What Is a “Tough Plastic”?

I need a “Tough Plastic”, what do you recommend?

In our post “How Sales Reps Help You Find the Right Plastic Material” we explored the need for probing questions when assisting a customer with a material request because there are as many different varieties and formulations of plastics as there are applications for them.  Some terms are standard to a market or industry; others may be subjective or open to interpretation.  Two people most certainly may describe the same thing in two different ways.

One of the best ways to identify the material a user is really seeking is by asking questions, in particular regarding the application.

By inquiring as to the intended use of the item (the application) a competent sales person can  direct the customer to a range of materials from which to choose.  A statement that often comes up by a customer is: “I need a tough plastic”.

Nerd SuperheroDefining Tough Plastic…

This can be a troublesome term depending on a person’s particular definition.
Is toughness how a material wears or the “Wear properties”? – one might consider a raw material as tough because of its ability to perform well in a high friction, high load bearing application, such as a bearing or roller.  Often various strength values and data are used to demonstrate toughness of this kind.
Is toughness how hard a material seems to be? One might also think of toughness as being related to the hardness of a product. Hardness is really a tested value of the chemistry of the material based on a scale, and does not indicate its performance, but rather gives a scale of comparison of one plastic to another.
broken phone in a female handIs toughness how well a material stands up to impact? Its common to think that a hard material is more impact resistant and therefore tougher. Impact resistance is actually measured by a notched Izod Impact test and some materials such as silicone or urethane used in luggage and cases are designed to absorb impact so being impact resistant doesn’t necessarily mean hard.
One of my favorite examples that I learned early in my career was that of Polycarbonate (under such common trade/brand names as Lexan®, Makrolon®).  This is the base material most often described in ‘bullet resistant glass.’  The impact resistance is great but I was surprised to find that the hardness value was lower than many other materials thus it’s actually softer.  Sure, it didn’t break when hit with a hammer because, being softer it absorbed impact, but it could easily be cut with a tool or saw making it very popular.

Determining what a term such as toughness means in the most accurate way possible is one more way in which the questions that a plastics sales rep asks can make the difference in whether or not you get the material best suited to your particular application. As you can see, a term that may be crystal clear to one person may ultimately have a different meaning to someone else.

A particular set of properties might be more or less crucial to a given application, we do not engineer applications but rather give you the best tools and guidance to do so!

Lin Poulin
Telemarketing Manager
ThyssenKrupp Materials NA
AIN Plastics Division

Citation
International Association of Plastic Distributors. IAPD, Introduction to Plastics, a Training Manual
Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products. Design and Fabrication Reference Guide
Ensinger. Ensinger essentials, Technical know-how for plastic applications
AIN-Plastics Blog Post – Why Purchase Plastics Through a Distributor

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