A thermoplastic, or thermosoftening plastic, is a plastic polymer material that becomes pliable or moldable at a certain elevated temperature and solidifies upon cooling.Most thermoplastics have a high molecular weight. The polymer chains associate by intermolecular forces, which weaken rapidly with increased temperature, yielding a viscous liquid. In this state, thermoplastics may be reshaped and are typically used to produce parts by various polymer processing techniques such as injection molding, compression molding, calendering, and extrusion. Thermoplastics differ from thermosetting polymers (or "thermosets"), which form irreversible chemical bonds during the curing process. Thermosets do not melt when heated, but typically decompose and do not reform upon cooling. Above its glass transition temperature and below its melting point, the physical properties of a thermoplastic change drastically without an associated phase change. Some thermoplastics do not fully crystallize below the glass transition temperature, retaining some or all of their amorphous characteristics. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are used when high optical clarity is necessary, as light is scattered strongly by crystallites larger than its wavelength. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are less resistant to chemical attack and environmental stress cracking because they lack a crystalline structure. Brittleness can be decreased with the addition of plasticizers, which increases the mobility of amorphous chain segments to effectively lower the glass transition temperature. Modification of the polymer through copolymerization or through the addition of non-reactive side chains to monomers before polymerization can also lower it. Before these techniques were employed, plastic automobile parts would often crack when exposed to cold temperatures. These are linear or slightly branched long chain molecules capable of repeatedly softening on heating and hardening on cooling.
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