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28| PLASTICS ENGINEERING | OCTOBER 2011| www.4spe.orgPlastics critical to public safety haveevolved into uses down to the level ofthe durable all-plastic spindle nutsused in the electronic adjustmentassemblies of automotive steeringcolumns. Vestakeep Peek polymers byEvonik Industries won approval byBMW this year for use in this vitalcomponent because the nuts will notbreak in an accident and disrupt thefunction of other critical parts, likeairbags. Additionally, plastic-basedparts are being substituted for theirmetal-based and glass-based counter-parts in the manufacture of pharma-ceutical products, as discussed byDennis Jenke in his 2009 bookCompatibility of PharmaceuticalSolutions and Contact Materials: SafetyAssessments of Extractables andLeachables for Pharmaceutical Products,published by John Wiley & Sons. Ona larger scale, thin coatings that resistdamage are increasingly being consid-By Geoff Giordanohe first official delivery of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in September dramatically broughtthe innovative uses of plastics squarely into the public eye. Featuring a fuselage and wingsmade of high-strength composite plastic, the airliner is the latest innovation in a range ofnext-generation explorations of the benefits plastics can provide in the areas of public safetyand defense.More durable and impact-resistant plastics have been the primary success story, with increas-ing research interest focused on self-healing polymer technologies. In the case of theDreamliner, the intricate production method required for the carbon fiber-based componentsis a little of both, in a sense. The final baking process of the composite parts produces a super-strong shell; the carbon fiber at the heart of the composites is impregnated with an epoxy thatcan prevent any cracks that might be inflicted upon the surface from spreading. Because of thecomposite material's durability advantage over traditional aluminum, the traditional six-year wear inspectioncan be extended to 12 years, meaning more service time between such structural tests. And a plastic skinmeans 80% fewer fasteners vs. what an aluminum skin requires, Boeing says. Fewer parts equal fewer chancesfor mechanical failure.TPhoto by Dave Sizer