Polymers are macromolecules, which are very long molecules, made up of repeating units called monomers. Depending on how these large molecules react when processed, they can be considered thermoplastics or thermosets. This video will discuss the differences in material properties and processing methods for these two categories of polymeric materials.
Thermosets are polymers that experience both physical and chemical changes during a non-reversible curing process. They get their strength, excellent creep resistance, compression set resistance, chemical resistance, and other properties from cross-linking. Thermosets can tolerate higher filler loading than thermoplastics, due to the low viscosity of their monomers, which allows for long-fiber-length reinforcements. This is an important advantage, because longer fibers can support more of the load that is placed on a part, thus increasing the part’s modulus, strength, and impact resistance.
Thermoplastics are polymers that experience only a physical change when processed. They will soften when heated and become rigid when cooled in a reversible process. This means that they can be recycled via thermomechanical means. Thermoplastics are generally more ductile, but more susceptible to creep than thermosets because they do not cross-link. They have relatively low processing costs and are easy to decorate with in-mold-labels or paints. When choosing a material for a specific application, these properties should be considered, to ensure that the part will survive the environment and external forces that it is exposed to.
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