When Rafael Nadal won the French Open in early June, he reclaimed his spot as the number one men’s singles player in the world. Like many other professional tennis players, Nadal played with a small rubber vibration absorber on his strings to minimize vibrations when the racket and ball made contact. Some believe these accessories lessen the risk of developing tennis elbow while others count on them as their good luck charm. In reality, the only difference is the perceived reduction of string vibration and sound. Vibration absorbers are used far beyond tennis courts, however, and they play an important role in protecting machinery and equipment from noisy and damaging vibrations.
While this evening and tomorrow promise a brief break in the rainy weather Michigan has enjoyed of late, this morning provided yet another wonderful opportunity for a perfectly soggy commute. In anticipation of the cold and wet walk to work, even just from the car to the front door, most will arm themselves with raincoats, galoshes and perhaps an umbrella. All of this impeccable and impermeable protection is graciously afforded by polyurethane molding, the invention of which oddly enough was sparked by the need to protect aircraft and military personnel during WWII. In the spirit of those times, this material has continued to be a force to reckon with, hard at work in both domestic and industrial settings around the country and around the world.
Was plastic tubing on your mind the last time you were either in the hospital or visiting a loved one? I know it didn’t register in my mind…’Hey, that flexible plastic tubing is helping my grandfather breathe’…as I held his hand and prayed that the seemingly inevitable wouldn’t happen after he had his second stroke. It is interesting, though, to look back and see how plastic tubing of pliability is used in medical and surgical applications. Now that I’m not overcome with such intense emotion, I remember that the nurses had to extract mucus from my grandpa’s throat utilizing a plastic tubing suction device. This gave him a little relief from all his distress while he was unconscious and helped keep his airways open, as did the tubing inserted in his nostrils and attached to the ventilator. Being connected to this life support machine, he was made comfortable by the morphine going into his veins. They upped the dosage being conveyed through the plastic intravenous or IV tube, and he slipped away and into God’s presence soon after he was transferred to hospice.
April showers bring May flowers. May flowers signal spring, which is just a jump, skip and a hop away from summer. Summer means swimming pools, milkshakes and do not forget the sunscreen or the tanning oil, depending on your prerogative. While it may be the most recognizable connection, sunshine is not the only thing that all of these warm weather staples have in common. Though basking in the summer sun may steal all the glory, plastic tubing makes each of these things possible. Far from limited, plastic tubes actually play an important role in life as we know it not just on summer days, but also cold days, rainy days, stormy days, snowy days and everyday.
There’s a largely unknown secret lurking in the plastic molding industry. While injection molding, blow molding and thermoforming are the big 3 in terms of fabricating complex, three dimensional plastic products, an untapped resource is hiding. It’s called rotational molding, and it takes an ancient process that the Swiss still use to manufacture hollow chocolate Easter eggs and applies it to plastic molding. Also called rotomolding, you might be surprised to learn that it’s an effective method of fabricating many different products; anything from a doll’s head to a kayak to a plastic tank that holds 20 thousand gallons of abrasive chemicals. It’s cheap, easy and has incredible design freedom. This process generates little waste and creates seamless, single part products, which seriously cuts down on production costs. So, why isn’t it as popular as the other molding processes?
Injection molded plastics are perhaps the most common products used in every aspect of both the industrial and commercial sectors. And why wouldn’t they be? Molded plastic is re-usable, long lasting, durable, temperature resistant, easy to manufacture and most of all-very cheap. From the 50s on, plastic has quickly replaced materials like glass and metal everywhere you look. Injection molded plastic products are everywhere-they serve as packaging, automotive parts, computer casings, Tupperware, and on and on. Since the scope of molded plastic is so broad, plastic manufacturers supply almost every single industry out there. With applications so broad and demand so high, you’d think the recession wouldn’t affect the plastics industry. Unfortunately, this is not so. Some major changes have been going on within plastic manufacturing the last year or so, and they are prompted by these hard economic times.
