The Polymer Revolution – coming to a product near you
We live in an era when “plastic” is no longer a dirty word. Polymers, as they are more commonly known in industry, play more than a big part in our everyday lives – just ask NASA, Boeing, General Motors or Toyota.
If you look around you’ll see polymer products everywhere – your telephone, computer, photocopier, radio and office chair are probably all comprised largely of moulded polymer housings and components. Also consider for a moment the number of polymer components within your car and the trains and planes we use.
We live not so much in material world as we do a polymer world.
All plastic products are essentially polymers: long chains of atoms bonded to one another. The reason some plastics are stronger than others lies in the way the molecules are aligned or blended during the production process.
Since the production of nylon, the original synthetic polymer, in the 1930s, the popularity and development of these man-made fibres has grown immensely, as has the scope of their use. In fact, the polymer industry has developed to become one of the fastest growing in the world.
The first commercial applications of nylon were found in toothbrush bristles and women’s stockings. These days, you’ll find polymer-based materials being used to make everything from sweat-minimising or insulating clothing, fishing line, furniture and chairs, to packaging and parachutes.
But as well as these commonly known uses, there is also a niche for polymers in more heavy duty applications.
As long ago as the 1940s, scientists were aware that moulded nylon was strong enough to replace metal parts in industrial machinery. In the following decades, moulded polymer products began to replace metals in the textile, automotive and appliance industries.
Following extensive research and development over the years, polymer technology has evolved to the point where reinforced engineering polymers – industrial-grade – are increasingly being used in high-stress applications in place of traditionally metal components. Why? Ironically, it’s because metals often have many shortcomings, including the propensity to rust, corrode, wear, bind/stick, deform and distort, to name a few – all the forces against which polymers excel.
There are also many forms of polymer that are deemed “self lubricating”, meaning they don't require oil or lubrications thanks to their low-friction coefficient, or the ease with which two surfaces slide across each other.
The automotive, aeronautical and mining industries were quick to embrace the use of polymers in place of metal parts. Door handles, roof racks and many fittings on cars are now made from polymer blends due to their light weight, durability and strength. Even some engine parts, such as air intake manifolds and radiator intakes are manufactured from polymer materials, offering further evidence as to how durable they really are and their ability to perform in high-stress environments. In some instances, encased polymer components proved stronger and more hard-wearing than the steel components commonly used in motor vehicle suspension and steering.
Polymers are also used in the mining industry, with one notable application being the stabilisation bolts used to reinforce rock walls and ceilings. Power-tool casings are also made from sturdy engineering-grade polymers.
Components made from engineering-grade polymers can often equal or surpass the performance of parts made from metals, ceramics, rubbers and other materials. This is because polymers are capable of delivering an outstanding combination of strength, toughness, weather resistance and moldability.
Fencing is another industry in which polymers have delivered something of a revolution. Traditionally, when installing fences, the hardware associated with gates – such as locks, latches and hinges – had all been made from metal, in most instances from cheap, press-folded or welded metal.
Metal has long been the obvious material of choice for manufacturing gate components, as it offered the strength required for adequate strength and security. Despite their strength though, metal components suffer considerably from exposure to the elements, particularly with rusting, which is both visually unappealing and also reduces strength and reliability of operation.
With the strength offered by today’s modern polymer-moulded components, it is now possible to eliminate any incidence of rust from locks, latches and hinges without sacrificing any level of safety, security or robustness.
A company that has led way in the fencing industry with its innovative polymer gate latches and hinges is Australian manufacturer D&D Technologies.
Since the late 1980s D&D has been at the forefront of moulded polymer gate hardware production, pioneering the technology in the gate hardware market and winning many patents and design awards along the way.
Over the past three decades, it has developed a comprehensive selection of locks, latches and hinges moulded from super-strong engineering polymers, refining their design and production methods to ensure the highest quality standards. In particular, the company has produced many life-saving products by way of a range of child safety latches and hinges for gates around swimming pools, childcare centres, residential gates, schools, playgrounds, pet compounds and other safety zones.
Using specially developed polymers and stainless steel components, they have developed a range of gate hardware items that are guaranteed not to rust, overcoming one of the major failings of traditional metal latches and hinges.
The manufacturing process essentially takes tiny nylon pellets reinforced with ‘virgin’ fibreglass, which are in turn heated and injected into specially designed pressurised moulds. After the mould is filled it is cooled and the polymer parts are inspected and prepared for assembly.
To highlight the strength of these polymer-based designs, it’s worth looking at D&D’s Heavy Duty TruClose® hinges. They have been engineered to withstand loads of over 450kg, so there’s no doubt they have the strength to perform as well as any hinge material on the market.
Another popular D&D product is the multi-award winning MagnaLatch® magnetic gate latch, which has been tested to over 1 million opening and closing cycles without failure – another strong endorsement for the power of polymers.
There’s no doubt we are all living in a world of polymer products that largely outlast and outperform the multitude of product materials that came before them.