San Diego Plastics


Last-modified: March 6th, 1996

This FAQ was originally compiled by Jim Coffey with contributions from readers of sci.polymers. It is currently maintained by Steve Spanoudis ( and Greg Koski (

Hello everyone. This is the latest version of the new FAQ. No major changes - a few additions and corrections. There have been no complaints about the file size, so we'll leave the format unchanged for now. Please send any additions or corrections to Steve, Thanks.

Steve and Greg


(0) Where to find this FAQ

A. Polymer Basics

(1) What is a "Polymer"
(2) Abbreviations for Common Polymers
(3) Polymer Properties
(4) Classification of Polymers
(5) Processing methods for Polymers
(6) Recycling of Polymers

B. Where to find Polymer Information on the Net

(7) WWW sites
(8) FTP archives

C. General Information

(9) Calendar
(10) Professional Organizations
(11) University Degree Programs
(12) Publications of Interest on Polymers
(13) Commercial Polymer producers

D. References

(14) Books on Polymers and Polymer Processing

(0) Where to find this FAQ

If you haven't done so, new users on the net should read


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(1) What is a "Polymer"

The word Polymer comes from the Greek "poly" meaning many, and "meros", parts or units. A polymer is a group of many units. You combine many monomers (one unit) to create a polymer.

Polymer is often used as a synonym for "plastic", but many biological and inorganic molecules are also polymeric. All plastics are polymers, but not all polymers are plastics. Plastic actually refers to the way a material melts and flows.

Commercial polymers are formed through chemical reactions in large vessels under heat and pressure. Other ingredients are added to control how the polymer is formed and to produce the proper molecular length and desired properties. This chemical process is called "polymerization".

A homopolymer results from polymerizing only one kind of monomer. A copolymer results from using different monomers. Homopolymers have the same repeating unit while copolymers (which can be random, block, or graft) can vary have different numbers of repeating units. A terpolymer results from using three different monomers.

(2) Abbreviations for Common Polymers:

Polymers are commonly refered to by both their names and abbreviations. Commercial polymers are also frequently refered to by the trade names of their manufacturer.

ABS - acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene terpolymer
BMC - thermoset polyester bulk molding compound
EVA - ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer
LCP - liquid crystal polymer
PA - polyamide, commonly called nylon
PAN - polyacrylonitrile
PAS - polyarylsulfone
PBD - polybutadine
PBT - polybuylene terephthalate
PC - polycarbonate
PE - polyethylene see also:
HDPE - high density PE
LDPE - low density PE
LLDPE - linear low density PE
VLDPE - very low density PE
HMW-HDPE - high molecular weight HDPE
UHMWPE - ultrahigh-molecular-weight polyethylene
PEEK - polyetheretherketone
PEK - polyetherketone
PEI - polyetherimide
PES - polyethersulfone
PET - polyethylene terephthalate
PET-G - glycol modified PET
PI - polyisoprene
PS-b-PI - polystyrene/polyisoprene block copolymer
PI - polyimide
PK - polyketone
PMMA - polymethyl methacrylate, commonly called acrylic
PMP - polymethylpentene
POM - polyoxymethylene, commonly called acetal
PP - polypropylene, subdivided as:
homopolymer, random, impact and block copolymers
PPA - polyphthalamide
PPO/PPE - polyphenylene oxide, polyphenylene ether
PPS - polyphenylene sulfide
PS - polystyrene
EPS - expanded polystyrene
HIPS - high impact polystyrene
PSO,PSU - polysulfone
PTFE - polytetrefluoroethylene
PU,PUR - polyurethane
PVA - polyvinyl alcohol (sometimes used for polyvinyl acetate)
PVAc - polyvinyl acetate
PVC - polyvinylchloride, commonly refered to as vinyl
PVOH - alternate abbreviation for polyvinyl alcohol
EPR - ethylene propylene rubber
SBR - styrene butadiene rubber
EPDM - ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber
SAN - styrene acrylonitrile copolymer
SI - silicone
SMC - thermoset polyester sheet molding compound
TPE - thermoplastic elastomer
TPO - thermoplastic olefin
TPU - thermoplastic urethane
UF - urea formaldehyde

( has a list of polymer abbreviations and tradenames)

(3) Polymer Properties

Polymers are characterized in many ways - by chemical or physical structure, by strength or thermal performance, by optical or electrical properties, etc.

