Both thermosetting and thermoplastic molding materials are formed into final shape by a variety of molding and fabricating methods.
Thermosetting materials are commonly formed by placing molding powder or molded preform in heated dies and compressing under heat and pressure into the final infusible shape. Or they are formed by forcing heat-softened material into a heated die for final forming into the hard infusible shape.
Thermoplastics are commonly formed by injection molding, that is, by forcing soft, hot plastic into a cold die, where it hardens by cooling. Continuous profiles of thermoplastic materials are made by extrusion. Thermoplastic sheets, especially transparent acrylics, are frequently formed into final shape by heating and then blowing to final form under compressed air or by drawing a partial vacuum against the softened sheet.
Foamed plastics are employed for thermal insulation in refrigerators, buildings, and many other applications. In buildings, plastics are either prefoamed into slabs, blocks, or other appropriate shapes, or they are foamed in place.
Prefoamed materials, such as polystyrene, are made by adding a blowing agent and extruding the mixture under pressure and at elevated temperatures. As the material emerges from the extruder, it expands into a large log that can be cut into desired shapes. The cells are closed; that is, they are not interconnecting and are quite impermeable.
Foamed-in-place plastics are made with pellets or liquids. The pellets, made, for example, of polystyrene, are poured into the space to be occupied, such as a mold, and heated, whereupon they expand and occupy the space. The resulting mass may be permeable between pellets. Liquid-based foams, exemplified by polyurethane, are made by mixing liquid ingredients and immediately casting the mixture into the space to be occupied. A quick reaction results in a foam that rises and hardens by a thermosetting reaction. When blown with fluorocarbon gases, such forms have exceptionally low thermal conductivities.
All the plastics can be machined, if proper allowance is made for the properties of the materials.
Plastics are often combined with sheet or mat stocks, such as paper, cotton muslin, glass fabric, glass filament mats, nylon fabric, and other fabrics, to provide laminated materials in which the properties of the combined plastic and sheet stock are quite different from the properties of either constituent by itself. Two principal varieties of laminates are commonly made: (1) High-pressure laminates employing condensation-type thermosetting materials, which are formed at elevated temperatures and pressures. (2) Reinforced plastics employing unsaturated polyesters and epoxides, from which no by-products are given off, and consequently, either low pressures or none at all may be required to form combinations of these materials with a variety of reinforcing agents, like glass fabric or mat.