Plastic has benefited our society in a number of ways. In fact, plastic has helped aeronautics technology take giant steps forward over the past 50 years, including advancements in satellites, shuttles, aircraft, and missiles. As a result, civilian air travel has improved, as well as military air power and space exploration. In addition, the building and construction, electronics, packaging, and transportation industries have all benefited greatly from plastic.
Plastic in Aeronautics
Plastics were first introduced to the world of aerospace during World War II, mostly because other materials were limited. During the war, plastic slowly started to be used as a substitute for rubber in items such as fliers' boots and fuel-tank linings. Eventually, it became the preferred material for these applications. Plastic was then used with airborne radar systems and viewed as a significant advancement in this technology because it allowed waves to pass through with minimal loss.
The fact that plastic was able to withstand heat also lead to its being recognized as an important material in aerospace technology. Today, plastics are used in the solid fuel boosters form rockets and in the ablative shields for reentry of space shuttles.
Plastic materials are also used in the making of helicopters because they are rigid and durable, yet flexible enough to withstand the vibrations made by helicopters. The fact that plastic is both lightweight and strong also has its advantages in the field of aerospace because the weight of the aircraft can be reduced by using plastic. This results in improved aerodynamics, which leads to improved fuel efficiency and performance. In fact, reducing the weight of a jetliner by just one pound saves $1,000 in fuel during the liner's lifetime.
Plastics in the Building and Construction Industry
Plastics play a significant role in the building and construction industry as well. In fact, the industry is the second largest consumer of plastic, followed only by the packaging industry. In the construction industry, plastics are used for items such as pipes and valves. They are also used for decorative elements and heavy-duty uses because they are so easy to handle, are durable, and are attractive. Some decorative places plastics are commonly found include bathroom units, plumbing fixtures, flooring, siding, panels, insulation, windows, doors, gratings, glazing, and railings.
Within piping and valves, plastics are highly used because of their superior resistance to corrosion. In fact, they can be used for everything from freshwater to saltwater, from crude oil to laboratory waste. In addition, they are much lighter than other materials and easier to install. They are also less expensive.
Plastics and the Use of Electronics
Plastics are used with electronic devices for a wide number of purposes. Due to the thermal and insulating properties of plastic, it is ideal for use in house wiring. In fact, nearly all modern homes use plastic electrical connectors, switches, and receptacles.
Small appliances also take advantage of plastic. Plastic is durable, yet lightweight and attractive. Therefore, it is great for making small appliances such as can openers, food processors, microwave ovens, mixers, coffee makers, shavers, irons, and hair dryers. Even refrigerators use a special plastic foam for insulation purposes, while the interior is made from plastic that is durable and easy to clean. Without plastic, these products would last about half as long and would use 25-30% more energy.
Computers as we know them today would probably not exist without plastic. Plastic made smaller computers possible by being able to house all of the electronics necessary within a dust free and well-insulated environment. Components such as circuit boards and computer chips are able to be miniaturized without losing their abilities - or while also improving their performance - thanks to the use of plastic.
Of course, plastic has also made it possible to introduce electronics to children at younger ages. Even newborns can enjoy electronic toys to stimulate and entertain them as they grow. Thanks to plastic, these toys can be made to be safe and durable.
Plastics and Packaging
Plastic is so versatile, it can be used for a variety of packaging purposes. If the product needs to be well protected, the plastic can be rigid and tough. If, on the other hand, the packaging needs to be convenient to carry, the plastic can be flexible. Or, a combination of the two can be achieved. Furthermore, the packaging can be designed into any shape or size desired and it can be clear or any color imaginable.
Plastic packaging helps keep people, the earth, and animals healthy in a number of ways. For example, plastic packaging is used by medical facilities to dispose of needles and other items that may be contaminated. Similarly, fragile medical devices are often shipped in plastic containers because they can be precisely designed to prevent them from being damaged during shipping. Intravenous bags are also made with special see-through plastic to help the medical staff monitor the flow and intake of important nutrients and medicines.
Plastic is also used to store a variety of goods commonly found in the home. By creating shatterproof bottles with plastic, family members are protected from harm if the product should accidentally fall. Leak proof and child-resistant packaging can also be created with plastic.
Use of Plastic in Transportation
Plastic is a popular choice when making modes of transportation because it is tough, resistant to corrosion, durable, lightweight, and easy to color. For these reasons, plastic is found in the fenders, bumpers, trunk lids, housings for headlights and sideveiw mirrors, grilles, hoods, doors, and wheel covers.
Through the use of plastic, the average passenger car has lost 145 pounds since 1988. The lighter weight translates to better fuel efficiency and has saved approximately 21 million barrels of oil.
Trains and busses also take advantage of plastic. Modern designs use plastic in the window and door frames and in the seating. Subway cars use plastic for the seats, the seat covers, in making the carpeting, in creating the handles, in the interior panels, and even in the polycarbonate windows.
Of course, other means of transportation, such as bicycles, roller skates, kayaks, canoes, skateboards, snowboards, surfboards, motorcycles, and even some athletic shoes take full advantage of plastic in their creation.