Most textbooks will give qualitative and some quantitative data on polymer properties. Properties can vary widely however, between manufacturers, for different performance grades, due to additives and reinforcements, or other reasons. For more precise data, contact a representative from a polymer producer, compounder, or distributor for a spec sheet on a particular material and grade. Often grades are offered to suit the needs of specific types of applications.

Properties of interest typically include:

Physical Properties
Specific Gravity
Heat Capacity
Mold Shrinkage

Mechanical Properties
Strength (Tensile and Flexural)
Modulus (Tensile and Flexural)
Impact Resistance

Thermal Properties
Heat Deflection Temperature
VICAT Softening Temperature
Glass Transition Temp
Thermal Conductivity
Thermal Expansion

Processing Characteristics
Melt Flow Index
Melting Point, No-flow Temp
Shear Rate/Viscosity Relation
Compressibility (Pressure/Volume/Temperature Relation)

Optical Properties
Light Transmission
Refractive Index

Electrical Properties
Surface and Volume Resistivity
Dielectric Constant
Dielectric Strength
Dissipation Factor
Breakdown Voltage

Environmental Properties
Chemical Resistance
UV Resistance
Flame Resistance (UL Rating)
Oxygen Index
Water Absorption

Composition (Neat, Blended, Filled)

( has a brief overview of properties for a number of commonly used polymers) (Property sheets for some specific polymers are available online at Phoenix and at General Electric

(4) Classificaton of Polymers

There are many ways in which polymer properties or behavior are classified to make general descriptions and understanding easier. Some common classificatons are:

Thermoplastic vs. Thermoset:

Thermoplastics can be heated and formed, then re-heated and re-formed repeatedly. The shape of the polymer molecules is generally linear, or slightly branched, allowing them to flow under pressure when heated above the effective melting point.

Thermosets undergo a chemical as well as a phase change when they are heated. Their molecules form a three-dimensional cross-linked network. Once they are heated and formed they can not be reprocessed - the three- dimensional molecules can not be made to flow under pressure when heated.

Amorphous vs Crystalline:

Polymers with nearly linear structure, which have simple backbones, tend tend to be flexible and fold up to form very tightly packed and ordered areas called crystals. Levels of crystallinity can vary from zero to near 100%. Time and temperature during processing influence the degree of crystallinity. Crystalline polymers include: polyethylene, polypropylene, acetals, nylons, most thermoplastic polyesters, and in some cases polyvinyl chloride. Crystalline polymers have higher shrinkage, are generally opaque or translucent, good to excellent chemical resistance, low friction, good to excellent wear resistance.

Polymers with bulkier molecular chains or large branches or functional groups tend to be stiffer and will not fold up tight enough to form crystals. These polymers are referred to as "amorphous" and include: polystyrene, polycarbonate, acrylic, ABS, SAN, and polysulfone. Amorphous polymers have low shrinkage, good transparency, gradual softening when heated (no melting point), average to poor chemical resistance, high friction, and average to low wear resistance.

Addition vs. Condensation:

Polymers such as nylons, acetals, and polyesters are made by condensation or step-reaction polymerization where small molecules (monomers) of two different chemicals combine to form chains of alternating chemical groups. The length of molecules is determined by the number of active chain ends available to react with more monomer or the active ends of other molecules.

Polymers such as polyethylene, polystyrene, acrylic, and polyvinyl chloride are made by addition or chain-reaction polymerization where only one monomer species is used. The reaction is begun by an initiator which activates monomer molecules by the breaking a double bond between atoms and creating two bonding sites. These sites quickly react with sites on two other monomer molecules and so on. This continues until the initiator is used up and the reaction stops. The length of molecules is determined by the number of monomer molecules which can attach to a chain before the initiator is consumed and all molecules with initated bonding sites have reacted.

