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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

ered as protective material for compo-nents essential to public safety.In terms of bodily safety-on thebattlefield and in civilian life-improvements continue to be made interms of protective armor that resistshigh impact and flame. PBIPerformance Products of Charlotte,N.C., has produced polybenzimida-zole fiber and Celazole PBI polymerfor nearly three decades to protect sol-diers, fire and rescue personnel, andpetrochemical workers.Of course, novel projects like theU.S. Defense Advanced ResearchProject Agency's plastic-like "blackpolymer ice"-a synthetic slipperycoating unveiled in a 2007 proposalthat could used to reduce an enemy'straction in hot climes (like those inAfghanistan and Iraq)-will continueto draw mainstream media interest.Less widely discussed but vital areintensive studies such as supersonicrain erosion tests being prepared bythe U.S. Air Force ResearchLaboratory (AFRL) that will subjectplastics-based components to precipi-tation at speeds up to Mach 2 toexamine durability.Responding to NeedPBI fiber provides a classic study inhow a newly discovered technologycan suddenly find a use in safeguard-ing human lives. PBI was synthesizedby Dr. Carl Marvel in the late 1950sand refined in 1961 to exploit thepolymer's thermal stability. The deathsof astronauts Virgil Grissom, EdwardWhite, and Roger Chaffee in a flashfire during a launch-pad test on Jan.27, 1967, made clear the need formore flame-retardant material in thecommand module and astronautflight suits."If you find a polymer that doesn'tmelt, much less burn, it's commercial-ly very unfeasible because you can'tmold it into any shapes or extrude itinto any forms," says WalterLehmann, senior vice president ofsales and marketing for PBI and a vet-eran of more than 20 years as an engi-neer of resins. "But that NASA inci-dent did inspire both the engineers atNASA and the Celanese polymer sci-entists to look at some way to possiblyconvert this polymer into somethingfunctional, and indeed did figure outhow to spin it into a fiber (in researchconducted throughout the 1970s)."With the majority of PBI's fibersbeing used in firefighting gear, thecompany is seeing a rapid growth indemand from police units around theworld and gearing up to meet thatdemand. "In many countries, policeand military are one and the same,"Lehmann notes. As the August riotsin London demonstrated, police crews"need not only something that's com-fortable but something that's flame-resistant."PBI's flexibility is likely to offersafety options down the road, addsPBI's Mike Gruender, whose marketsare primarily compression-molded bil-lets from which machine parts aremade for industrial applications."We've delved into [larger applica-tions for thin coatings]. We do have avery high-temperature material, andthere are a number of chemicalprocess industries-oil and gas in par-ticular-where they're looking forhigher-temperature coating materialsto line pipes with. It's still a littleearly; getting good adhesion and suffi-cient thickness for the lifecycle expec-tations of the product are challenging.Their applications are fairly limitedright now but can offer electrical insu-lation, thermal insulation, chemicalprotection for steel, copper, and alu-minum. We're developing wire coat-ings with the material right now, butwe don't have any commercial appli-cations (yet)." The Science of Safety"There's been more in terms of appli-cation in terms of making polymersintrinsically tougher than there hasbeen in making polymers that canheal themselves, but there has been alot of work in the latter in the labora-tory," notes Michael R. Kessler, PhD,with the Department of MaterialsScience and Engineering at Iowa StateUniversity in Ames, Iowa, USA."There have been a lot of researchpapers, but not a lot of self-healingmaterials have transitioned from thelab scale to actual application."In terms of making materialstougher, "that's continually happen-ing," he says. "One area is in theblock copolymers-polymers thathave multiple polymers attachedtogether and phase separate to create amorphology that has a lot of energy-absorbing capabilities."Composites-using conventionaland nanoscale reinforcement-arealso an area of significant develop-www.4spe.org | OCTOBER 2011| PLASTICS ENGINEERING | 29miller-stephensonchemicalcompany,inc.California-Illinois-Connecticut-Canada203743.4447Fax203791.8702e-mail:support@miller-stephenson.comwww.miller-stephenson.commsPERFORMANCEPTFERELEASEAGENTS/DRYLUBRICANTSMiller-StephensonspecializesinPTFERe-leaseAgents/DryLubricantsthatcreateasuperiorreleaseforplastics,elastomers,andresins-includingacrylics,urethanes,rubber,nylons,epoxy,polycarbonates,andpoly-styrene.Thisfamilyofreleaseagentsisdesignedtogivemultiplereleasesbetweenapplications!Nodiscernibletransfer.Nomigration.Containsnosilicones.msReleaseAgentDryLubricantMS-122ADFortechnicalinformationandsamplecall203-743-4447