Polymer engineering can best be described as the processes involved in converting polymers into useful products or items. It seeks to enhance and increase the best properties (both physical and chemical) of polymers and their resultant products like thermosets and thermoplastics.
One cannot talk about this subject and not mention polymer processing, as both go hand in hand.
How does it happen?
Polymer process engineering, like we hinted earlier, deals with the conversion of polymeric materials into finished polymer products. The items or products must possess a desired shape, size, microstructure, toughness, resistance to chemical attack and heat.
Polymer processing also takes into consideration, the manufacturing of polymer products – from selecting the appropriate monomers to polymerization, to chemical engineering of polymers and molding.
The process of engineering thermoplastics and polymers, in general, are not too different. One major factor to consider during polymer process engineering is the shaping operation, both at pre-shaping and post-shaping stages.
During the pre-shaping stage, the polymeric material is made to pass through a set of elementary steps that prepare it for shaping. These include:
- Handling of the particulate solids (while also considering its compaction, particle packing, agglomeration, and others);
- Heat softening, popularly known as melting;
- Pressurizing and pumping – which largely depends on the rheological properties of the polymeric material;
- Mixing the melt to achieve the right dispersion of additives and,
- Removal of residual monomers, solvents, and other contaminants that may have gotten into the mix.
All of the processes mentioned above ensure that the polymer material in its fluid state is easily shaped.
During shaping stage
During shaping (that is, where structuring occurs), the choice of operation will be made depending on which will impact the mechanical or physical properties of the polymer products.
Here are some methods of shaping one can choose from:
- Die forming – this consists of fiber spinning, cable coating, profile extrusion, tubular blown film, and lots more.
- Melting and casting – injection molding, compression molding, in situ polymerization, and others.
- Secondary shaping like thermoforming, cold forming, and blow molding.
- Calendaring and coating, and lastly, mold coating for hollow items.
What About the Post-Shaping?
Now, the post shaping stage involves decorating, dyeing, printing, fastening, bonding, sealing, etc.
Combined, these form the essentials of polymer science and engineering. They are intended to help improve the processing time, help identify suitable alternative materials for various applications, and make fabrication easy.
Fundamentals of polymer engineering must be fully grasped before venturing into the polymer industry. This science also touches on the chemistry of synthesis, mechanisms of polymerization, polymer characterization, thermodynamics and structural behaviors of polymers.
More About Its Properties
Other important aspects this process include mechanical, thermal, and transport behavior of polymers as melts, solutions, and solids – that’s pretty vast! Polymer production and processing is indeed broad and requires a certain level of knowledge and mastery to be utilized in manufacturing polymer articles or items.
Another fascinating facet of this science is polymer reaction engineering. This aspect of polymer engineering seeks to identify and proffer solutions to problems or challenges encountered during industrial polymerization processes.
Synthesis of polymers and polymerization kinetics, polymerization reactor/process modeling, control, and optimization fall under the scope of polymer reaction engineering.
Polymer engineering and science is undertaken to increase and enhance desired properties of polymers like its modulus to weight ratios (which measures polymer strength. The goal is to create a lightweight material with adequate strength and stiffness).
Other important properties of polymers are toughness, resistance (to chemical attack, elements of weather, corrosion, heat, and electricity). Ultimately, plastic and polymer engineering aims to provide low-cost polymers for use in every Industry.
Improving Malleability of Polymers
Creating unique polymers with improved qualities starts from choosing the right blend of monomers and additives that translates into desired properties in the end products.
For instance, chemical engineering polymers (among others) are equipped with exceptional mechanical properties ranging from dimensional stability, creep, stiffness, to strength.
These properties are also complemented by flame retardancy, thermal stability, and chemical attack resistance – all of which make engineering polymers standout in the oil and energy sectors where their optimal performance and tolerance to chemical attack are much needed.
A better description of chemical engineering polymers is that they are high-performance polymeric materials that offer premium properties. The malleability of polymeric materials is a foremost physical property of polymers (thermoplastics and thermosets alike) that makes them useful across all industries.
Today, companies have successfully mastered the fundamentals of polymer engineering to help in creating malleable polymers. The extent of polymer malleability determines how much it can be hammered, rolled, or drawn into thin sections without breaking or losing any of its mechanical properties. To know more about these fundamentals, check our blog.