It would be difficult to find anybody in the world today who is unfamiliar with plastic. Since the advent of its mass production in the 1950s, plastic has found a place in virtually every imaginable aspect of our daily lives.
Since the inception of plastics technology, the need for more easily produced, durable products has led to the development of composite technology – glass fiber and, in more recent times, carbon fiber.
The exponential rise of plastic technology
It probably comes as no surprise that the plastic industry is a significant market sector. The global applications for plastic products now span almost every single industry sector.
Plastic technology itself is certainly not new. Relevantly, the global plastic market still continues to expand steadily, with new applications still being discovered. With an annual growth rate of almost 4%, the world market is projected to be worth well in excess of 750 billion dollars by 2028.
Why is the plastics market increasing?
Perhaps the greatest drivers of the market have been improvements in wear and chemical resistance coupled with improved mechanical strength, recyclability, and ease of repair.
With the burgeoning market and greater product durability, the repair and maintenance after-market is similarly expanding. Plastic and composite welding and repair have become a significant component of the support markets for a broad range of diverse industry sectors, notably including the automotive, marine, aerospace, and leisure/recreation industries.
After-market repairs and maintenance support have naturally developed alongside the plastics manufacturing industry, with repairs being practically effected with a plastic welding rod similar to its metal welding counterpart.
What are composites?
The quest to find a product that could be both strong and durable led to the development of what is now known as a composite. Some plastic products are, in fact, basic composites. In essence, a composite is a manufactured substance comprising two or more different natural or artificial elements which, when blended together, create a product that meets those desired qualities of natural strength and durability.
It is interesting to note that the composite does not produce a perfect, harmonized blend of the component materials – rather, they retain their original qualities and contribute to the final manufactured product.
In technical terms, composites are a polymer matrix reinforced with either a natural or man-made fiber such as glass or carbon. The pair act together – the polymer providing environmental protection and the fiber contributing strength and structural rigidity.
The ability to create a product that can maintain its strength and integrity across specific extremes of pressure, temperature, and stress loading means that plastics and composite technology have made the quantum leap into the current space exploration industry.
Composites and the future of space travel
The qualities of composites – strength, relatively lightweight, and the ability to operate in environmental extremes, have meant that the material plays a significant role in the current development of rocket and space technology.
NASA has a specific team – the Composite Technologies for Exploration project researching the application of composites for the construction of heavy-lift deep space rockets, which will ultimately drive the proposed Moon and Mars missions.
From the advent of plastics in the early 1900s to the development of composite rocket technology, the future is certainly an exciting one.