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Plastic World
By Bruce Mushial

     Some observers may believe parts our society are plastic, but in reality our world is being inundated by a vast array of high tech "plastics". The term plastic is to composites and polymers what the term food is to all the different culinary offering there are in the world. The offering of high tech and composite materials is so advanced you can get a Doctorate in high tech materials. Certainly we all come face to face with run of the mill plastic products every day, whether it is the body of our electric toothbrush, the common coffee maker, or the office fax machine. These are common low-tech polymers, but what is changing our society now and will continue to do so down the road are the high tech polymer and composite materials.

     Did you know that manufactured composites are frequently stronger than steel. The California Department of Transportation is testing a highway bridge that is made of composite materials instead of traditional cement. The bridge was erected in one-third the time it took to build a standard bridge. Although it receives the regular assault of big rig tractor trailers, many of the components of the bridge where carried into position by two construction workers where traditional cement components would have required a large crane to place. In the colder parts of the country municipalities would appreciate the composite deck of the bridge because it is immune to the freeze and thaw cycle and the road salts that after just a few winters begin to destroy steel and cement structures. The bullet proof vests worn by law enforcement officers are lightweight and flexible due to the high tech fibers incorporated into the fabric that dissipate the energy of a bullet like a guardrail keeps a wayward car on a roadway. This same fiber structure has even been incorporated into business suits to offer extra protection to executives. The heat shield tiles on the Space Shuttle are made of super strong ceramic tiles. The same type of high tech ceramic material some companies are using to make ball bearings for their high-end machinery.

     Some of the structural panels on the latest generation of passenger aircraft aren't made of aluminum, as has been the tradition, they are composite materials. For that matter, if you go shopping for a latest generation business jet you may be surprised to hear that virtually the entire airplane is made of composite material. Raytheon Corporation has decided to build their latest business jets, the Premier I and the Hawker Horizon with composite fuselages rather than aluminum. Rather than being hand build of aluminum by skilled workers (salaries, workman's comp, sick time, benefits, vacation, etc.) the fuselages are made by computer controlled machines that work 24-hours a day. The net result of using composite materials is an aircraft that is 20% lighter than one made of aluminum. Which reduces the fuel consumption and the size of the engines required). The parts count has been reduced by more than half (with fewer subcontractors, fewer repair parts, less warehouse space required to store the fewer original and repair parts, etc.), and the amount of wasted material has been reduced to 5% from 20%. How can high tech composites benefit your business, or how can products made of composite materials benefit the bottom line of your favorite stock?

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