Whether its drinks bottles, restroom fittings or automobile interiors, plastic products abound in our 21st-century lifestyle. The material not only features very prominently in our everyday lives, but is used just as much behind the scenes, such as for components in production facilities or in medical engineering. Researchers at Kaiserslautern University (TUK) have turned their attention to adding properties to plastic that will make them more wear-resistant and increase their lifespan in the future. As part of this endeavor, they have also developed their own system for testing the material under different conditions. At HANNOVER MESSE 2018, the TUK is showcasing both innovations - its new plastics and own test system - at the Rhineland-Palatinate research stand.
Plastic has already repeatedly proved its worth in industrial use, for example as the bearings used in production machines or vehicles. "It is often better than metal in such cases," says Nicholas Ecke, who is completing a PhD in mechanical and process engineering. "We are examining the effects of friction, wear and lubrication and ways of extending its lifespan," he says. (This field is formally known as tribology.) He also explains that the plastics in question "are made of polymers, to which we add certain fillers." The researchers aim to customize the properties of their plastic to suit specific applications. "We use carbon fibers to reinforce the material and reduce abrasion," Ecke reveals. They are also experimenting with reactive plastics "by incorporating different elements, including some that are released as the temperature increases," he says, "such as steam, which produces a hovercraft effect that reduces friction."