Expanded polystyrene foam-we’ve all used it hundreds of times. When you go out to eat and can’t finish the meal, or order takeout food, chances are you carry your meal in a container made of this inexpensive but non biodegradable foam material. Commonly referred to as Styrofoam, which is actually a brand name belonging to Dow Chemical, EPS is used worldwide by restaurants of every price range. In the last couple years, a debate has begun about whether or not to ban EPS from use as disposable food and beverage containers altogether. Over 100 cities, including San Francisco (which got the ball rolling) have instated a city-wide ban on all polystyrene foam. This trend is great news on the environmental front, but bad for struggling businesses. So, which side are you on? Let’s take a closer look at each argument.
Think back to the last time you made Christmas cookies with your grandmother. You know, those sugar cookies shaped like candy canes, Christmas trees and snowflakes that are topped in icing and colored sugar. They are a big part of my family’s holiday traditions, and I looked forward to making them every year. Creating those complex shapes was no big deal, even for a little girl. They came out perfect every time, thanks to cookie cutters, those metal cut-out shapes that ensured a high degree of accuracy. Without them, the candy canes would be indistinguishable from the trees. Now, take the idea of a cookie cutter, make it automated and take it from your grandmother’s kitchen and into a manufacturing environment…what do you have? Die cutting-the industrial process that takes 2 dimensional sheets of material and forms them into complex shapes using a metal saw, diamond tipped saw or, more recently, laser beams.
Space ships and refrigerators really aren’t so different. Sure, one is used in every home to keep perishables cold and the other is a vessel that costs millions and millions of dollars for outer space exploration, but without gaskets, both would break down almost immediately. There would be rotten food and astronaut casualties everywhere. Now that you know how important they are, you might be surprised at how simple they are-gaskets are merely round, flexible little rings with a flat profile, essentially used to create a mechanical seal by filling the space between 2 objects. They prevent liquid and gas leaks while under pressure, maintain proper part spacing and dampen vibration. They’ve been used for a better half of a century, and are made of many different flexible materials, including rubber, silicone, Teflon and plastic.
When was the last time you were in your attic? If you live in an older house, chances are it’s lined with that pink fluffy insulation that kind of looks like cotton candy…but don’t be fooled, because it is definitely not candy. In fact, it’s totally made of glass! Yes, glass, extremely thin glass threads that have been woven and spun into puffy insulation. The first uses for fiberglass, though, were purely decorative. In the 1800s, fiberglass was used as components of theatre and opera costumes because it could be made to look similar to silk. It was also found in the homes of the upper class as decorative detail on goblets and vases.
Believe it or not, the manufacturing process that creates plastic products like plugs, handles and caps is one of the oldest known human professions. The ancient art of candle making, which dates back as early as 3,000 BC, used the process of dip coating to make candles out of beeswax and animal fat. Since then, it surprisingly hasn’t changed much. Plastic wasn’t widely used until the 20th century, but soon after it started replacing materials like glass and ivory, manufacturers experimented with melting down thermoplastics like Plastisol. They found that by applying the candle dip coating method to modern day products, melted plastic resins provide a strong, resistant and protective coating that is used in dozens of industries.
In the most general terms, the function of any kind of seal is to block the passage of liquids or gases. Rubber seals can be either static or dynamic. A static seal does not move and simply contains pressure or maintains a vacuum. The purpose of dynamic seals, however, is to reciprocate a give-and-take with mechanical motion, like for pistons and cylinders or rotating shafts. Mechanical seals are essential components of hydraulic and pneumatic systems, in which constantly moving mechanisms can be under extreme stress. Along with preventing leakage and protecting against contaminants, the mechanical seal helps maintain pressure levels in high temperature, pressure and speed applications.
Although you may not see it very often, rubber tubing is the backbone of countless systems, machinery and appliances we all use in everyday life. Working mostly behind the scenes, it transports liquid and gases like coolants, hydraulic fluids, water, grease and syrup through complex piping systems. They are used in fountain pop machines to provide a transfer medium between those large bags of syrup and the nozzles you put your cup under. They are also used in cars, refrigeration systems and air conditioning units. Flow lines for corrosive and harsh chemicals also use rubber as the material for their tubing systems.