Commodity, Engineering, High Performance:

Another common classification of plastics is "commodity" versus "engineering". Commodity polymers have relatively low physical properties. They are used for consumer products which require low cost, disposability, packaging or container related, low stress and low temperature resistance, limited product life, and high volume production. (e.g. PE, PS, PP)

Engineering polymers have properties towards the high end of the spectrum. Strength and thermal resistance are the most significant. Their price may range from two to ten times as much as a commodity polymer. They are used in: housings, brackets, load bearing members, machine enclosures, and applications requiring wear resistance, long life expectency, flame resistance, and the ability to endure cyclic stress loading. (e.g. PC, POM, PBT)

The properties of high performance polymers are at the highest end of the spectrum, generally with very high strength and thermal resistance. They tend to be very expensive, priced above most engineering polymers. They are used in high temperature, high stress applications, in harsh environments, and low to medium volume production. (e.g. PEEK, PEI, LCP)

(5) Processing Methods for Polymers

There are many processing methods for polymers. Commercial processing equipment can range from a few thousand dollars to many millions of dollars.

In addition to the equipment itself, tooling is generally required to make a particular shape.


Compression Molding
Transfer Molding
Injection Molding
Gas Assisted Injection Molding (GAIN)
Reaction Injection Molding (RIM/SRIM)
Injection/Compression Molding
Blow Molding
Extrusion Blow Molding
Injection Blow Molding
Injection Stretch Blow Molding
Rotational Molding


Rod, Pipe, Sheet, Profile Extrusion
Extruded/Blown Film
Extruded Foam


Cast Film
Cast Shape
Vacuum Casting


Pressure Forming



Powder Coating
Dispersion Coating
Extrusion Coating and Laminating
Spray Coating
Dip Coating


Fiber Spinning
Melt Blown Nonwoven Fiber
Many processing methods have their own Special Interest Group as a subdivision of the SPE.

(A good textbook for understanding different processing methods is the Plastic Engineering Handbook by SPI, Michael L. Berrins, Ed. (Van NostranReinhold, pub, c 1991, 845p.) ISBN 0-442-31799-9, LCCCN 90-22784)

(6) Recycling

Most thermoplastic polymers can be recycled - that is converted from their initial use as a consumer, business, or industrial product, back into a raw material from which some other product can be manufactured. Recycled materials are often classified as Post-Industrial and Post-Consumer. Post-Industrial includes such things as manufacturing scrap, containers and packaging. Post-Consumer is basically any product, container, packaging, etc. that has passed through the hands of a consumer, e.g. plastics bags, beverage containers, carpeting, home appliances, toys, etc.

Thermoset polymers can only be recycled for use as an inert filler (something to take up space) in another material.

The keys to effective recycling are:

  1. an efficient infrastructure for collecting used materials
  2. ease of separation and low levels of contamination
  3. an established market for reprocessing/reusing the materials
There are many arguments whether there is not enough of a market for recycled materials to create the proper recycling infrastructure, or not a consistent supply of recycled material to encourage the growth of a market. In the case of the US paper industry, decreasing availability of virgin wood pulp rapidly created a profitable market for recycled paper.

The contamination issue is very important for plastics. While oil, grease, paper labels, glue, etc. will burn off when glass or metals are recycled, they become contaminants and degrade thermoplastics during reprocessing.

There are threee versions of the recycling logo. The original one was three arrows chasing each other in the shape of a triangle, the second was just a triangle, and the current one is a pair of angle brackets.

< 1 >
The number inside the triangle or brackets indicates the material used in the part.

There are six specific categories, and a generic seventh for "other". In the case of "other" it is good form to put the material name under the recycling logo.

SYMBOL              MATERIAL

  1             PET (polyethylene terphthalate)
                - beverage containers (2-liter soda bottles), boil-in
                   food pouches, processed meat packages, etc.

