Understanding Thermoplastics


thermoplastic how they work

The difference between thermoplastic and thermosetting.


thermoplastics what they mean


thermoplastic production

Production forecast of thermoplastics worldwide from 2020 to 2050, by type


thermoplastic pipe market

Thermoplastic Pipe Market: Global Industry Analysis and Forecast (2024-2030)



Understanding Thermoplastics: How They Work and Why We Need Them

Thermoplastics represent a transformative material class reshaping industries worldwide due to their recyclability, versatility, and high performance. Unlike thermosetting plastics, which become irreversibly solid upon heating, thermoplastics remain malleable and reshapeable with heat. This quality makes them ideal for a wide range of applications, from consumer goods to high-tech industrial products.

Below is a helpful illustration courtesy of Cadence Design Systems:

How Do Thermoplastics Work?

Thermoplastics consist of long-chain polymer molecules held together through weak intermolecular forces such as van der Waals forces or hydrogen bonds. When heated, these weak bonds break, allowing the polymer chains to flow freely and the material to become flexible. Upon cooling, the bonds reform, solidifying the material back into a strong, durable state. This reversible process provides the basis for the high recyclability and adaptability of thermoplastics. As TWI explains:

A thermoplastic is a class of polymer that can be softened through heating and then processed using methods such as extrusion, injection moulding, thermoforming and blow moulding. Thermoplastics harden once cooled and do not show any changes in chemical property after being heated and cooled multiple times, making them easily recyclable.

Once again, Cadence Design Systems offers a detailed look at what these properties really mean when compared to thermosets:

Key Types of Thermoplastics

  1. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): Widely known for its chemical resistance and mechanical strength. Commonly used in water distribution, sewage piping, and industrial fittings.
  2. Polyethylene (PE): Offers excellent flexibility and durability, suitable for packaging, piping, and insulation. HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) is used in gas distribution, drainage systems, and geomembranes.
  3. Polypropylene (PP): Displays high resistance to chemicals and stress-cracking. Primarily used in packaging, automotive components, and textiles.
  4. Polycarbonate (PC): Provides superior impact resistance and optical clarity. Applied in safety equipment, automotive parts, and electronic housings.
  5. Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): Combines strength and rigidity, ideal for automotive and electrical components.
  6. Polyvinylidene Fluoride (PVDF): High chemical resistance and purity, suitable for chemical processing and high-purity applications.
  7. Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE): Known for its non-stick properties and high-temperature resistance. Used in coatings, cookware, and chemical applications.

See below for an illustrative view of thermoplastic production from Statista.

Why Thermoplastics Are Sustainable

Thermoplastics offer multiple sustainable benefits, a fact that CDI Products summarises particularly well:

High-quality thermoplastic polymers enable producers to develop the durable, long-lasting, and environmentally responsible products that the world needs.

In effect, thermoplastics offer unique properties, all of which boast the following advantages:

  1. Recyclability: Thermoplastics can be repeatedly reshaped and reprocessed without substantial degradation. This characteristic promotes a circular economy by reducing landfill waste.
  2. Resource Efficiency: Thermoplastic production requires less energy than metals or thermoset plastics, reducing the overall carbon footprint.
  3. Longevity: Their high resistance to corrosion and chemicals results in a longer lifespan, which reduces the frequency of replacements.
  4. Lightweight: Being lighter than metals, thermoplastics lower transportation costs and energy use.
  5. Lower Maintenance: Their resistance to scaling and corrosion means lower maintenance costs, reducing downtime.

Importance of Thermoplastics in Pipes, Valves, and Fittings

Thermoplastics are crucial in the piping industry, particularly for valves and fittings. As Modern Pumping Today explains, metal valves just cannot perform in the same manner as thermoplastics under certain external pressures:

Over the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in the application of thermoplastic valves and piping systems in areas where metal valves and piping were thought to be the only solution. Even the most corrosion resistant metals are still susceptible to galvanic and electrolytic corrosion, resulting in scale build-up, which reduces flow rates and increases pressure drop.

The use of thermoplastics has enabled the longevity of infrastructure and has facilitated a wider and more efficient use of quality pipes and valves in comparison to metal counterparts. Modern Pumping Today continues to explain that

thermoplastics are more efficient than metals, especially in operational efficiencies including chemical inertness, resistance to permeation and impurity absorption, abrasion and freeze resistance—and because of their lightness in weight, good maneuverability, and compact size, they are also easier to install than metals.

It is clear, therefore, that the advantages of thermoplastic pipes and valves are legion. Take a look:

  1. Corrosion Resistance: Thermoplastics, unlike metal pipes, resist rust and many chemicals, ensuring long-term performance in harsh environments like chemical processing, water treatment, and waste management.
  2. Cost Efficiency: Their lightweight nature reduces installation costs and requires fewer supports. Compared to metals, they offer lower initial and maintenance costs over time.
  3. Versatility: Thermoplastics are manufactured to meet specific requirements for high-pressure, high-temperature, and potable water applications, providing unmatched versatility.
  4. Low Maintenance: Resistance to internal scaling and external corrosion reduces downtime and maintenance costs.
  5. Fire Safety: CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) offers low flame spread and smoke development ratings, making it ideal for fire suppression systems.
  6. Chemical Compatibility: Their inertness ensures safe and reliable operation in chemical processing.

Thermoplastics Across Sectors

By now you'll have realised that thermoplastics have a broad application across sectors due to their adaptability, resilience, and performance. The follow includes just a few of these sectors:

  1. Chemical Industry: Their corrosion resistance ensures safe transport of aggressive chemicals, acids, and solvents.
  2. Pharmaceutical and Food Processing: Inertness and resistance to contamination make them suitable for sterile environments, ensuring safe handling.
  3. Water Treatment: They resist biological growth and internal scaling, ensuring uninterrupted flow for potable and wastewater systems.
  4. Oil and Gas: HDPE pipes ensure safe transport of gases and liquids due to their strength, flexibility, and lightweight properties.
  5. Fire Safety: CPVC piping systems are used in fire suppression systems to deliver water quickly and reliably.
  6. HVAC and Plumbing: Cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) piping ensures efficient fluid transport for heating, ventilation, and plumbing.
  7. Automotive and Aerospace: Thermoplastics are widely used in automotive and aerospace parts due to their lightweight and mechanical properties.
  8. Construction: From PVC window frames to HDPE drainage systems, thermoplastics provide durable and sustainable construction materials.

The use of thermoplastics across various industries is increasing exponentially given the properties and sustainability of the product. In fact, Maximize Market Research Pvt Ltd forecasts the following:

IPS Flow Systems: Your Trusted Partner in Thermoplastic Solutions

Don't get left behind. As the leading stockist of thermoplastic pipes, valves, and fittings across the UK and Ireland, IPS Flow Systems provides unparalleled quality and service. Our extensive inventory ensures that customers receive tailored solutions for their specific needs, whilst our commitment to sustainability aligns with initiatives promoted by the UK government and leading organisations, thereby supporting customers in achieving their sustainability goals. We offer next-day delivery and take immense pride in seeing our customers' projects succeed.

Contact Us Today!

To learn more about how thermoplastic piping, valves, and fittings can benefit your business, contact IPS Flow Systems today. Our experts will guide you to the ideal solution, ensuring reliable, efficient, and sustainable operations., and let's build a resilient future together.







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