Finding Answers

Integrative Seminar Week 14

02/04/20

This week I was to shortlist 3 questions from the ones that I’d written for my final submission.

  1. How does the melting point of a material affect the ease with which it can be
    moulded? (Scientific principle)
  2. How will the newer ‘scientific’ method of injection moulding help improve the current
    status of this industry? (technology, economy)
  3. How did people achieve uniformity in objects without the existence of moulding?
    (historical significance)
  4. What lifestyle and events led to a spike in the usage of moulded plastic items?
    (psychology, watershed moments, post-war history)
  5. How have plastic giants like Tupperware dealt with the negative connotation that now
    comes with the mention of plastic? (economy, sustainability, company values)
  6. How can bioplastics transform the current plastic moulding industry? (sustainability,
    technology)

Looking at the questions, I decided that the last 3 would be interesting aspects to look into. I also had already done some research one one of these questions for my studio class, so I decided to choose 2 questions linked to that one. My mind map B topic is Injection Moulding. It is an important manufacturing process used to make majority of the plastic products seen around us. The main issue that occured while trying to find something ‘new’ is that this process is practically set in stone, and no changes can be suggested or new research can be put in from someone at my level, since I do not know the scientific intricacies of this process as well as a professional engineer or injection moulder would. There are many factors like the elasticity modulus, stress and shear, as well as pressure and force, which go into this process, and make up some pretty complex physics formulas. Thus, after giving it some thought, I decided that I could manipulate what goes inside the machine, i.e the material. This is why my further research for both the final paper and my studio work is to be based on the plastic involved in injection moulding.And as you can tell, questions 4,5, and 6 are thus connected to the relevance of plastic in the past, present and the future.

We were to write answers to these 3 questions in 300 words each. For this blog, I will be posting the answer to one question.

1. How can bioplastics transform the current plastic moulding industry?

Ans: Bioplastics are truly the future of plastic products around us. They have been around for a while, and their popularity is slowly but steadily increasing in the manufacturing world. As stated by the name, bioplastics are any kind of plastic made of organic origin. The best way to derive a bioplastic is by first obtaining starch. This starch is fermented and plasticised, and different kinds of raw material processed differently will yield various types of bioplastics. The most well-known bioplastic in the market is PLA- Poly Lactic Acid. Like the name suggests, the reaction to obtain Poly Lactic Acid involves the conversion of a carbohydrate/starch (a polymer of glucose, written as (C6H10O5) n) into lactic acid (CH3CH(OH)COOH) n) using hydrolysis and fermentation. Once this reaction is done, a plasticiser is added, and other additives are mixed in based on the properties expected of the polymer. Although referring to PLA, this is a general process that all bioplastic polymers follow. One might wonder, that if the process sounds so concise and straightforward, why are bioplastics not replacing normal plastics entirely?

The answer lies in the difference between the properties of a bioplastic and a crude-oil based plastic. Common plastics like HDPE are easier for manufacturers to source, their behaviour is well-known, and injection moulders know how to manipulate this material to suit the functional and aesthetic properties that the client desires. On the other hand, bioplastics come with the baggage of this entire process mentioned above required to make them, which differs for each raw material, and costs more money. Taking that into consideration, it is still important to note that PLA manufacture is an industry that is doing well, thanks to its uses in the medical and food packaging industry. This material is perfect for sutures, stents, drug delivery systems, and also disposable food packaging. But PLA still needs to undergo some special chemical processes before it can degrade completely. Which is why alternative biomass used to make the same kind of plastic as PLA sounds like a good idea. One viable alternative is bioplastics made from algae (agar) and the exoskeleton of shrimp(chitin). Both of these have ample raw material that comes in dirt cheap, and unlike starch-based bioplastics, these will not take up resources required for agricultural food crops/cash crops. What it needs is some thorough R&D work and financial resources required for it. If that goes through, these materials will be able to reduce the manufacturing cost substantially, and also cause a huge exponential decrease in the blow caused to the environment due to plastic pollution. So, the degradation taking about 100-200 years, would then be reduced to barely a few months, helping eliminate landfill pollution, marine pollution, and leading to a cleaner and a greener environment while keeping the injection moulding business booming.

Below is the link to my drive folder where I will be posting m ore answers as well as a running photo essay that helps visualise the answers that I am writing.

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