Light, strong, and cost-effective, engineering plastics are continuing to supplant metals in many machinery, componentry and materials handling applications, particularly agriculture, food & beverages, and primary product processing such as sugar, fisheries, forestry and timber.

Manufacturers and machinery engineers in these sectors are adopting engineering plastics* to maximise advantages in applications where outstanding hygiene, corrosion and deterioration resistance, low friction, automation and safety are critical, according to engineering plastics innovator Laurie Green, Managing Director of Cut To Size Plastics.

“Australia and New Zealand are starting to catch up with pan-Asia and global trends towards the use of engineering plastics in expanding uses to which they are eminently suited,” says Green. “Metals are great for some applications, but manufacturers, operations managers, processors and infrastructure specifiers here are waking up to opportunities to optimise their low-maintenance infrastructure and automation applications with plastics.”

Cut To Size has more than 40 years’ experience in engineering plastics applications throughout the Asia-Pacific, and distributes advanced materials from international leaders in plastics technology including Licharz, Gehr and Beck-Wefapress. The company has just launched a new website to help groups such as engineers, operations managers, safety managers and others to decide whether plastics can deliver the benefits they need – and to further extend technical support to specifiers who work with high performance and engineering plastics.

The website is linked to subsidiary Hercules Engineering, which manufactures cost-efficient low-maintenance bearings for architectural, infrastructure and engineering applications ranging from hospitals, high-rises and landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House, through to road, rail, bridge, tank and pipeline infrastructure in Australia, Asia and Africa.

Green says plastics have long had a place in safety applications, ranging from machinery guards and electrically protected products, right through to light and easily replaced plummer blocks housing shafts, as well as low-wear, low friction bulk-handling equipment, guides and liners to help prevent blockages, and hazardous clearing operations, which can bedevil mining, food & beverage dry product and diverse bulk-handling applications.

“Automation and the search for cost-efficiency are also driving change in plastics engineering,” adds Green. “Increasingly, engineers, architects and machinery fabricators are open to innovation, rather than being rusted on to the past. And new plastics formulations are emerging every year with designed-in attributes that optimise them for particular applications. ”

Expansion and innovation

Recent innovations by Cut To Size include the introduction of a new high-speed, vibration-free Morbidelli Author M100F heavy-duty CNC router, which offers unmatched finishing quality and rapid production turnaround for the company’s Asia-Pacific markets. It is also currently introducing Wefapress’ globally proven Flex Cover ranges of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylenes (UHMWPE), which have been chemically modified to make this tough, light material particularly suitable for high-temperature applications. The Wefapress Flex Cover range is typically eight times lighter than comparable steel liners used to curtail friction, wear and material flow challenges in diverse applications requiring no moisture absorption, outstanding chemical resistance and corrosion prevention.

“The important thing is to approach engineering plastics with an open mind, knowing that there are some applications for which metals will be superior and others where plastics will have the big advantages,” says Green. “For example, the particularly low melting point and high malleability of plastic allows these materials to be easily formed into a wide variety of complex shapes, thereby contributing to the ease of forming this material without requiring the use of any forming or machining procedures.

“Plastic materials also typically exhibit a greater chemical resistance compared with metals against potentially hazardous chemicals, such as those that cause oxidation or rusting when applied to metals and which can be a real hazard or downtime contributor in industries such as food and beverage and mining. Overall, plastic materials can be produced at a much faster rate as compared to their metal counterparts at a lower cost.”