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What are the Polymers?

written by: Senadheera Jayakody • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 11/18/2009

Although polymer materials are used as both domestic and industrial items, many people seldom think about them. Plastic is a popular example for a polymer material that has a broad usage, but the industrial applications of polymers possess a remarkable importance for many businesses and industries.

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    Introduction to Polymer Materials

    Polymers are a type of material extensively used in both domestic and industrial applications. Polymers can be defined as a type of material that is made of long chains or networks with these networks or chains created by repeating units of molecules. Most of these types of materials are easy to produce and have a low cost. Therefore in engineering applications polymers are heavily used to replace costly materials whenever possible. Plastics, polythene, and rubber are well known polymers that are found abundantly in household items.

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    Types of Polymers

    Polymers are divided in to three groups based on their material properties: thermosets, thermoplastics, and elastomers. When thermoset polymers are heated, they obtain a rigid shape and a structure that can’t be reversed by reheating. Thermoplastic materials soften when heated and retake its original shape once cooled. Elastomer polymers have the property of high elasticity. Rubber is an elastomer polymer which can be stretched easily several times longer than its original length.

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    Industrial Applications of Polymers

    There are number of commercially produced polymers available that target various applications. Electrical switches and related components, tableware, adhesives, hoses, foam mattresses, safety helmets, and vehicle parts, etc. are some of the applications made of thermosetting polymers. Examples for thermosetting polymers are Bakelite, Melamine, Polyester, and Epoxy. Polyethene, Rigifoam, Nylon, and Polycarbonate are popular thermoplastic polymer materials. Many of the thermoplastic materials are used as packaging items such as bottles, packaging films and other containers while they are utilized for number of other commercial applications too. Transparent and semitransparent panels, soundproofing panels, non-stick coatings, machine components, cable insulation, etc. are other industrial appliances of thermoplastic polymers. Both synthetic and natural rubbers are considered elastomer polymers. Some products of elastomers include coating materials and vibration dampers.

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    Generally polymer materials are quite important for daily life and also for many other industries. Because of its threatening nature to the environment there are debates over its usage. But as a versatile commercial material, the position of polymers will be hard to be replace by any other material produced so far.