Thermoplastics can be an important part of many product design projects, but that does not make it easy to get hold of. If you are not producing your own – which most companies are not – then you will need to find a reliable source of thermoplastics that meet your needs and specifications.
Understanding the process behind sourcing thermoplastics, as well as the different factors that might go into which option you choose, can be extremely important. Even choosing between a distributor and a compounder can have a significant impact on the materials you end up getting.
Understanding Sourcing for Thermoplastics
Most people understand the basic idea behind sourcing materials – finding distributors or producers that can give you the materials you need for an upcoming or ongoing project.
However, with thermoplastics, there are a lot more factors to consider than just finding a source of your materials. You also need to know which kinds of thermoplastics you need, sometimes down to the exact percentages used in the thermoplastic compounds.
This can mean that the average business needs to put in some extra work when sourcing their thermoplastics. Many projects will call for specific kinds of thermoplastics that do not have any suitable substitutes, so finding the right sources for them can be an urgent problem.
When sourcing any kind of thermoplastic, it helps to know how you can specify the ones that you need. If you are not that familiar with the materials, then it can be hard to remember them by name alone, and getting the wrong kinds of thermoplastics can cause serious problems further down the line.
Choosing a thermoplastic material requires proper consideration of what the project needs, how long it needs to last, and what kind of regulations or requirements may matter. Aesthetic factors like color and texture can also be relevant, so it is important not to overlook them.
For example, if you are looking for a thermoplastic material that suits your current project, make sure to consider details like:
- The overall way that the material is going to be used.
- How long that component or product will need to last and remain functional.
- The kind of environmental factors that the materials will be subjected to, such as variable outdoor weather or UV light.
- Whether the part is meant to be entirely structural and concealed, or whether its appearance will be visible to customers once used/installed.
- Legal requirements and regulations about the product, such as being food-safe or suitable for children.
Choosing your Thermoplastics
Choosing the right thermoplastics is all about considering the details above, as well as looking into what is actually available. Not all thermoplastics are meant for every situation, and some have highly specific uses that make them the most effective at only a few specific things.
There are two kinds of thermoplastics: amorphous and semicrystalline. Amorphous resins are brittle but stable, making them good for things like cups and utensils. Semicrystalline resins are more flexible and slightly stronger but are harder to use, meaning that they are meant for more serious niches.
Of course, these types are only the most basic differences, and not all of the thermoplastics within them will be the same in how they function. It is always a good idea to look deeper into the specifics of each material you are considering rather than making any kind of assumptions about them.
Beyond that, there are countless other ways to break them down, with the most common being different grades. These grades give you an idea of the general properties a material possesses and lets you quickly tell if they are meant for your kind of project or not.
Common commodity grade includes things like polystyrene and polypropylene. These are used for mass-produced products that are meant to be relatively cheap or competitively priced and are often readily recycled. These could be used to make food containers, storage boxes, plastic film, or even chemical product bottles.
Engineering grade is more specialized. Thermoplastics in this grade have a distinct purpose that makes them good for specific kinds of work, such as polycarbonate being good for lens production due to visual clarity and strength or Acetal being very structurally rigid.
Specialty grades are even more specific and are usually specially formulated for a single specific use or purpose. These are not needed by very many companies or hobbyists, but they are still important enough to require mass production for items such as medical equipment.
In many cases, the aesthetic elements of a thermoplastic can be just as important as the physical elements. Many products are designed in a specific way, so choosing thermoplastics that match your intended color and surface texture can be a major part of getting the end product produced correctly.
While this might not seem all that important, it can actually have a huge difference in what the end result of your project is. Coloring thermoplastics is a complex process that requires producing specific compounded materials, so you need to decide how to approach the issue.
Some companies have their thermoplastics created in different color masterbatches, whereas others will only buy one base material and paint over it in different colors themselves.
Choosing a Source
Choosing a source for your thermoplastics is actually the easiest part of the process since you are mainly comparing different distributors or suppliers to see what they can offer. It is always important to look deeper into their product lists and FAQ sections just to see what kind of service you can expect.
Companies like SEKISUI KYDEX can be a great starting place since they offer a good range of materials and options that can suit a lot of projects. From there, you can work out exactly what you need and how specific your thermoplastic requirements are, letting you refine your search.
Remember that thermoplastics can be complicated and that people who do not have intimate knowledge of their names and functions can easily get overwhelmed. Take your time, and do not rush into buying the first material that seems to fit your needs until you have looked at some other options.