PLASTICS, FROM PLAIN,
TO BEAUTIFUL AND FUNCTIONAL, WORLDWIDE, RAPRA, BERLIN 2005
The Art of Plastics Design
Conference 18th -19th October 2005, Berlin, Germany
A few examples of what plastic design
brings to new developments
The search is for aspect, color and others, touch, both sensory
and functional effects.
Among the sensory effects, visual effects can
be obtained by coloring, metallizing, coating, co-extruding, printing,
built-in surface and 3-D effects, compounding. Touch effects are
increasingly used, even smell, and noise for innovative applications
Many functional effects are also put into plastics,
ranging from UV protection, barrier, controlled light transmission,
and many others.
In fact, increasingly, there hardly is any application of plastics
that is not, more or less, designed for specific effects. The ever
changing and ever expanding range of plastics materials and applications
rests on these old and new concepts of finishing, away from the
raw state of the materials.
Special effects have become an intrinsic part of plastics. When
comparing plastics to most other materials, indeed it is the infinite
variety of colors, textures, appearances and custom designed functions
that make plastics different from the traditional materials, metals,
wood, paper, glass and textiles. Among traditional materials, there
only are textiles for which color and other finishing have been
very important, ever since civilization began.
There are thus many examples of plastics enhancement
Examples of enhancing colors
The first special effect imparted to plastics, and still now the
most important, is coloring. Originally, plastics were black, or
dark brown, or white, or, even worse, transparent, the invisible
being. Then, colors came, and colors are creativity. Remember the
first mass-produced cars, the Ford Model T that “could be
of any color as long as it was black”. Now car colors are
almost custom selected.
Colors are exclusivity, many manufacturers of plastics household
articles and toys have developed their own distinctive color range
for their product. The widest range of colors and special effects
are the future. Special effects now are strongly associated with
There is not only color, but pearlescent hues and the most recent,
for instance the GE Lexan Light diffusion PC, to add a translucent
effect to colorful surfaces, a trend started a few years ago by
the iMac computer from Apple. Now the trend is of interest to small
personal care appliances. GE Plastics, also, brings some black and
white effects to the line of Visualfx resins. There also
is the Earth Elements, with a very wide range of original colors,
textures and aspects.
Bayer Plastics launched in 2002 the Fantasia color and
special effects program. The program features five separate techniques
and an array of colors and special effect options. The range of
colors and special effects are designed to give products a unique
look and feel, based on their composition and how light reflects
off their shape. Within the Fantasia program, the Faria technique
uses film insert molding, FIM, to customize products with color,
graphic and even tactile effects.
Active packaging is a relatively new catch-all mantra that includes
all that can be added to materials and finished packages to make
them perform functions and protection never heard of just a few
years ago. Increasingly, active ingredients are incorporated directly
into the film substrates. For instance, active packaging may cover
oxygen scavengers, and emitters, moisture absorbers, modified atmosphere
packs, carbon dioxide scavengers and emitters, ethanol emitters,
antibacterial films, flavor enhancers, ethylene scavengers and emitters,
lactose and cholesterol removers, temperature control packaging.
Modified atmosphere packaging, MAP, involves the combination of
different resins in multilayer structures to produce a carefully
tailored balance of gases, typically oxygen, nitrogen and carbon
dioxide, inside a food or beverage package. Every food has an ideal
combination of gases in its surroundings that prolongs its freshness
and shelf life. Although oxygen can lead to food spoilage, it also
keeps packaged meats red, prevents growth of anaerobic bacteria
and maintains respiration in packaged fruits and vegetables. Nitrogen
keeps out oxygen when too much of that gas can cause food spoilage.
And carbon dioxide retards bacteria and mold growth in most packaged
Smart, or Intelligent packaging, is an even more uncertain definition.
It covers packs that incorporate a disposable device, whether electronic
or not, which interacts with the consumer or its environment. Many
techniques are used to provide intelligent packaging, closely associated
with the plastic packages that have become the vast majority in
practically all applications. Intelligent packaging devices become
an integral part of plastic packaging, for instance, RFID, EMID,
printed electronics, thermochronic inks and laminates, digital watermarks,
chemical and protein based indicators.
Caps and closures
Now, plastics account for 70-75 % of total caps and closures worldwide.
Together with this still increasing share against metal, the design
and functionalities of plastics closures are ever expanding. The
success of plastics versus metal for closures of all types is essentially
due to the development of plastics containers, at the expense of
the traditional metal and glass containers. Moreover technical advances
have permitted plastic closures to replace many metal closures in
classical glass packaging applications, like food and wine.
However, the most noticeable trend in caps and closure is the multiplication
of creative designs to impart new functions to the closures, otherwise
a very plain product.
Electrical and electronic applications may need modified
One of the growth areas in plastics is the search for some positive
conductivity to prevent internal static discharge or to shield delicate
components from external electromechanical interference. The main
difficulty is to impart long term or permanent antistatic properties
to plastics without migration or leaching. A wide range of additives
can be used in thermoplastic compounds to obtain the required degree
of conductivity. The most popular are reinforcements, such as fibers
of carbon or metal, or powders. A number of antistatic agents can
be added to plastics, before or during processing. Antistatic agents
can be defined as internal or external, or by chemistry, anionic,
cationic and non anionic.
The main conductive polymers are ABS, PVC, PE, PPS and PC, for
an estimated current world total requirement of over 500 000 tons
of base plastics.
Light diffusing plastics
This already old development is of interest with PMMA sheet, bringing
a sort of special third dimension to sheet as a light source. For
instance PMMA cast sheet can be illuminated on the whole sheet surface,
as a result of light waves passing through the edges of the sheet.
This means that smaller and lower power lighting sources can be
installed, bringing energy savings and construction cost reduction
in installations such as urban furniture, poster frames, signs.
Ultra slim profile frames can be made, with a wide choice of fluorescent
tubes, optical fibers and LED. Further costs saving, and easier
reading, are also achieved. Maintenance is easier by placing the
light sources at the edge of the frames rather than in the conventional
way of illuminated panels.
A major development is also to be with LEP, light emitting polymers.
This leads to low cost, high quality color displays for mobile phones
and other portable customer electronics. They are to replace the
current LCD displays that are power hungry, thicker, heavier and
limited in contrast and overall image. LEP displays use less power,
because they do not need to be backlit, a process in which most
of the light is absorbed before it hits the eye. The primary LEP
candidates are polyaniline, polythiophene, polypyrrole, polymers
that were developed in the seventies, but did not find commercial
OLED, Organic Light Emitting Diodes are a new way to generate light,
using organic materials rather than the complex crystalline structure
of the traditional LED. OLED are used for the production of flat
panels displays that include cell phones, PDA, monitors and televisions.
OLED lead to a new generation of flexible and formable ultra thin
displays, which ultimately will be incorporated into the walls and
furniture. Large area flexible displays will be easily rolled up
for storage and transport. Soon to come transparent displays will
be used in shop windows and many yet unknown potential.
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