Advances in the development of new and improved polymers have led many engineers and product designers to re-think their use of more traditional materials like metals in the manufacturing process. Parts once thought of as impossible to create using plastic, are now being designed with polymers at a higher rate than ever before.
Plastic has historically offered many advantages over metal. Plastic parts are lighter and afford more design flexibility. They tend to be less expensive than metals and need little if any finishing or additional assembly.
Today, plastics are gaining a reputation for strength and endurance. Combine these improvements with the advantages of corrosion resistance and aesthetic appeal and plastics are taking center stage in the manufacturing of many consumer and industrial components.
One industry that is embracing the switch to plastics is the surgical instrument industry.
Traditional cast metal instruments are expensive to produce and require sterilization. Surgical instruments made from plastics can be made at a much lower cost. They can be color-coded based on the use of the product and they are often disposable, negating the need for sterilization. Surgical instruments can also be made from clear, transparent material allowing surgeons greater visibility during procedures. Generally, these instruments are made using the injection molding process.
But, plastic isn't just for small parts. Today's advanced polymers can be used in a number of applications.
Did you ever think farm machinery could be made from plastics? Well, John Deere is pioneering the use of plastic compounds to replace sheet metal in its agricultural machinery. They have even developed new composites using soy beans and flax. The structural, cost and design advantages of plastics have helped secure John Deere as a leader in their industry.
Custom plastics are replacing many parts and components that were traditionally made from metal. Engineers and product designers understand the benefits of these polymers and design with them in mind. Ultimately, plastics reduce the cost and time needed to bring products to market without sacrificing quality and durability. Just think one day our cars and lawn tractors could be made entirely from eco-friendly polymers. The possibilities are endless.
Sources: Surgical Instruments: Converting from metal to plastic by Randy Pell, MD&DI magazine; Deere pioneers plastic by Joseph Ogando, Design News.