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For decades steel has been relied upon in numerous applications because of it’s sought after properties of being both incredibly strong and lightweight. However, recent developments have led to plastics being a viable replacement to steel in various areas where steel was once the only material that could be considered for the job.
Chemists have successfully made plastics stronger, and in addition to this, plastic is often a cheaper material than steel and it is simple to work with. For example, the injection-molding of parts using plastic can be far easier than constructing the same components with steel.
In addition, there is a growing need for all industries to work with materials that are biodegradable. New developments in plastics have resulted in chemists innovating new biodegradable materials that are not only as strong and as durable as steel, but they are also biodegradable.
Overall, there are numerous benefits to switching from using steel to plastics, such as cost, ease of use, and the fact that, like steel, they can also be strong and lightweight but also biodegradable. Below we discuss the various areas where plastic has begun to replace steel.
The manufacturing industry is benefiting from using plastic in place of steel as components can be constructed at a lower cost more simply. The method of injection-molding has opened up an avenue of possibility for creating parts in almost any shape and form with speed, it also allows parts to be made without the need for metal fasteners and assembly, which again speeds up the make time and reduces costs.
Manufacturing has been able to replace steel with plastic to create components with various applications in diverse industries.
Plastics are being used to construct a myriad of components in the automotive industry. Where steel and aluminum were once heavily relied upon, plastic is now gaining traction in this industry. It is being used to make exterior vehicle parts, front-end modules, beams, brackets, trunk lids, deck lids, body panels, floor panels, fuel tanks and more.
Like the manufacturing industry, injection-molding is impacting the automotive industry. Reducing the need for multiple components to be assembled to create one part, when injection molding can create the piece from a single plastic component. Again, this is having the impact of reduced production time and cost.
As America’s water infrastructure ages, experts are turning to plastic rather than steel to rebuild the infrastructure. Instead of using steel and ceramics to reconstruct the worn pipelines, plastics are being brought in for their properties of being resistant, cheap, and more leak resistant than their metal predecessors.
Aerospace engineers are turning to plastic for the benefit of being able to control fiber orientation, which gives an advantage over using isotropic metals. Controlling fiber orientation allows for the weight-to-strength ratio to be optimized. While in this case, this makes the construction with plastics more expensive, the benefits of optimizing this ratio are highly valued in the aerospace industry.
The construction industry is one of the biggest potential spaces for plastics to break into. Traditionally steel has dominated this industry, but new developments are demonstrating how valuable plastic is for this sector.
The growth of the green building sector is increasing demand for building materials that do not pollute. Chemists are working on developing biodegradable plastics that will match steel in terms of durability and strength, using catalysts to enable their production. This development could be big for the industry, opening the door to constructing with a material that is environmentally friendly, strong and durable.
Fiber Reinforced Plastics (FRP) are becoming increasingly popular in the construction industry. These composite materials can be more durable than steel, and due to the fact they don’t require heavy machinery to build with them, the production costs can be cheaper. However, this is balanced out by the fact that the materials themselves are generally more expensive than steel, but as developments advance, we can expect this price to come down.
Lastly, plastics are currently being used as the main component in contracting bridges across the US. As the country’s bridges age, the steel reinforcement corrodes and weakens, and instead of replacing this with new steel, engineers are looking to plastics.
As chemists make further advancements with plastics, we can expect the material to begin to infiltrate more sectors, and it may be replacing steel in further applications.