Design News readers really know their engineering plastics, and some of them recently took the time to share their insights by taking part in the magazine's annual study of the engineering plastics and elastomers market. Surveys went out to design engineers who use plastics in medical, aerospace, automotive, heavy equipment, consumer electronics, appliances, food and beverage, and other industries. More than 10% of them responded. Here's what was most important to them.
Asked about the materials they use the most, nylon topped the list as it did in the previous two surveys. This year, 65% of the respondents said they already use nylon in their designs, while 32% predicted they would use even more of it in the coming year. Only 5% expected to decrease their use. Polycarbonate came in a close second in the popularity contest with 61% reporting current use, 31% expecting increased use next year, and just 3% expecting to use less. Silicones, perhaps because of their wide use in assembly tasks, rounded out the top three with 52% already using it, 29% expecting to use more and 9% expecting to use less. Also making a strong showing on the list were workaday plastics, like ABS, epoxy, polypropylene, urethanes, and thermoplastic elastomers. As might be expected, the most exotic and costly thermoplastics garnered lower usage figures, mostly because they go into applications on an as-needed basis.
When it comes to economic forecasting, you might characterize the year's respondents as "cautiously optimistic." On a question about their expected purchasing plans next year, 62% said they would buy the same amount of resin as this year. But a more sanguine 31% expected to buy more plastics, while a gloomy 7% expected to buy less.
The respondents were given a chance to talk about the qualities they seek in their material suppliers. In their rankings of various supplier selection attributes, quality topped the list. Eighty-five percent of respondents deemed the ability to supply materials of a consistent quality "very important." The ability to supply materials that meet performance specifications followed with 81% giving it the top importance ranking. Meeting delivery times came in third with 67%. And price? It came in still lower with 47%. Design assistance from the supplier came in lower still at a 29% "very important" ranking.
Finally, the design engineers were queried about the material properties that matter the most in their applications. Dimensional stability came in first with 68% of the respondents giving it the top importance rating. It was followed by other material properties, such as chemical resistance (48%), wear resistance (40%), temperature resistance (39%), impact strength (38%), and tensile strength (35%).
In keeping with the diversity of applications that plastics now go into, a wide range of other properties also made a strong showing—including flame resistance, weatherability, electrical properties, clarity, and flexibility. Whether a material lends itself to color matching or secondary operations also mattered to a significant number of respondents.