Basics 101: Thermoplastics

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A thermoplastic is a polymer which will become pliable above a specific temperature then return to a solid form after cooling. This family of polymers includes well established materials such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and PVC.

With a large range of properties, processes, and commercial accessibility, polyethylene (PE) has become the most widely used thermoplastic. From grocery bags to knee replacements, PE can handle many high-performance applications at a relatively low cost.

Another very well-known material, PVC can be both rigid and flexible.  For the medical industry, flexible PVC tubing, such as our Tygon® ND series, is used in IV transfer tubing and bags, pumps, and diagnostic equipment.

This family of polymers is so extensive and versatile that it is difficult to know where to even begin.  This very quick overview gives just a basic background to what can be a daunting task but count on us to assist you with more thorough familiarity if thermoplastics are your materials of choice.

Features and Benefits

  • Thermoplastics have few or no chemical cross-links. With little to no cross-linking in the molecular chains, these materials can be melted and re-formed multiple times making them easier to recycle. 
  • Thermoplastics can be amorphous or semi-crystalline. Material properties between these groups will differ. Amorphous materials such as PVC offer higher clarity and are less brittle. Semi-crystalline materials such as polyethylene and polypropylene are more chemical and wear resistant.
  • Thermoplastic properties can vary greatly with molecular chemistry. Perhaps the best example of this is the polyethylene family which changes molecular density to achieve varying degrees of properties such as wear and chemical resistance. From LLDPE to UHMWPE, it is obvious why this material is so widely used when you look at the range of properties it can offer.
  • Thermoplastics come in many forms. From films to fibers, thermoplastics are used in applications that may surprise you. With strength that can rival metals, these light weight options can stop a bullet, move machines, and make heat-resistant medical equipment.

For material data and properties, see our list of available thermoplastics here.  If you want to learn more or have questions on this or want to see what products are available, take a look at our Thermoplastics Extrusion page.