We keep seeing more and more plastics replacing metals and other materials as their properties are enhanced. For domestic cars, the percentage of weight in steel and iron has dropped from 75 percent in 1977 to 63 percent in 2004, according to the Department of Energy’s Transportation Energy Data Book.
That being said, it has been progressing for a very long time.
(From Material Designs and the British Plastics Federation)
From their brief history, I have highlighted points where plastics started replacing other materials.
1862 – Display of Parkesine, predecessor of celluloid (cellulose nitrate), at the 1862 Great International Exhibition in London
1880 – Fashion for long hair leads to cellulose nitrate replacing horn as the preferred material for combs
1898 – Beginning of mass production of rpm gramophone records from shellac
1915 – Queen Mary sees casein products at the British Industries Fair and orders several pieces of jewelry made from it
1916 – Rolls Royce begins to use phenol formaldehyde in its car interiors and boasts about it
1921 – Beginning of rapid growth of phenolic mouldings especially for electrical insulation, with addition of phenolic laminates in 1930
1926 – Harrods hosts first display of new coloured thermosetting plastic tableware produced by Brookes and Adams, The Streetly Manufacturing Company and Thomas De La Rue and Co.
1929 – Bakelite Ltd receives its largest ever order for phenolic moulding powder for the casing of the Siemens telephone
1930 – ‘Scotch’ tape, the first transparent sticky tape invented in US by 3M Company
1936 – First production of aircraft canopies made from ‘Perspex’.
1938 – First toothbrush with nylons tufts manufactured
1940s – Use of polyethylene in radar
1945 – The production of LDPE the Sqezy bottle by Monsanto caused a rapid expansion of the industry, with containers produced to replace glass bottles for shampoos and liquid soaps.
1948 – Introduction of 12” long playing records made from polyvinyl chloride (pvc)
1949 – Launch in US of Tupperware made from low density polyethylene
1950s – the polyethylene bag makes its first appearance (And its still there ever since !)
1953 – Commercialisation of polyester fibres introduces the concept of ‘drip dry’ and ‘non-iron’
1956 – Reliant Regal 111, first commercially successful all glass-reinforced-plastic bodied car goes on sale
1957 – The hoop is reinvented as the Hula Hoop by Knerr & Medlin, Wham-O Toy Company
1958 – Lego patents its stud and block coupling system and produces toys of cellulose acetate, later Acrylonitrile- butadiene-styrene polymer.
1959 – Barbie Doll unveiled by Mattel at American International Toy Fair
1962 – Silicone gel breast implants pioneered successfully
1966 – Blow moulding of fuel tanks introduced
1969 – Neil Armstrong plants a nylon flag on the moon.
1970 – First Yellow HDPE pressure pipes for gas introduced into UK by Wavin/British Gas.
1973 – Polyethylene terephthalate beverage bottles introduced
1976 – Plastics in its great variety of forms becomes the most used type of material in the world
1979 – Introduction of first commercial mobile/ portable ‘phones
1979 – First PVC-U double glazed windows installed
1980 – First Blue HDPE pressure pipes for potable water introduced into UK.
1982 – First artificial heart made mainly of polyurethane, introduced implanted in a human.
1983 – The slim plastic Swatch watch made of 51 mainly plastic components
1990 – ICI launches Biopol, the first commercially available biodegradable plastic
1994 – Smart car with lightweight flexible integrally coloured polycarbonate panels introduced
1998 – Free standing Zanussi Oz fridge, with insulation and outer skins made in one process from polyurethane foam introduced
2000s –Nano-Technology applied to polymer and composite applications
2005 – NASA explores the advantages of a polyethylene based material RFX1, as the material for the spaceship that will send man to Mars
2005 – Polycond project established to look at the potential of conductive polymers
2008 – Airbus 380, comprising 22% carbon-fibre reinforced plastics flies into Heathrow
2009 – Boeing 787 (nicknames ‘Boeing’s Plastic Dream’) comes into service, its skin is made up of 100% Plastic composites with plastic making up 50% of all materials in the plane.