  2             HDPE (high density polyethylene)
                - milk bottles, detergent bottles, oil bottles, toys,
                   plastic bags

  3             PVC (polyvinyl chloride)
                - food wrap, vegetable oil bottles, blister packaging

  4             LDPE (low density polyethylene)
                - shrink-wrap, plastic bags, garment bags

  5             PP (polypropylene)
                - margarine and yogurt containers, grocery bags,
                caps for containers, carpet fiber, food wrap,

  6             PS (polystyrene)
                - plastic utensils, clothes hangars, foam cups and plates

  7             Other (all other polymers and polymer blends) including
                polycarbonate, ABS, PPO/PPE

(7) Polymer Resources on the Net - Selected World Wide Web Sites

(make shure you use upper and lower case letters as shown below - most UNIX-based sites are case sensitive)
Society of Plastics Engineers
Society of Manufacturing Engineers
Plastics Engineering Technology at Penn State U. - Erie
Penn State's Polymers Web site listing
CIMP Injection Molding Program at Cornell U.
Department of Polymer Technology at Delft U.
Polylinks maintained by Softweb Technologies
Plastics Technology Center at Lexmark International Inc.
Polymer Resource Network page at U. of Akron
Polymer Information Center at U. of Akron
The Plastics Network
American Plastics Council is the American Plastics Council's website that provides information about the benefits of plastics and serves as a valuable educational resource tool for anyone interested in plastics and the plastics industry. The user is able to search for plastics related topics and access our two additional sites,, which provides information on the APC trade association, APC's members, nuts and bolts facts on plastics, an on-line newsroom for APC events and press releases, APC's education programs, and information on the phenomenal economic contributions of plastics. is continuing to help make APC the worldwide source of information on plastics and the environment by linking to dozens of organizations and offering numerous reports, publications and various information on plastics and the environment as well as virtual tours and interactive mini-sites.
IDES Materials Database
Material Science and Engineering Laboratory at NIST
Liquid Crystal self-study guide at Case Western
University of Missouri at Rolla
Boston U's Center for Polymer Studies
AC Technologies (C-Mold simulation software)
Moldflow Users Group home page
The U. of Southern Mississippi's Dept. of Polymer Science
Phoenix Polymers
GE Plastics Home Page
Eastman Performance Plastics
SPE Product Design and Development Division PD3 Home Page

(9) Calendar

Major events in the Polymer/Plastics Industry:

ANTEC - Annual Technical Conference of the SPE
Held in May each year

RETEC - Regional Technical Conference
Frequently held throughout the year in different locations
Generally focus on a special interest topic

K-Show - Kunststoffe und Kautschuk - the largest plastics trade show
and conference in the world
Held in October/November every three years in Dusseldorf, Germany
Next show is in 1998, contact 312-781-5180 for more

NPE - National Plastics Exposition - the largest US plastics trade show
and conference, sponsored by SPI
Held in June every three years in Chicago
Next show is in June of 1997

Plastics USA -
Held in September in Chicago in the years between NPE shows
Trade show and conference, sponsored by SPI

NDES - National Design Engineering Show, sponsored by NAM
Held annually in Chicago in March during National
manufacturing Week
Next show is March 18-21, 1996

(10) Professional and Industry Organizations

Society of Plastics Engineers
14 Fairfield Drive, Brookfield, CT 06804
Phone 203-775-0471 Fax 203-775-8490

Society of the Plastics Industry
1275 K Street NW, Suite 400
Washington D.C. 20005
Phone 202-371-5200 Fax 202-371-1022

American Chemical Society
Division of Polymer Chemistry
Division of Polymer Materials Science and Engineering

American Plastics Council
1275 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Phone 1-800-243-5790

BPF - British Plastics Federation
6 Bath Place, Rivington Street
LONDON EC2A 3JE, England
Phone 00 44 +171 457 5000
Fax 00 44 +171 457 5045

Plastics Institute of New Zealand
P.O.Box 76378, Manakau City, Auckland, New Zealand.
Phone +64 9 262 3773

Composites Association of New Zealand
5 Balmacewen Road, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Phone +64 3 467 2514.

