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CLASSIFICATION OF THERMOPLASTICS

Based on family characteristics


Thermoplastics can be further classified into 8 broad categories listed below - based on family
characteristics. The characteristics and typical use/application of each class is briefly described:

A. Polyolefins
B. Vinyl & Related
C. Polyamides
D. Acrylics
E. Cellulosics
F. Styrenics (Aromatic hydrocarbon)
G. Fluoropolymers
H. Plastics with Special Chain Structures.

A. POLYOLEFINS
A group of important commercial plastics with carbon (C) and hydrogen repeat units with no ring
structures.
Examples: Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), Polyisobutylene (PIB), Polymethylpentene
(PMP). Ethylene-propylene copolymers, PVC is a hylogenated polyolefin, and PTFE a
fluorinated polyolefin belong to other polymer families.

Polyethylene
Tg ~ -100C (-20 to -180C); Tm ~ 120C (105 - 138C).
Probably the largest volume plastic. There are three main types - classified according to density,
melt viscosity or melt index (reflecting molecular weight).
1. Low density Polyethylene (LDPE)

(long-chain, branched, high pressure polymerization).


0.91. 925 g/cm3.

Uses: films, trash bags, flexible molded products.

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2. Medium density or Linear Low density Polyethylene (MDPE or LLDPE)


(short-chain, branched, high pressure polymerization).

0.925.94 g/cm3. Has better impact, tear, or puncture properties and improved
environmental stress-cracking resistance than LDPE.

Uses: cable insulation, flexible molded products

3. High density Polyethylene (HDPE)


(linear, low pressure polymerization, catalyzed).

0.941.965 g/cm3.

Typical products:, T-Shirt grocery bag, 55-gal drums, artificial skating surface.

* Ultra high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMWPE).


linear with MW 3x10 6x10 ; difficult to process; has excellent impact resistance
6

(toughness); excellent fatigue resistance; very low friction and antistatic properties, mostly
machined from stock shapes into mechanical parts that require wear and abrasion resistance.

Uses: pen tips, prosthetic wear surfaces, gears , sliding bearings etc.)

Polypropylene
Tg ~ -20 C (-5 to -24 C); Tm ~ 175 C.
One of four very high low cost volume thermoplastic is similar to PE in many respects. Its S.G.
0.88 - 0.91. Excellent resistance to stress cracking, flexure fatigue and many chemicals (not
hydrocarbons).

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Notable applications: lawn/patio furniture, integral hinges, air ducting, air cleaners, parcel
shelves, many automobile components, many domestic appliances (e.g. washing machine tanks),
biaxially oriented packaging films, fibers, and tapes (ribbons) made from slit film subsequently
oriented and often woven for bag fabrication.

B. VINYL AND RELATED POLYMERS (VINYLICS)


The major polymer in this group is polyvinylchloride (PVC). Others include polvinylfluoride
(PVF), polyvinylidenechloride (PVDC), Polyvinylalcohol (PVAL), and polyvinylacetate
(PVAC).

Polyvinylchloride (PVC)
Tg ~ 70 C
Good chemical resistance, excellent weatherability, self-extinguishing (flame retardant), good
insulation properties.
Uses
uPVC (rigid): pressure pipe, ducting, fume hoods, house siding, window sash, rain gutters,
sheets.
PVC (flexible): garden hose, electric wire insulation and jacket, shower curtains, clothing fabrics,
shoe soles.
PVF (Tg = -20 C; Tm = 198 C): High tensile strength; resistant to UV, staining, abrasion.
Used only as protective film over wood panels, furniture, upholstery, metal finish.
PVAL (Tg = 80 C; Tm = 240 C):
Highly polar, water soluble. used as strippable or washable coating.
PVDC (Tg = - 18 C; Tm = 190 C):
Has outstanding barrier properties for oxygen, CO2 and H2O.
co-polymerized with vinylchloride to obtain "cling film" saran. Used for packaging films and film
products such as sterizable pouches; coating, fibers for textiles.

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POLYAMIDES (PA)
Aliphatic Polyamides
Tg and Tm vary according to C atoms in the chain. By far the most common, and are of referred
to simply as "polyamides" or "nylons". Typical examples are nylon 4 through nylon 12. They
have affinity for polar molecules, such as water. Water absorption characteristics results in poor
electrical properties, dimensional stability. High ductility, high degree of crystallinity.
Mechanical properties in high range - dependent on water content. Very good fatigue and creep
resistance. Impact strength is generally very good although considered to be notch-sensitive.
Excellent frictional properties (self-lubrication), good wear and abrasion resistance.
Applications: a wide range of mechanical components where mechanical properties, moldability,
and self-lubrication are essential factors. Examples include slides and guides, gear trains,
bearings, valves, propellers, and housings. Also used for automotive gas tubing and gas tanks.
Used extensively as fibers. Monofilaments are used for ropes, tire cords, fishing lines, tennis
strings, surgical sutures, brush bristles, and artificial hair and fur. Good resistance to oxygen
permeation as well as oils or greases. Hence used for film packaging for food products (cheese,
bacon, meats); boil-in bags or pouches.

Aromatic Polyamides
Relatively new class of PA, complex and proprietary. Examples are PMPI (poly m-phenylene
isophthal amide) and PPPT (poly p-phenylene terephthal amide).
Aromatic rings in the backbone correspond to high chain rigidity and high glass transition
temperature.
Uses: produced as fibers by unconventional spinning processes associated with liquid crystal
polymer (LCP). Examples are nomex and kevlar used in products such as tire cord, ropes, cables.

