Polymers are materials which mainly consist of macromolecules. Within a macromolecule, many smaller molecular units, the so-called monomers, are combined to form very large molecules, the polymers.
The macromolecules of a material are built of one or several structural units, the so-called constitutional repetitive units. The adjective “polymer” means “built of many (identical) parts”.
Most polymers are polymers, but many natural materials also belong to the polymers.
Polymers are divided into three groups according to their mechanical and thermal properties.
Thermoplastics are polymers which consist of very long linear molecules. Due to energy supply these materials will become soft and malleable (plastic) at discretion and will finally melt. By applying various forming processes they can be put into the desired shape. After the part in question has cooled off, it will keep its shape. This process is reversible (meaning “can be reversed”). The behaviour is caused by thread-like linear macromolecules.
Most of the polymers which are used today belong to this group (polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene, polyester). They are often used for manufacturing simple consumer products, packages, etc. as well as technical parts necessary for the automotive, electrical and building industry such as roof sheeting, window profiles and pipes.
Two or more thermoplastics which are compatible with each other may be mixed in order achieve new properties which have not existed before (polyblends).
PE – polyethylene
ABS - akrylonitrile butadiene styrene
PP – polypropylene
PMMA – polymethylmethacrylate
PA – polyamide
PET – polyethylene-terephthalat
PVC – polyvinylchloride
Duroplasts (duromers) are polymers which emerge in a curing process from a melting or a solution of components via a cross-linking reaction. This irreversible reaction is mostly achieved by heating, but can also be initiated and accelerated by oxidizing agents, energetic emission or the use of catalysts. Warming duromers does not result in a plastic workability, but only in their decomposition. Cured duromers are mostly hard and brittle as well as only machinable in the further production process.
This group also comprises polyester resins, polyurethane resins for lacquers and surface coatings and practically all synthetic resins such as epoxy resins.
Elastomers may change their shapes due to pressure or elongation for a short period. When the pressure or elongation have ended, elastomers rapidly recapture their original shapes. Elastomers are wide-meshed and cross-linked and thus flexible. They do not soften when heated and are not insoluble in most solvents.
Elastomers comprise all kinds of cross-linked rubber. This cross-linking happens e.g. via vulcanization by sulphur, via peroxides, metal oxides or radiation.
Natural rubber (NR), acrylonitrile butadiene rubber (NBR), styrene-butadienene rubber (SBR), chloroprene rubber (CR), butadiene-rubber (BR) and ethylene-propylene-diene-rubber (EPDM) are elastomers.
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