Plastics Industry Association [Australia]
41-43 Exhibition Street, Melbourne Vic 3000 AUSTRALIA
Phone +61-3-654-2199 Fax +61-3-654-2384

(11) Universities with Degree Programs in Polymers

Undergraduate Programs:

Graduate Programs:

University of Akron
Akron, OH 44325-0001
Department of Polymer Engineering
Dr. James White, Department Head

Case Western Reserve University
10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106
Department of Molecular Science
Dr. John Blackwell, Department Chair, Phone 216-368-4450

Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA 30332
School of Chemical Engineering
Dr. A.S.Abhiraman, Program in Polymers Coordinator

LeHigh University
111 Research Dr, Bethlehem, PA 18015
Center for Polymer Science and Engineering
Dr. Mohamed S. El-Aaser, Director

University of Massachusettes at Amherst
Amgerst, MA 01003
Department of Polymer Science

University of Massachusettes at Lowell
1 University Avenue, Lowell, MA 01854
Department of Plastics Engineering
Dr. Rudolph Deanin 508-934-3420 Graduate Coordinator for M.S.
Dr. Ross Stacer 508-924-2420 for PhD
Dr. Robert Nunn 508-934-3420 (chair) for Undergrad
Prof. Stephen Driscoll 508-934-3420 for night school Undergrad
Dr. Stanley Israel 508-934-3650 (chair) for Joing PhD in
Polymer Science/Plastics Engineering

McGill University / Institut Francais du Petrole
Montreal, Quebec, Canada / Paris France
Collaborative Graduate Program
Advanced Technology in Petrochemicals, Polymers, and Plastics

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Macromolecular Science and Engineering Program
Dr. Frank Filisko, Graduate Committee Chair

Raleigh, NC 27695-7905
Department of Chemical Engineering
Department Head: Ruben Carbonell
Graduate Coordinator: Carol Hall
contact: Chris McDowell, (919)515-4701

Polytechnic University of Brooklyn
Six Metrotech Center, Brooklyn, New York 11201
Prof Eli Pearce or Allan S. Myerson, Phone 718-260-3620
E-mail amyerson@robling.poly.edeu

San Jose State University
San Jose, CA 95192
Department of Chemistry
Dr. Gerald Selter, Graduate Advisor

Univ. of Southern Mississippi
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
Department of Polymer Science, College of Science & Technology
Dr. Robert Lochhead, Department Head, Phone 601-266-4868

University of Tennessee
Knoxville, TN 37996
Departmen of Materials Science & Engineering
Dr. J.E. Spruiell, Department Head

Virginia Polytechnic and State University (also VPI or Virginia Tech)
Blacksburg, VA 24061
Dr. Garth Wilkes, Chairman, 120 Patton Hall

(12) Publications of Interest on Polymers

All publications are monthly unless noted otherwise.

Injection Molding Magazine (Abbey Communications)
3400 East Bayaud Avenue, Suite 230, Denver, CO 80209
Phone 303-321-2322 Fax 303-321-3552
Editorial Contact Online I.D.: or
ISSN 1071-362X

Journal of Polymer Science - Polymer Physics Edition (John Wiley & Sons)

Journal of Polymer Science - Polymer Chemistry Edition (John Wiley & Sons)

Makromoleculare Chemie

Macromolecules (ACS Journal)

Modern Plastics (McGraw-Hill)
1221 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10020
Phone 212-512-6242 Fax 212-512-6111
Editorial Comment Online I.D.:

Modern Plastics International (McGraw-Hill)

Plastics Compounding (Advanstar)
(no longer being published ? May return)

Plastics Design Forum (Advanstar) (Bi-Monthly)
(no longer being published ?)

