Heavy plastics, you say! But weren’t plastics introduced as a lightweight and easy-to-use substitute in the first place? And doesn’t being heavy defeat the entire purpose of using plastics? While this may be true in many cases, there are several applications that have begun to face major challenges due to the need for a material that doesn’t reduce weight, but in fact, adds to it. That too, while making sure that it lends itself to production processes able to tackle complex shapes, designs and specifications. This is exactly where such high density materials come into the picture.
Light Vs Heavy: The Debate
To take part in this debate, you need to understand the meaning of phrases such as ‘cheap plastics’ and ‘heavy plastics’. The density or mass of a material has always remained synonymous with its ease of use and cost. In fact, the main reason the world turned to plastics was because they were easily available, cheap and lightweight. This made us associate lighter masswith cheaper costs and high-density materials with quality and higher costs.
Diving Into the Matter
There is a simple reason why heavy plastics exist. There are a number of applications and processes which need parts that act like metals, but aren’t as difficult or costly to produce for a specific part. The need for compounds that could assist with increasing weight for applications such as radiation shielding, vibration dampening and weighting, led to the development of a material that could easily be produced using efficient production processes such as injection moulding. This meant that these plastics were considerably ‘cheaper’when compared to metals and easier to work with. Better yet, it is also possible to ‘chrome’ and ‘plate’ such plastics to make them look and feel exactly like a metal. Such plastics with the look and feel of metals really address this value perception issue among customers and offer manufacturers a way to address that value perception demand with a low cost solution.
Are They Actually Being Used in the Real World?
There are all kinds of industries that have turned their attention to such materials. Plumbing fixtures, eating utensils, contact applications and personal care items are a few examples.
Let’s take the case of Hoffinger Industries. They began using donut-shaped compounds in their swimming pool vacuum cleaners that were used to sink the tubing to the bottom of your pool with ease. This was done using engineered thermoplastics.
The Austin Jackson School of Geological Sciences needed a lead-free solution for smart rock sensors that mimic the behavioural patterns of river rocks to help determine the effect of sediment flow and flash flooding. This was done using densified plastics.
Casino equipment maker Abbiati replaced its traditional clay chips with RFID embedded solutions for enhanced security and improved production efficiency. This was done using engineered thermoplastics.
Aribex, the current leader in non-toxic x-ray shielding materials, managed to deliver a portable x-ray solution by dramatically reducing radiation exposure. This was done using densified plastics.