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Plastic Manufacturing: Thermoplastics and Thermosetting Plastics

Updated on June 4, 2012

The Difference Between Thermoplastics and Thermosetting Plastics

Hi guys, today I’m going to explain the difference between thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics. Hopefully this will give you a much better overview of these two types of plastic, their characteristics and what they are used for.

There are two significant plastics in manufacture today. These are categorised as thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics. The difference between these two plastics is that one is a reversible plastic whereas the other is not. The significance of this reversible quality allows us to recycle thermoplastics, which is very important in today’s eco aware society. This has to be considered during plastic manufacturing processes as they give rise to very different characteristics. A thermoplastic, for example, does not withstand heat very well and will begin to melt, a thermosetting plastic, however, is stronger and will resist heat and fire and therefore will typically be used for electrical fittings or saucepan handles.

Thermoplastics, sometimes known as thermosoftening plastics, are usually composed of long chain monomers and susceptible to high temperatures. This property is of particular use when it comes to recycling. This can be achieved via a plastic manufacturing process of reheating and remoulding. The plastic is re-heated causing the bonds holding the molecules in place to become significantly weaker, resulting in a homogenized liquid. In this liquid state the plastic can be remoulded into a completely different shape and will solidify once cooled sufficiently. A thermoplastic can also be subjected to freezing temperatures, however, in some cases this can cause the plastic to become fragile and even fracture – not ideal for products designed to withstand cold weather! This process of re-heating and re-shaping can be repeated over and over again and give rise to many difference end products. Thermoplastics are the most common family of plastics used in many day-to-day items. Some of the well known thermoplastics you probably have at home include PVC, acrylics, polystyrenes and nylon.

A thermosetting plastic, also known as a thermoset, is a polymer set irreversibly. These are formed via plastic manufacturing methods such as heating, electron beam processing or irradiation. These plastics, once formed, are generally much stronger than thermoplastics due to their network of cross linked three dimensional bonds. Once solidified into their final form, thermosetting plastics cannot be re-heated or liquefied and are therefore almost impossible to recycle. Although these types of plastics may not be as eco friendly as the thermoplastics, they have extremely important properties such as insulating electric cables and are also used for their strength as they are extremely durable. Some examples of thermosetting plastics are polypropylene, epoxy resin and polyimide.

If you want to find out more about how the entire plastic manufacturing process works, or wish to order a range of plastic types for manufacturing purposes then feel free in get in contact with us at Ensinger.

Ensinger is one of Europe’s largest plastic manufacturers and wholesale distributors, with offices all around Europe. Ensinger specialise in custom plastic manufacture and casting processes providing quality products and services.

I hope this gives you a better insight into how plastics are produced and how valuable they are to us.

Ensinger Plastic Manufacturing


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