Many people remember 1986 by the neon colored leggings, popping Glass Tiger cassettes into new Walkmans and going to see Top Gun numerous times. But what sticks out in everyone’s mind about this year was the random disasters. 4 months in, the Chernobyl plant in the Ukraine exploded, creating the worst nuclear disaster of all time, and the US Challenger exploded a minute after take off. I was too young to remember any of this, being -8 months at the time, but the lasting effects of these accidents are still felt, even by those who weren’t around. While the Soviet Union was dealing with a catastrophic explosion and deadly radiation penetrating their cities, the United States was mourning the passing of seven fallen astronauts.
The concept is this: rubber in all its various elastomeric forms and alternatives offers different levels of friction – or, simply put, grip or give – when bonded to a cylindrical core, creating rollers that can take on then apply substances (like ink or hot stamp foils, heat transfers or labels), collect unwanted particles, move objects along a conveyor, or offer necessary movement within various machinery and automated systems. From soft, spongy paint rollers to hard roller skate wheels, the consistency of rubber rollers varies depending on application: Does it need to be smooth or grooved, slick or sticky?
This last April, British environmentalist and adventurer David de Rothschild set sail in a catamaran he had constructed entirely from recycled PET bottles. As a statement to the growing global problem of ocean pollution and the need for higher recycling standards, de Rothschild planned to sail to what Planet Green Bottle calls ‘Plastic Soup’, a floating mass of plastic waste nearly the size of Texas suspended in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This British adventure-seeker may have found the most creative way yet to call attention to this pending environmental risk, but plastic engineers and manufacturers have been working towards a solution in more conventional ways for many years. Polyethylene terephthalate, or ‘PET’, is a petroleum-based resin and may be broken down and recycled almost indefinitely. The addition of dies, fiberglass and other composite materials reduce PET’s recyclability, but the majority of PET materials, such as the beverage bottles out of which Mr. de Rothschild constructed his boat, are recycled at a cost relative or lower than that of purchasing virgin materials. Still, many water bottles, soda bottles and other beverage containers never make it to the recycling bin, ending up in landfills, or worse: the Pacific’s Plastic Soup.
Few materials influence our daily lives more than plastic. As consumers, we don’t often stop to think about how a huge percent of the objects we use are made from plastic. In my office alone I count 32 individual plastic objects – and that’s not counting my pencils, pens and binders. Plastic manufacturers, however, must be acutely aware of the vast range of plastic materials and applications, as they are constantly designing and fine tuning new products with specific shape, strength, transparency and chemical properties. With the countless number of products – from disposable packaging to critical automotive parts – that can be made from plastic, it’s no wonder there are such a wide range of plastic materials, all with a very distinct set of properties. Understanding the difference between, say, polyethylene and polyvinyl chloride is crucial for engineering products that will withstand their environments. Acrylic could never provide the strength and structural support of PVC, but polyvinyl chloride would be a clumsy and unattractive replacement to acrylic point of purchase displays. Let’s take a look at the most important polymer types and their properties.
Vacuum forming is a simpler process than injection molding, involving less equipment for the production of parts and requiring less tooling. Vacuum forming companies offer services that are economical yet still give customers the desired design flexibility for a wide range of plastic products because of low-cost tooling modifications. If you are looking for a cost-effective process for creating three-dimensional plastic products with sharp, precise details plus the option for trim and other visually appealing decoration, vacuum forming might just be the ticket. Known as a thermoforming process because it utilizes heat to make the plastic sheet or film pliable enough to form over and around a mold, vacuum forming serves industries such as food, cosmetics, medical, electronics, consumer products, toys, athletic equipment, appliance, automotive, office supplies, etc. The packaging industry deserves a separate mention because it relies heavily on vacuum formed items such as blister packs, inserts, trays and clamshells, all of which act to hold products in place as part of overall packaging protection, plus offer aesthetic appeal.
Have you ever ordered hundreds of feet of rubber tubing or hose and then discovered it wasn’t right for your application? Did you experience downtime while you waited for a replacement? Additional costs? The boss’s anger? A headache? The buying errors and their solution listed below were developed to help avoid this situation…