considerably in direct sunlight. Polypropylene is not as impact-resistant as the polyethylenes (HDPE, LDPE). It is also somewhat permeable to highly volatile gases and liquids.
Polystyrene is manufactured in various forms that have different applications. Extruded polystyrene (PS) is used in the manufacture of disposable cutlery, CD and DVD cases, plastic models of cars and boats, and smoke detector housings. Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) is used in making insulation and packaging materials, such as the "peanuts" and molded foam used to cushion fragile products. Extruded polystyrene foam (XPS), known by the trade name Styrofoam, is used to make architectural models and drinking cups for heated beverages. Polystyrene copolymers are used in the manufacture of toys and product casings.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a tough, lightweight material that is resistant to acids and bases. Much of it is used by the construction industry, such as for vinyl siding, drainpipes, gutters and roofing sheets. It is also converted to flexible forms with the addition of plasticizers, thereby making it useful for items such as hoses, tubing, electrical insulation, coats, jackets and upholstery. Flexible PVC is also used in inflatable products, such as water beds and pool toys.
Teflon is a brand name of DuPont for a variety of the polymer polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which belongs to a class of thermoplastics known as fluoropolymers. It is known as a coating for non-stick cookware. Being chemically inert, it is used in making containers and pipes that come in contact with reactive compounds. It is also used as a lubricant to reduce wear from friction between sliding parts, such as gears, bearings, and bushings.
- Baeurle SA, Hotta A, Gusev AA (2006). "On the glassy state of multiphase and pure polymer materials". Polymer 47: 6243–6253. doi:10.1016/j.polymer.2006.05.076.