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Materials & Assembly

Solar Panels Use Custom Plastic Part

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Rob Spiegel
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How have plastics changed?
Rob Spiegel   6/28/2011 9:42:13 AM
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Have plastics changed that much over the past 10 years? If so, how has plastic changed? Apparently it has changed enough to replace steel in this application.

Jennifer Campbell
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Re: How have plastics changed?
Jennifer Campbell   6/28/2011 9:54:49 AM
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"The plastic part is 70 percent cheaper to produce than the previously used metal bearings. The part eliminates the need for lubrication. Lubricated metal bearings had attracted dust that required maintenance in remote locations. Also, the light weight of the plastic part simplifies installation." .... Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Jason
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Re: How have plastics changed?
Jason   6/28/2011 12:20:06 PM
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Being cheaper is a good thing, but are they really better?

Doing a bit of research on http://www.igus.com brought me to their brochure for the bearings that appear to be the product line that the bearings in the article were chosen from.

http://www.igus.com/_Product_Files/Download/pdf/solarbrochure_english.pdf

It appears as though extensive testing for these bearings have been performed, and for me the highest selling point is the predictable lifetime that the products state.  This will allow engineers and maintenance to plan their downtime of systems relatively accurately, and since these are plastic components get the repairs done quickly as well.

plasticmaster
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Re: How have plastics changed?
plasticmaster   7/5/2011 12:33:25 AM
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A few recycling facts: http://earth911.com/recycling/plastic/plastic-bottle-recycling-facts/

Have plastics changed that much over the past 10 years? Absolutely, since I started keeping track of thermplastic materials in the early 1990's, the number of commercially available materials has grown from 50k to over 80k. Many of these are unique, formulated for a specific application then made commercially available.

how has plastic changed? Higher continuous use temperatures, stronger, longer life cycles, conductive, more efficient weatherability, and nanotechnology advances, just to name a few.

sustainability factor of the plastic part? Well, I'm a strong advocate of good plastic part design. There are so many plastic materials out there that I'd lean toward the optimistic possibility that there is a material that could withstand the required constraints surounding solar panel design (and being outside). Many times when a part fails, its more often due to poor design rather than poor material selection. Remember, I said "more often". There is, of course, always the exceptions where poor material selection WAS the culprit in the failure of the part.

is the plastic recycled? PA (Nylon) & PEEK are considered High Temp Materials. Also known as Engineering materials. I've seen recycled Nylon for sale, but not PEEK. There's a reason these materials are called Engineering materials. They have very unique characteristics that qualify them for high tech applications [in their virgin states]. When a material is reground for re-use, it loses some of its physical properties (it's been heated and sliced and diced once already). After a single regrind, some materials will lose up to only 2% of thier original qualities. Any more than that and most materials will go down hill quickly. So the liklihood of the solar bracket in this article being made from recycled materials is slim.

does it do anything to improve the carbon footprint? Sure, a little bit. 

In the end, they DO represent a reduction in carbon footprinting over metal.


Beth Stackpole
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Re: How have plastics changed?
Beth Stackpole   6/28/2011 10:01:10 AM
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I wonder about the sustainability factor of the plastic part being used to replace the metal. Solar panels are a green initative ... is the plastic recycled and does it do anything to improve the carbon footprint of this offering?

Lauren Muskett
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Platinum
Re: How have plastics changed?
Lauren Muskett   6/28/2011 11:37:07 AM
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That's an interesting point, Beth. Since the solar panel is eco-friendly I would hope that all components are improving the carbon footprint.

Douglas Smock
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Platinum
Re: How have plastics changed?
Douglas Smock   7/11/2011 1:26:22 PM
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Good points Beth and Lauren. The solar cell applications would be  long-term, 20 or so years. These types of parts are typically not recycled after their use. There are bigger fish to fry from a green perspective-- although the recycling of all plastics for every application is a good goal. The most recyclable plastics are those with basic chemistries and little complexity in the compound formualtion. That way they can be mixed, melted and have fairly predictable property profiles. The igus compounds are complex and proprietary. So I would doubt there is much realistic expectation that this component would be recycled. I love, however, when I am proven wrong. Note: virtually all plastics (even filled thermosets) are technically recyclable. But the key issue is: Are the commercially recyclable?

The plasticsmaster blew my away with his detailed answer to Rob's question, and I think he hit the nail on the head. There haven't been any recent major breakthroughs in polymer chemistry, but the sophisticated refinements (along the lines of igus) have been amazing. Other big, enabling developments have come in processing technology.

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