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Know the main applications of Engineering Plastics
Considered as high-performance materials, engineering plastics emerged in the 1960s. They emerged challenging traditional elements, such as steel, in various types of applications in virtually all industries. Typical uses for this type of material range from components for semiconductor production equipment to technical parts in heavy equipment for food processing. That is, IT’S a versatile type of plastic with different characteristics.
For Rafael Scandizzo Caldana, professor of SENAI Jundiaí, "engineering plastics are applied to parts that need to obtain excellent performance at high temperatures or in situations where there is a great mechanical effort without losing their properties. As a result, they are widely used in the most diverse branches of industry, such as automotive, aerospace, electronics and naval", he says.
And according to Nienow, "these materials are used in technical applications, most of the time, in elements of machines such as gears, pulleys and belts, sliding plates, seals, sleeves sockets and cables for surgical and orthopedic tools, temporary and permanent implants, surgical tool boxes and motor vehicle parts", he summarizes.
Main engineering plastics
High molecular weight Polyethylene (PEUAPM)
Polyethylene is probably the most used polymer and easier to find in people's daily lives. This is because it’s present in sacks and plastic bags, in shampoo bottles and yogurts, and even in bulletproof vests.
It’s a versatile material, but with a very simple structure, perhaps the simplest of all commercial polymers. A polyethylene molecule, for example, is nothing more than a long chain of carbon atoms, with two hydrogen atoms attached to each carbon atom.
Therefore, the methods used in the manufacturing process of PEUAPM are those of hot pressing, or extrusion by piston, through which semi-finished sheets, blocks and billets for the additional machining are obtained. PEUAPM applications range from cube lining, chemical treatment bath tanks, wear of exposed parts on conveyor belts, to machine parts.
ABS resins are obtained from glass. Liming between acrylonitrile, butadiene and styrene. Therefore, they are materials with high mechanical resistance, good superficial appearance, easy malleability and average resistance to temperature.
ABS is widely used in the automotive and appliance industry, that is, in parts subject to strong mechanical stress. In vehicles, we can find them in central consoles, ventilation buttons, airbag covers, radio covers, glove box covers, among other parts.
The aromatic polyamides have been outstanding in recent years, due to the following characteristics:
Great resistance to weight;
Great resistance to stretching;
Resistance to abrasion (and cuts);
Wide range of operating temperatures;
Very low moisture absorption;
Resistance to corrosion.
Therefore, these characteristics allow polyamides to be applied in different applications. The main applications of aromatic polyamides in the market are: Nomex, which is used in flameproof clothing for jobs such as firefighters, Conex
or Teijinconex, is also used in flameproof clothing and special clothing for welders, Technora, which is used in high pressure hoses, suspension lines, parachutes, steel ropes and cables, and Kevlar, used in safety belts, ropes, aeronautical constructions, sails, bulletproof vests, fishing lines and in the composition of some tires.
This engineering thermoplastic has become known for being transparent. In this way, it’s aesthetically similar to glass, but resistant, like steel. Polycarbonate combines several of the desirable characteristics of metals and glass, together with the easy processing of thermoplastics and the long-term (in service) properties of thermosets.
Therefore, around 50% of current polycarbonate production is focused on applications in the electro-electronic industries. That is, it can be found in laptop cases, smartphones, etc. In addition, another important application is in the manufacture of coils, terminals, splices, battery parts, fuse covers and plugs.
Engineering plastics - markets
According to Augusto Nienow, engineer and sales manager of Ensinger Technical Plastic Industry, the main markets for plastics engineering are "the food industry, the chemical industry, the oil and gas industry, the medical industry, the agricultural industry, the aerospace and automotive industry, the electrical, electronics and semiconductor industry, "he summarizes.
In recent years, products manufactured by the plastics industry have become even more complex and customizable. This means that, in many cases, they are also more expensive to produce. Therefore, we must find ways to reduce the cost of production to maintain the company's profit margins.
Even if the product is in high demand, if its production is inefficient, it’s likely to be wasting resources. In this case, instead of increasing the price to offset expenses, a policy of reducing costs and waste can be an option. In this way, it will be possible to guarantee quality products with more competitive prices.
Tips to reduce production costs in the plastics industry
1. Improve energy efficiency.
The plastic industry uses a large amount of energy to drive a wide range of manufacturing processes. Many of the processes involve constant temperature control, either low or high. This opens a series of opportunities to improve energy efficiency.
For example, reducing the amount of heat in a process or recovering the waste heat for later use allows to save large amounts of energy. In addition, since the industry uses many types of motorized equipment, it’s essential to invest in preventive maintenance and high efficiency machinery.
"We, who have a lot of experience, find a series of problems in the processes that lead to loss, for example, two engines running at the same time, in which case an analysis of the process would have indicated that there is no such need." Reinaldo Lopes, Electrical Engineering of the FEI University Center,
Essentially, the plastics industry can reduce overhead costs and increase profit margins simply by implementing efficiency measures. With this, the impact is not only in profits. The products also end up improving in quality, which leads to a better competitiveness in the market.
2. Identify processes that don’t add value.
Innovation is the key word for the plastics industry. Therefore, a review of all operational processes is required periodically. In other words, it’s necessary to identify redundant or deficient activities that only generate costs for the company.
To reduce production costs and waste, the industry needs to verify, for example, if it’s producing more items than necessary. The excess of stocks of materials or machinery stopped too long during the production process are also points of attention. Even so, it’s important to have an accurate quality control. This control avoids losses, waste and additional costs, according to Paulino Francischini, coordinator of the MBA in Production Management at the Vanzolini Foundation.
“Even if the material of a non-conforming product is reused, labor and machinery and energy costs, for example, cannot be reused. Plastic production must have an adequate process control to allow the reduction of defects and operating costs”.
In this way, it’s important to analyze the value added throughout the manufacturing cycle. With this, it’s possible to determine if each task and production is really necessary in the current and future scenario. This work not only helps reduce the cost of production, but also helps to keep manufacturing costs to a minimum.
3. Keep the team trained.
Reducing wages or jobs to reduce costs is a common mistake. This practice generally only increases the level of employee dissatisfaction, diverts the talent potential for hiring and increases the turnover rate of the company.
If the plastic industry seeks to improve its workforce efficiency, it’s necessary to hire good professionals, sensitize them and train them with adequate productivity techniques and, mainly, cost reduction in the factory.
With specialized and motivating training, you can optimize the production of a product by minimizing the loss of time and raw material. This makes employees work at a faster pace and with higher quality.
Therefore, it’s crucial that companies are aware of all the bottlenecks and opportunities for possible improvements, both administrative and technological, that can be sought and achieved to reduce the cost of production. With this, a more optimized cost production and a competitive differential for the business are achieved.