Building materials have come a long way since the invention of mud bricks and timber frames thousands of years ago. Today, thanks to the evolution of technology, there are numerous building materials available that have allowed architects to create buildings with more safety and efficiency than ever before.
Polymer-based building materials have recently attracted more and more attention due to their outstanding properties. These show an increasing potential as an alternative to conventional materials in applications such as construction and lightweight parts manufacturing. This article will examine recent advancements in polymer-based building materials, which have become increasingly popular among architects and designers in the last decade. It will also discuss prospective future trends for polymer-based building materials in the next few years or decades.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PLASTICS
The invention of plastics has significantly changed how we live. The early 20th century saw a surge of new plastic materials and applications, including Bakelite for insulating electrical wires, celluloid for movie film, Formica for countertops, nylon for tires, and DuPont’s Teflon as a nonstick surface. But it wasn’t until 1961 that Warren Robinett at Dow Chemical produced what many people regard as one of humanity’s greatest discoveries: flame-retardant polyurethane foam. Since then, plastic materials have been everywhere—including in our computers, houses, and cars.
NEED FOR NEW MATERIALS
Although there are a large number of polymer-based building materials currently being used, they all have limitations that make them less than ideal. For example, many plastics tend to be brittle and inflexible. This makes it difficult to create large plastic building materials without having them break upon impact. In addition, most plastics are manufactured using petroleum as a raw material. This means that these plastic building materials aren’t renewable or sustainable. Luckily, researchers have been able to find solutions for both of these issues by making bio-based polymers from renewable sources and manufacturing those polymers in an environmentally friendly way that doesn’t harm humans or animals, or require copious amounts of nonrenewable resources like water and fossil fuels.
POLYMER SCIENCE R&D
Over the past decade, scientific advancements have allowed for revolutionary changes to be made in traditional building materials. The use of polymer science has brought forth an exciting wave of change. Namely, with new synthetic varieties of stone and concrete that are less expensive than their natural counterparts while simultaneously being stronger and more durable. Both of these material types are exceedingly popular due to their lack of maintenance costs. But many people fail to realize that there are environmental advantages to synthetic versions as well. Traditional stone and concrete products have been shown to produce four times as much greenhouse gas emissions as plastics do over their life cycles. Using polymer-based materials decreases these CO2 emissions and makes for a cleaner planet.
BUILDING MATERIAL PROPERTIES
To make sure you get a building material that does its job well, it’s important to look at a few main properties such as strength, moisture resistance, durability, flexibility, density, modularity, and more. Strength is obviously an important property for most building materials and simply means how much weight a material can hold. For most materials, this determines how reliable the product will be in the desired location. However, strength is not always the only factor that is important. When it comes to building materials that are naturally strong because of their structure, such as timber or brick, strength isn’t necessarily an issue. In these cases, properties such as durability or flexibility can take precedence. Most of the time, building materials are chosen based on a combination of these properties.
PROMISING BUILDING MATERIALS
There are many building materials on the market that have seen advancements and show potential for even more innovations in the future. These include:
- Light Weight Concrete
- Polystyrene Foam Insulation
- Strong, Waterproof Wood Panels
- Polyurethane: This polymer can be used in many different applications such as insulation, acoustic material, coatings, and more. This is because it can come in many different forms, which makes it extremely versatile. Recent progress has shown great potential for wallboards made of thin sheets of polyurethane mixed with cement.
The issue at hand with these new materials is their cost to manufacture. For example, wood paneling can cost up to five times more than conventional plywood and may be difficult to acquire for certain home construction companies.
CUSTOM PLASTIC FABRICATION
There is always progress being made and advances being discovered with regard to polymer-based building materials. This is because scientists are constantly testing and studying new types of plastics to find ways to improve existing products while also creating new, innovative solutions that may be applied to other products as well. One method for improving both existing products and building new ones is through plastic fabrication or reshaping of specific parts to allow them to function better or be more useful. Custom plastic fabrication may not change a product dramatically, but it can still have significant impacts on performance—it’s just up to manufacturers, engineers, and designers to experiment with different shapes and sizes and determine what works best for their purposes.
Much research has been done on polymer-based building materials, but there are still some questions to be answered. While advancements in technology will provide most of these answers as research progresses, a few of them might not be answered for years to come. Thankfully, a lot of progress has been made and we’re just a couple of decades away from new buildings that are both aesthetically pleasing and durable.
About the Author:
Jordan McDowell is a writer and content strategist. He specializes in manufacturing and often covers workplace safety, but also enjoys writing about the automotive industry and the great outdoors.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2022
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