There was a time when people only used natural products for manufacturing, such as wood. All that changed with the advent of nylon at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. DuPont used it to reinforce pantyhose and in the first year he sold 64 million pairs of nylon stockings. Nylon would continue to be used for numerous other industries and products including fabrics, athletic equipment, automotive parts, and guitar strings.
The world of fully synthetic polymers and plastics has become much more advanced since then, and now these polymers are everywhere. Fiberglass is used for furniture, auto parts, and above ground conduit system installations. You have hard polyethylene for the manufacture of plastic bottles along with polypropylene fibers in carpets. Kevlar is used for many items besides bulletproof vests.
But what’s in store for the future? The polymers and plastics of the future may seem like science fiction now, but they’re actually viable in a few years. Some of these technologies already exist though steps need to be taken to make them more accessible. Here are some of the exciting new synthetic materials and uses you can expect in the near future:
Synthetic rubbers and gels can change their shape as a reaction to external factors. The rubbers react when their environments change; temperature, or the presence or level of light, chemical agents, or ultrasound. It can even react with mechanical forces. It’s this natural tendency to react that makes these materials eminently useful for uses such as drug delivery services and sensors.
So what kind of items can you expect from such a development? Imagine stitches that automatically disappear once your wound has healed. You can apply these polymers as window coatings so that the coating can detect when the window is dirty and then automatically clean it.
Super Strong Gel
Just recently, scientists in Japan have managed to create an entirely new type of gel. It’s made from combining hydrogels (which are the materials used for Jell-O and contact lenses) with glass fibers. Now it’s a gel that’s as flexible as Jell-O yet as durable as metal. It’s 25 times tougher than regular glass fiber fabric, and 100 times tougher than ordinary hydrogels.
This can be used for numerous applications. Scientists are already envisioning its use to create biomaterials that can be fashioned into prosthetic limbs and artificial organs that stand up to wear and tear.
Because of its strength and softness, it works well in football uniforms and helmets. It can even be strong enough to use for bulletproof vests.
In general, plastics and polymers are natural insulators. They don’t conduct electricity, so in electronics, they’re mostly used for safety reasons. The Noble Prize was awarded in 2000 to the scientists who found a way to make certain polymers conductive.
Thus, it’s possible that future electronics can be made with plastic making them lighter and more durable. These conductive polymers can even be converted into LEDs, so even computer screens can be as flexible as paper. With advances in 3D printing, it’s conceivable that electronics can be created on demand by using these conductive plastics.
As many already know, the use of plastic is detrimental to the environment. They don’t degrade so they pollute nature and are typically derived from crude oil, which isn’t a renewable resource.
There’s a new kind of plastic on the horizon made from renewable sources such as biogas. In addition, they can be made biodegradable, so they don’t end up polluting the environment.
With these new plastics and polymers emerging in the near future, manufacturing is about to enter a brand new era.