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Archived Viewpoints

2002

About This Technology

Engineering polymers are thermoplastic resins that retain their mechanical properties at elevated temperatures (up to 150°C or higher for many glass-fiber-reinforced compounds). These polymers provide light weight, high impact strength, stiffness, toughness, and wear, fatigue, and chemical resistance in a variety of demanding applications. EPs also offer design flexibility, allowing the fabrication of flat, gently curved, and deeply contoured parts or intricate thin-wall components. Manufacturers and processors can tailor these materials to specific applications by combining the base resins with reinforcements and additives or by blending them with other polymers. As result, EPs have become an integral part of design engineers' toolkits, replacing steel, aluminum, glass, ceramics, and other conventional materials in a diverse range of applications: consumer products and appliances, electrical equipment and electronics, automotive components and transportation, industrial machinery, medical and dental devices, architecture, horticulture, rigid packaging, waste containers, flexible packaging, domestic products, clothing and apparel, and so on.

Today, most of the standard accessories of modern life incorporate EPs and find widespread use in cars and trucks applications such as headlight lenses, bumpers, cooling systems, under-the-hood components, steering wheels, door handles, seat systems, instrument panels, and air-intake manifolds. EPs are rapidly replacing metals in the production of automotive and aerospace components to reduce weight, simplify manufacturing and production times, and increase service lifetimes. Electrical and electronic devices also make extensive use of EPs in applications from connectors, sockets, and switches to housings for mobile phones, electronics, computers, printers, and media players. Consumer products, membrane-separation systems, and power tools are other important uses for EPs. Medical and dental implants make use of EPs to extend the life span of the device, increase its biocompatibility, and develop custom-fit devices and implants. EP manufacturers and industries that make use of EPs seek out novel manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing. Improved productivity and efficiency during manufacturing may stimulate growth in the EP market. Manufacturers of EPs and EP composites are also developing technologies to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels. Government policy support (especially in North America and Europe) also drives the transition to biobased content in thermoplastics.

Demand for these versatile materials will continue to grow as a result of new application development, steady growth in existing end uses, and ongoing substitution for conventional materials. Tomorrow's vehicles, homes, and workplaces—like today's—will rely on EPs' lightweight strength, durability, and design flexibility. Additional opportunities to create EPs and EP composites that are even stronger, lighter, and more cost-effective—as well as recyclable, 3D printable, and able to withstand higher temperatures—are the key drivers to advance the EP market.