Polymers have been around for quite some time, with the first plastics being invented in the early 1900s. Since then, these man-made materials have become more and more prevalent in our daily lives. Polymers have been gaining tremendous popularity in the construction industry with their ability to produce long-lasting, energy-efficient and cost-effective building materials and structures. However, their uses in construction are still relatively novel and sometimes limited to only a few types of polymers.
So, what are polymers? Where do they come from? Why are they such excellent construction materials? And how can we use them to build a better future? Here, we’ll discuss past trends, the growing use of polymers in construction, and the future of this niche market.
History of Polymer Materials
When the first celluloid thermoplastic, known as Parkesine, was invented in 1850 by Alexander Parkes, his intention was to create a cheap replacement for ivory. However, it didn't take long for people to realize that it could be molded into sheets that were thinner than paper and just as strong. In 1907, Leo Baekeland invented the world’s first fully-synthetic plastic known as Bakelite. These two inventions paved the way for the plastics we know today.
How Plastic Was Used for Construction in the Past
Although plastics have recently become more popular in construction, their use is not new, and they have played a large role in the industry since their creation. While plastic is still used in similar ways today, it was also used on a smaller scale in the past. For example, before insulation was available for construction, some builders used plastic as a coating on bricks. Since plastics could be melted and molded into different shapes, they allowed for many more decorative elements to be added to brick buildings than previously possible with traditional brick building techniques.
Uses of Polymers in Construction Today
Modern polymer materials are commonly found in plumbing, household appliances, electronic components and other construction materials. These versatile compounds have been around for more than a century but have only recently begun to be used more extensively for building material applications. It is now feasible to incorporate polymers into just about any type of construction project imaginable such as window frames, shingles, light fixtures, pipes, insulation, exterior insulation panels (EIP) and many more.
Although they may not be thought of as traditionally green materials, current trends show some promise for plastics to be more eco-friendly. Technology has made it possible to utilize these amazing products on a much wider scale than ever before.
Future Trends for the Application of Polymers
While we’ve become accustomed to building with steel, concrete or timber, advances in plastic technology are constantly changing what’s possible. New materials have allowed us to build skyscrapers with complex designs, bridges that can span rivers without any piers and massive stadiums—often within a few months. As new technologies develop, these plastic materials will become even more impressive and useful for different construction purposes.
Custom Plastic Fabrication
In recent years, an innovative technology known as custom plastic fabrication has been on a steady rise in popularity. This technology is often used by architects to create designs that could never be created with conventional building materials. It’s hard to imagine that some buildings, like The Gherkin, located in London, would never have existed if plastic was not available. Using advanced plastic engineering techniques allows for buildings to now be made in any size or shape. When you consider that much of today’s architecture aims to make a statement about where it stands, it makes sense that more unique types of construction materials are being sought out. Plastics provide endless possibilities due to their malleability, which is exactly why they are so popular among designers worldwide.
Biggest Challenges With Plastic in Construction
While there are some advantages to using plastic as a building material, it does come with a host of challenges. Among them is damage to non-plastic components (such as concrete, steel reinforcements or other materials) due to their incompatibility with polymer-based additives. There can also be problems caused by changes in temperature, deformation if construction is halted before polymerization is complete and difficulties related to repair or replacement since new plastic components may not match previous ones. In short, while there's plenty of promise when it comes to the use of plastics in construction projects, there are still some areas where the industry can see improvement in the future.