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Custom Design in Industrial Plastics – Dying, Thriving or on a Comeback

Custom Design in Industrial Plastics – Dying, Thriving or on a Comeback

 

Industrialization has enabled assembly line production and standardization of many products that enrich our lives every day. Within certain tolerances, products we buy from toothbrushes to iPads and Dreamliners have predictable capabilities and properties. The composite materials world is no different. A bevy of manufacturers have perfected processes and technologies to produce a variety of components that also have very predictable and consistent properties and capabilities. The applications for these products are vast and growing. The engineer’s duty is to come up with a means to assemble the various available components into a system that meets the needs of a particular use. In most situations that happens seamlessly. In situations where the products available to solve a particular issue are less than satisfactory, innovation occurs. The engineer has to be more creative in getting to a satisfactory solution. It is not that the technical know-how is absent – it is that a viable off-the-shelf solution is not yet on the market. In today’s complex world, solutions for design problems beyond the realm of commodity components require engineers to access fundamental principles of engineering to bring together an appropriate and robust design. In fiberglass applications we find for example common structural shapes made in an economically viable process that are useful in a wide range of applications. However, if those same items are used for the same structural loads within a process environment the members can fail prematurely due to heat, moisture or other exposure issues. Similarly, there are a wide range of commercially available pipe products which must also be used in services for which they are qualified or, again, they may be susceptible to premature failure. Even when the product is conceptually appropriate, it may not be commercially available in the size and pressure rating required due to various production limitations in manufacturing. The fact that commercially available products are not appropriate or available for a given task, does not mean that fiberglass, as a material, is the wrong choice. Careful and diligent design by qualified personnel in conjunction with proper quality control can result in a thoroughly acceptable and appropriate assembly that serves the owner’s interest in the long term.

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