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Finding the needle in the haystack - The selection of polymer materials

Dr Steffen Ritter | Reutlingen University, Germany

Finding the needle in the haystack -  The selection of polymer materials

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The number of polymers is exploding over the past years and plastic materials are being used for more and more products. While they may get a bad name from the environmental point of view, it is still true, that their unique combination of cost, formability, stiffness and density means that they are the best material for the job in many cases. With 88,000 different polymers listed in the IDES Plastics database, how are students meant to navigate this profusion of materials? And how can we encourage them to explore and develop their own new materials, without overwhelming them with too much detail? Almost 300Mt of plastic materials are produced worldwide annually. However, 80% of this production comes from a few specific thermoplastics, whereas other grades used only in very small quantities. Students are therefore more likely to deal with this group of polymers, so from a teaching perspective, it is useful to narrow down to these thermoplastic grades. Another simplifying mechanism is to identify the basic ways in which polymer properties are manipulated and to illustrate these effects. Basically giving the students a coarse map of the different levers they can pull and what effect they will have. The presentation will identify the most commonly used polymers and give a general overview of their properties and what they are used for as a result. A general material selection methodology will be shown, to be applied for plastic selection. It will then go through some of the main ways that polymer properties can be manipulated, illustrated by property charts. Their effects are shown as well as how these mechanism work and what the resulting materials are used for.