Taking a Vacation with Plastic-Welded Products
When you read the articles I write, you can probably tell that I love thinking about where things come from and how they work. I like to think about the processing plant where my favorite brand of barbecue sauce is bottled, or the factory that makes nothing but ice cream cones. Heck, I even wonder about the talented artisans responsible for some of the pieces in my wife's increasingly ridiculous ceramic kitten collection!
But today I want to write about plastics. Plastics fascinate me, because no matter how environmentally friendly we try to be, we rely on synthetic materials every single day! Of course, plastic doesn't grow on trees—that's the point, right? It always has to be made and manufactured, and some of the processes that manufacturers use are pretty amazing. So put on your baggies and your Huarache sandals, too, because you're going on vacation with a plastics pro!
Ready for Takeoff
So you're at the airport, ready to escape the daily routine and head off to somewhere exotic. Paris? Moscow? No, somewhere warmer—Hawaii! While your plane sits at the gate waiting for passengers, you're already depending on a heckuva lot of plastics—and you haven't even gone anywhere yet. That's because your plane is being air conditioned from ground support systems, which pump cool air into the cabin through massive hoses.
These hoses can't afford any leaks, so manufacturers that make them using heat sealing services have to make them completely airtight. Without the cool air coming in from the hose, the cabin of that plane could be up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in as little as 15 minutes—you'd bake before you ever got off the tarmac! These hoses are usually made using a combination of hot wedge sealing and sewing, but we'll talk more about those processes later. For now, it's off to Oahu!
Living it Up
So you've made it to the beach, and unless you want to spend the whole trip like my wife—reading "50 Shades of Grey" and asking me to paint our bedroom red, for some reason—you want to enjoy some fun in the sun! Well, good luck doing it without our old friend, plastic. Take a look at a classic: The beach ball. Between bumps, sets and spikes, beach balls have to take a real licking without losing air. That's why heat sealing companies make them using foolproof methods like hot wedge sealing. That's when a super-hot tool is pressed against synthetic fabrics to melt and forge them together, and it creates a perfectly airtight seal. It's also cost-effective, which is why those beach balls are so inexpensive—unless you buy them from those swindlers at the hotel gift shop!
If you want to head out on the water, an inflatable raft is a good way to go—it's lightweight, relatively inexpensive and malleable. Kind of like the beach ball, it was made using heat sealing services that meld all the different parts together. Because they actually alter the molecules in the different plastics, the bond is never going to come undone, so you don't have to worry about springing a leak 100 yards out from the shore.
Getting Some R&R
Of course, sometimes vacations don't go as planned. You get food poisoning from chowing down on some bad blowfish, or a jellyfish stings you right on the tuckus while you're trying to snorkel. It happens. And when you're sitting in the infirmary and wondering why you didn't vacation in Siberia instead, you can look around and see how a little plastics engineering is helping nurse you back to health. For example, check out that IV bag giving you fluids after you started suffering from dehydration on your volcano tour. The heat sealing techniques used to make that bag make sure that bacteria and contaminants don't get inside. And when your rump is sore after the jellyfish sting, you can take some solace in sitting on an inflatable donut for the rest of the trip—it's perfectly airtight because of the way the pieces were sealed together!
The Way Home
So you survived your vacation and you're on the way home, but you don't feel like reading that same issue of SkyMall you read on the way out. Take this time to ponder the different ways that a plastics manufacturer somewhere constructed all of those things that you used on your trip.
You already know about hot wedge sealing, but there are other methods, too. For example, hot air sealing melds synthetic fabrics together by blasting them with concentrated streams of hot air. Radio frequency welding shoots synthetics with high frequency waves that rearrange their molecules, so when they settle back in place, the two pieces of material are bonded forever.
These are just a few of the different ways that plastics help us out on a daily basis, but we'll worry about the rest another time—there will be more vacations for us to take together! In the meantime, I'm going to scarf down some hot dogs—maybe the one thing that I don't want to understand the origin of!