Plastics Engineering (SPE Publication)
14 Fairfield Drive, Brookfield, CT 06804-0403
Phone 203-775-0471 Fax 203-775-8490
ISSN 0091-9578

(Note: Regional SPE Chapters and SPE Special Interest Divisions
tend to have quarterly publications of their own)

Plastics News (Crain Communications)
1725 Merriman Road, Akron, OH 44313-5251
Phone 216-836-9180 Fax 216-836-2322
ISSN 1042-802X

Plastics Technology (Bill Communications)
355 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010
Phone 212-592-6570 Fax 212-592-6579
Editorial Comment Phone: 212-592-6573
ISSN 0032-1257

Plastics World (PTN Publishing)
Phone 516-845-2700 Fax 516-845-7109
445 Broad Hollow Road, Melville NY 11747
ISSN 0032-1273

Polymer (a research Journal)

Polymer Composites (SPE Publication)

Polymer Engineering and Science (SPE Publication)

Polymer Processing and Rheology (SPE Publication)

Other publications with frequent Plastics/Polymers articles:

Appliance (Dana Chase)
1110 Jorie Boulevard, CS 9019, Oak Brook, IL 60522-9019
Phone 708-990-3484 Fax 708-990-0078
Editorial I.D.: or
ISSN 0003-6781

Design News (Cahners)
275 Washington Strees, Newton, MA 02158
Phone 617-964-3030 Fax 617-558-4402
Editorial Comment Online I.D.: DN@cahners

Machine Design (Penton Publishing)
1100 Superior Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44114-2543
Phone 216-696-7000 Fax 216-621-8469
ISSN 0024-9114
(Polylinks has an extensive catalog of plastics publications at

(13) Commercial Polymer Producers, Compounders, and Distributors

(This section is now a separate appendix with phone contact numbers in Appendix A.)

(14) Books on Polymers and Polymer Processing

This is a very brief sampling of some texts on polymer science, processing, properties and applications. SPE, McGraw Hill, Van Nostrand Reinhold, and John Wiley and Sons all have catalogs of available books on these subjects).

  1. Plastic Engineering Handbook of the Society of the Plastics Industry, Michael L. Berrins, Ed. (Van Nostran Reinhold, pub, c 1991, 845p.) ISBN 0-442-31799-9, LCCCN 90-22784

  2. Polymeric Materials and Processing, Jean-Michael Charrier, (SPE, pub, c 1990, 650p.) ISBN 0-19-520854-4

  3. Plastics: How Structure Determines Properties, Geza Gruenwald (SPE , pub, c 1992, 352p.) ISBM 3-446-16520-7

  4. Principals of Polymer Systems" Rodriguez (McGraw Hill, pub)

  5. Fundamental Principles of Polymer Materials, Rosen (John Wiley and Sons, pub) ISBN 0-471-08704-1

  6. Plastic Part Design for Injection Molding - An Introduction Robert A. Malloy (SPE, pub, c. 1994, 460p.) ISBN 1-56990-129-5

  7. Designing with Plastics and Composites, a Handbook, D.V. Rosato and D.P. DiMattia (SPE, pub, c. 1991, 977p.) ISBN 0-442-00133-9

  8. Plastics Polymer Science and Technology, Mahendra D. Baijal, Ed. (John Wiley & Sons, pub, c. 1982, 945p.) ISBN 0-471-04044-4

  9. A catalog with many good text on various polymer/plastics subjects is available from SPE, in the US: Phone 203-775-0471 (Brookfield, CT), in Europe: Phone 32-0-2-774-9630 (Brussels, Belgium)

(15) Acknowledgements

Jim Coffey, Dr. Ulrich Seitz, Ramesh Lakshmi Narayan, David O Hunt, Jeff Vavasour, George D Ryerson, Abe Verghis, Dave Ingram, Mike Greenfield, Sami Mohammed, Paul D. Whaley, Tom Brady, Bob Hutchins, Ed Stokes, Larry Dodd, Mike Stewart, Russell Schulz, David Bick, Tony Foiani, Mike Pollard, Steve Baxter, Tony Tweedale, Kevin Patterson, Thomas Pierce, Stephen DeFosse, Marc Lavine, Jim Ure, Bernhard Wessling, B. L. Dowler, Bernie Doeser, Kevin Byrne, Thomas Guery, Darren Schilberg, Pete Logan, Eric Amis

Thanks to Steve Stivers for the Search Tool and sample Forms interface.

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