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Plastics have been important in many applications to be listed here. Table 2, "Thermoplastics," and Table 3, "Thermosetting Plastics," list hundreds of commercial applications that have been found for specific plastics.

Engineering plastics are tough plastics that can withstand high loads or stresses. They can be machined and remain dimensionally stable. They are typically used in the construction of machine parts and automobile components. Important examples of this class of plastics include nylons, acetals, polycarbonates, ABS resins, and polybutylene terephthalate. The structure of their giant chains makes these plastics highly resistant to shock, and gives them a characteristic toughness.

Plastics are almost always electrically insulating, and for this reason they have found use as essential components of electrical and electronic equipment (including implants in the human body).

Major applications have been found for plastics in the aerospace, adhesives, coatings, construction, electrical, electronic, medical, packaging, textile, and automotive industries.



Brandrup, J., and E.H. Immergut, eds. Polymer Handbook. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Wiley-Interscience, 1990.

Braungart, Michael,and William McDonough. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press, 2002.

Juran, Rosalind, ed. Modern Plastics Encyclopedia. Hightstown, NJ: McGraw-Hill, 1988.

Sperling, L.H. Introduction to Physical Polymer Science. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

Randall Frost


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—Noncrystalline; lacking a definite crystal structure and a well-defined melting point.


—Formation of a product either by filling an open mold with liquid monomer and allowing it to polymerize in place, or by pouring the liquid onto a flat, moving surface.


—A mixture or mechanical combination (on a macroscopic level) of materials that are solid in their finished state, that are mutually insoluble, and that have different chemistries.


—Having a regular arrangement of atoms or molecules; the normal state of solid matter.


—An operation in which material is forced through a metal forming die, followed by cooling or chemical hardening.


—An amorphous, highly viscous liquid having all of the appearances of a solid.


—Not containing compounds of carbon.


—Forming a plastic or rubber article in a desired shape by applying heat and pressure.


—A substance composed of molecules that are capable of reacting together to form a polymer. Also known as a mer.


—Containing carbon atoms, when used in the conventional chemical sense. Originally, the term was used to describe materials of living origin.


—Materials, usually organic, that under suitable application of heat and pressure, can be caused to flow and to assume a desired shape that is retained when the pressure and temperature conditions are withdrawn.


—A substance, usually organic, composed of very large molecular chains that consist of recurring structural units.


—Referring to a substance that either reproduces a natural product or that is a unique material not found in nature, and which is produced by means of chemical reactions.


—A high molecular weight polymer that softens when heated and that returns to its original condition when cooled to ordinary temperatures.


—A high molecular weight polymer that solidifies irreversibly when heated.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Planck mass to PositPlastics - History, Chemistry, Polymerization, Manufacture And Processing, Thermoplastics, Crystalline And Noncrystalline Thermoplastics, Thermosets - Molecular weight