Technopolymers & Replacing Metal with Plastic

The word “technopolymer” is used by different people and with seemingly distinct definitions. Generally speaking, the term is referenced in the context of replacing metal with plastic when producing certain items, although the type of resin often is not given. What then does this expression really mean?

Merriam-Webster does not have a listing for “technopolymer,” but Wiktionary defines it as “Any plastic material used to fabricate something usually made of metal.” But, for such a technical-sounding term, that explanation leaves a little something to be desired. More specifically, one medical journal article says, “Technopolymers, also known as acetyl resins, are injection molded thermoplastics that have been proposed as an aesthetic alternative to metals…”1 However, acetyl should not be confused with acetal (aka polyoxymethylene or POM). Additionally, other resins or thermoplastics besides acetyl and acetal are used to replace metals. Further, Omnilexica posits that, “Technopolymer is marketing jargon for plastic. Often used in products being marketed as high quality and, hence, the product makers prefer not to have the word ‘plastic’ mentioned in the marketing materials.”

Despite these divergent definitions, generally speaking, a technopolymer is a base resin or plastic, often with a reinforcing additive, used to produce a part requiring high strength and impactability, sometimes replacing metal as the part’s material. The most common plastics used include nylon (aka polyamide or PA), polycarbonate, polypropylene, and carbon fiber. The reinforcing agent normally utilized is glass fiber, which, when added to a polymer, produces the composite material popularly known as fiberglass.

Increasingly, many manufacturers are replacing metal parts and components with injection molded plastic ones due to the multiple advantages plastic provides. These benefits can include lower material and manufacturing costs, lighter weight, quicker production times, greater resistance to corrosion, and longer part life. Accordingly, Precision Molded Plastics has worked with many of its customers to produce their parts using plastic as a substitute for metal.

So, while the term technopolymer may sound fancy, it is just another expression for a tough plastic, often including glass fiber, used to make strong parts. However, these materials often are used to replace metal, resulting in a part that is lighter, less expensive, and lasts longer, and that is impressive.

1 Sykes, Leanne & Dullabh, Hemant & D Chandler, H & Bunn, Belinda & R M Essop, A. (2002). Flexibility of technopolymer clasps compared with cobalt-chromium and titanium clasps. SADJ : journal of the South African Dental Association = tydskrif van die Suid-Afrikaanse Tandheelkundige Vereniging. 57. 166-71.


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