D. ACRYILICS
Best known example in this class is polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA).

Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) (Plexiglas)


Tg = 105 C

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Excellent transparency, good rigidity, acceptable impact and abrasion, outstanding weatherability,
good chemical resistance except for a number of organic solvents.
Uses: Used in clear or colored and transparent or translucent forms.
Diverse objects: contact lenses, automotive tail-light lenses, safety and security glazing, skylights,
illuminated signs, air craft glazing, optical fibers. Also used for coatings, such as floor waxes and
emulsion (latex) paints, acrylates are more common in this latter application.

E. CELLULOSICS
Cellulose (CEL)
A carbohydrate polymer, major constituent of wood (50%) and cotton fibers (100%).
Examples: Cellulose acetate (CA), Cellulose-acetate-butyrate (CAB), Cellulose nitrate (CN),
Cellophane, Methyl cellulose, Cellulose-acetate-propionate (CAP).
CA is used for photographic films and adhesive tapes.

Cellulose nitrate (CN)


Considered first synthetic plastic. Good toughness, water repellency, and surface appearance.
Highly flammable and difficult to process by modern methods.
Uses: mainly small articles, dice, table tennis balls.

Cellulose-acetate-butyrate and Cellulose-acetate-propionate


Mechanically tougher than CA.
Uses:
armrests, automobile steering wheels, telephone bases, ball point pens, tool handles, glass frames,
blister packages.

F. STYRENICS
Well-known example from this class is polystyrene (PS)

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Polystyrene (PS)
Tg = 100 C
One of the four major thermoplastics. Very stiff but brittle and highly transparent below Tg, low
intrinsic resistance to weathering, and UV radiation causes yellowing and further embrittlement.
Not particularly good fire resistance. Properties and stability affected by moisture or water.
Uses: Many uses: low-cost disposable service ware, cabinets, toys etc., profiles, sheets, cellular
material for insulation or packaging; not for structural uses.

G. FLUOROPOLYMERS
A family of carbon chain polymers which features fluorine toms that form very strong bonds with
carbon atoms (C-F).
Two categories: Fluoroplastics have plastic-like behavior; fluoroelastomers have rubber-like
behavior.

Fluoroplastics
Excellent resistance to a variety of chemical attack over a wide range of temperatures.
Example: polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) (Teflon).

Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) (Teflon).


Tg = -130 C (-150 to -112 C); Tm = 327 C (327 - 330 C)
Typifies properties of whole class. Highly crystalline. Has highest chemical resistance over a
wide range of temperatures. Has the lowest coefficient of friction of any polymer; often referred
to as "self-lubricating", "antistatic", "nonadhesive". Can have low resistance to wear abrasion.
Uses: 'non-stick' pans. Used extensively in chemical process industry as liners for reactors,
variety of components (pipes, seals, gaskets).

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Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS, terpolymer)


Amorphous. Moderate cost, good mechanical properties, easy processing, dimensionally stable,
electroplatable.
Uses: Appliance housing, pipe, telephone handsets, auto dashboards, luggage bags. Low solvent
resistance. sunlight embrittlement.

H. PLASTICS WITH SPECIAL CHAIN STRUCTURES

(POM, PC, PEG, PPEG, PU, PET, PS, PI, PEEK):


Most of the plastics listed so far, except cellulose, have been based on carbon - carbon (C-C)
chain with various side groups. In general, polymers based purely on C-C chain of ethylene have
limited temperature resistance. Introduction of Oxygen or Sulfur into the chain results in
polymers with increased temperature resistance and increased toughness. Two outstanding
polymers of this kind are acetal (polyoxymethylene) and polycabonate - with wide applications.
Also in this class: Polyethylene glycol (PEG), chlorinated polyester, polypropylene glycol
(PPEG), polyurethane (PU) and polyehtyleneterephthalate (PET), polysulfones (PS), polyimide
(PI), ketone polymers

Acetal (Polyoxymethylene, POM): has [- C - O - ] linkage in the backbone. Strong, hard,


dimensionally stable, creep and fatigue resistance. Good chemical and hot water ressistant, lowfriction and high wear resistance.
Uses: plastics gears and bearings, auto fuel parts, plumbing parts, catches for zippers.

Polyurethanes (PU) (can be thermoplastic or thermoset)


Often feature other chemicals that play a role in the complex and varied chemical reactions.
Properties can vary widely depending on the exact system considered.
Uses: several uses depending on whether foamed or unfoamed.
Products from unfoamed PU: pump liners, gears, sprocket wheels, bushing, shock mounts, Orings, seals and gaskets, sports boots (ski, hockey), conveyor belts etc., etc.

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Examples of products from foamed PU: in cushions in home/office furniture, automobile seat
cushions,.

Polyehtyleneterephthalate (PET)
Tg = 70 C (60-81 C); Tm = 265 C (245-271 C)
Semi -crystalline
Uses: fibers, photographic and x-ray films, magnetic tapes, electrical insulation, drafting sheets,
food packaging, alcoholic and beverage bottles etc., etc.

Polycarbonate (PC)
Tg = 150C; Tm = 230C:
Chemically, this a thermoplastic polyester. Amorphous, transparent.
Highest impact resistance of any transparent thermoplastic. Rigid, good outdoor stability, good
creep and fatigue resistance. Wide variety of compositions available at moderate cost.
Uses: CDs, safety shield, glazing to replace glass in lighting fixtures.

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Plastics for low-load applications


Polymer

Advantage for low-load application

ABS

Good combination of strength and toughness.

Styrene

low cost, transparent, rigid impact

(high impact)
HDPE

Good corrosion resistance (solvents), low cost

PP

Fatigue resistance, flexible, low cost

Acrylic-PVC alloy

Easily vacuum formed

Acrylics

Resistant to staining (transparent

PVC

Readily welded, acid resistant

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