Thermoplastics vs. thermoset plastics may not seem like an important debate when it comes to selecting the right type of plastic for your parts, components, or products. After all, how different can they be? While on the surface, thermoplastic materials and thermoset materials are similar, chemically and structurally, they’re very different, and are used in very different ways.
To help provide you with a bit more understanding so you can determine which types of plastic are best for your needs, we’re taking an in-depth look at thermoplastics and thermosets.
The Key Difference Between Thermoplastics and Thermosets
When you look at the words themselves, you’ll be able to understand the difference between them. “Therm-” is a root meaning “heat” or “warm.” For example, “thermometer” is a device to measure heat, while “hypothermia” blends “under” and “heat” to describe a condition where someone’s body temperature is below a safe level.
So, this means that the difference in plastics is seen in how they react to heat.
Thermoplastics have low melting points and, when heated, will soften to a malleable state or melt to a liquid state. This means they can be shaped into nearly any mold or design. Also, even extreme heat does not change the makeup of the material, so even after a material is shaped and cured, it can be heated and melted or reshaped again, and it will still be the same thermoplastic.
Think of a thermoplastic material like water. Water can be liquid or it can be a solid, such as with ice. However, no matter how many times its physical state changes, its chemical makeup remains the same and it stays water.
Thermosets have high melting points, but once they are exposed to a certain temperature and cured to a solid state, their components and physical properties become set. They can’t be melted back down or restored to their original properties. Instead, the material will simply burn or char.
Think of thermosets like cookie dough. Once the ingredients are brought together and exposed to heat, the baked cookie is the final result. It can’t be turned back into dough by reheating the material.
Types of Thermoset and Thermoplastic Materials
Thermoplastics and thermosets are both incredibly common, though thermoplastics tend to be more tangible and easily identified.
Thermoplastics are used to create everything from milk jugs and food packaging to toys, car dashboards, and bathtubs!
- Urea formaldehyde
Thermosets are used to create hard, protective coatings, strong fibers, and even things like dinnerware.
Thermoplastics vs. Thermosets – The Benefits of Each
While we focus on thermoplastics due to their versatility, both types of materials vary so much in their uses that there really isn’t one that is better than the other. They both have their benefits and drawbacks, depending on how they need to be used.
Benefits of Thermoplastics
- Can be recycled
- Generally very resistant to corrosion, impact, and chemical exposure
- Many types are food-safe
- Highly customizable and can have anti-static coatings, anti-microbial finishes, and other coatings, paint, and texture added.
- Can be remolded and reshaped
- Can be blended with rubber or other fillers for strength, flexibility, and other features.
- Can be shaped through thermoforming or injection molding
Because of their benefits, thermoplastics are much more versatile than thermoset materials, able to be formed into almost any shape and because they can be recycled, are more eco-friendly to manufacture.
Benefits of Thermoset Materials
- Very hard and rigid
- Highly stable
- Resistant to high temperatures
- Can be reinforced with Kevlar, carbon, or fiberglass
While the chemical makeup of thermosets mean they can’t be recycled, they are a very long-lasting plastic due to their heat resistance and structural integrity.
Contact Us for Thermoplastic Manufacturing
At Advanced Plastiform, Inc., we find the benefits and versatility of thermoplastics allow us to better meet the needs of multiple industries, including automotive, healthcare, and telecommunications. To learn more about our plastic manufacturing services or to request a quote, please reach out to us today.