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Jan 31, 2022

PLASTIC VS METAL

  • Technology

The word plastic has never really been synonymous with the word premium. In general, this is likely due to the substitution of higher quality materials with plastic in product fabrication to offer a more affordable alternative, often leaving the consumer short-handed on quality. However, this isn’t always the case. Innovation and science have come a long way. While the belief that much of what we see today with products made of plastic sends a message of low quality, some items we put all our trust in are made with plastic. Police and SWAT put their trust in ballistics and riot gear. And in the aerospace industry, some plastics are preferred over metal because they weigh less and have a high resistance to chemicals and corrosion. And yet, the concept of using plastic over metal has had a slow acceptance in the heavy-duty trucking industry. Why? Most likely for two reasons, familiarity, and a lack of understanding.
 
Traditionally, metal has been the plug and socket housing of choice. It was the material used for the first sockets and plugs and trusted for its strength and durability. But when exposed to the elements, metal begins to show its true colors in forms of greens, teals, and rust-colored oranges as being made of corrosive properties. And corrosion and electricity don’t mix. So, the innovative solution was to design housing with plastic materials that would be unaffected by an environment of wet weather and deicers. However, it seems there’s still an unconscious misconception that products made with a plastic composition are still inferior to those made with metal properties. Unfortunately, this thought process is flawed. Just ask Breaking Bad’s, Jesse Pinkman, who learned this lesson the hard way during the dissolving bathtub scene. (Season 1, Episode 2 ‘Cat’s in the Bag’). It’s chemistry. Both in the composition make-up of the properties used to make the plastic and the chemical reactions these materials have with other elements.

Chemistry 101 – Plastic
So, what is plastic? According to an article entitled, “What are Plastics?“, “The chemistry of plastics can be complex, but the basics are straightforward.  Think back to your high school science lessons about atoms and molecules (groups of atoms). Plastics are simply chains of like molecules linked together. These chains are called polymers. This is why many plastics begin with “poly,” such as polyethylene, polystyrene, and polypropylene. The term “plastics” encompasses all these various polymers. Although there are many polymers, plastics are generally lightweight with significant degrees of strength. Plastics can be molded, extruded, cast, and blown into seemingly limitless shapes and films or foams, or even drawn into fibers for textiles. Many types of coatings, sealants, and glues are actually plastics, too.”

Just as there are different types of metals, all with their own varying types or grades, there are different types of plastics. It’s using the right type of material for the application, implemented into a proper design for ultimate results. 
  
Plastics and Your Vehicle
So, how does all this relate to the plastic components on a vehicle? After all, commercial vehicles aren’t exactly traveling through space or regularly driving through areas known for active combat. Can the materials being used in the design of weather-proof connections really outperform their metal counterparts? While skepticism is warranted, if designed and fabricated correctly, the answer is yes. Every manufacturer will have its own unique and proprietary blends of polymers used to build its products. But the key to ensuring that plugs and sockets measure up to their metal predecessor is a delicate balancing act that incorporates the right polymer-based materials with the right product design. If either is flawed, it will fail.
 
Phillips Solutions 
The Phillips philosophy is propelled by providing the industry with innovative, solution-driven products. And Phillips’ line of STA-DRY® products was designed to keep corrosion from eating away at a vehicle’s electrical system by using non-corrosive plastic materials, increasing uptime. Selected blends of synthetic polymers used to build Phillips electrical sockets, plugs, and noseboxes include reinforced nylon, glass-filled nylon, and super tough nylon.  Super tough nylon, used on plug housing and socket lids, delivers high-performance benefits ranging from impact resistance to heat resistance, making these products nearly indestructible.  Glass-filled nylon, used on socket housings, has high rigidity, high mechanical strength, and a high degree of hardness and toughness.  And reinforced nylon, used on our junction boxes, is just as strong as aluminum – a material used in the standard fabrication of gladhand bodies.  All products include UV inhibitors to protect from weathered sun damage. In addition to the materials themselves, the physically engineered designs of these electrical connectors take multiple facets and nuances of more than just product functionality into consideration. Examples of this are seen in select noseboxes that incorporate our bulleted STA-DRY® QCS2® socket into the design for weather-proofing and quick serviceability.  All STA-DRY® sockets have a sealed inner cavity to prevent moisture, contaminants, and corrosion from passing through to the wire harness. And the WEATHER-TITE™ seal on the front of the PERMAPLUG™ blocks 99.99 percent of water intrusion when connected to a STA-DRY® socket.  While Phillips products perform their essential functions, it’s the added features that benefit the end-user, from the ability to withstand over-the-road abuse, to corrosion protection, and reduced maintenance.      
 
Maintenance Is a MUST
Nothing is made with adamantium-like performance. There will always be some level of wear and tear to products used on a vehicle, and that’s where maintenance comes into play. The bigger question is, which products will break down faster and create a higher frequency of maintenance?  Especially unscheduled maintenance?  In relation to the electrical system, corrosion is the number one issue affecting vehicles on the road, which is why Phillips innovations are primarily focused on the prevention of corrosion, with a secondary focus on ease of serviceability. While non-corrosive connections last longer than metal in harsher environments, they are still vulnerable to damage if not maintained properly.  If they are not inspected, cleaned, and greased regularly, they can become susceptible to corrosion’s adverse effects, such as pin degradation and voltage drop, leading to possible lighting CSA violations and downtime to resolve the issues. With the Phillips QCP™ plug and STA-DRY® QCS2® socket, servicing these connections is as easy as unplugging and plugging in components. By combining routine maintenance with quality non-corrosive products, a vehicle stays on the road longer increasing a fleet’s ROI.