In this blog, we will explore in detail how reverse engineering allows us to unlock the secrets of different types of plastics, revealing not only their main composition, but also the additives that make them unique in their application.
The presence of plastics in our lives is undeniable. From packaging to car parts to electronic devices, we are surrounded by these materials. However, to properly understand and manage its environmental impact and applications, it is essential to analyze what type of plastic we are using.
Reverse engineering has become a crucial tool for unlocking the secrets of these materials and their additives, allowing us to make more informed decisions.
The diversity of types of plastics
Before delving into reverse engineering, it is important to understand the immense diversity of types of plastic that exist. From polyethylene to PVC, each of these materials has unique properties that make them suitable for different applications. The key to analyzing what type of plastic is before us lies in breaking down its molecular composition.
- Polyethylene (PE): It is lightweight, moisture resistant, non-toxic and easy to shape. It can be transparent or translucent. It is used in food packaging, shopping bags, milk and detergent bottles, water pipes, toys, among others.
- Polyester (PET): it is resistant, transparent, lightweight and has a good gas barrier. It is also recyclable. It is used in soft drink and water bottles, food packaging, clothing, textile fibers and food wrapping films.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): It is durable, corrosion resistant, electrically insulating and can be rigid or flexible depending on the formulation. Used in water pipes and sewage systems, electrical cable coverings, windows, doors, floors, and inflatable products such as toys and inflatable boats
These are just a few examples of common plastics, and each has specific properties that make them suitable for particular applications due to their versatility and ease of manufacture.
The power of reverse engineering to analyze types of plastics
Reverse engineering is a process by which an existing product or material is decomposed and understood to determine its design, function and components. It is widely used in industry to improve products and processes, as well as to investigate problems and defects. In the context of plastics, this involves breaking down a plastic object into its fundamental components, identifying both the type of plastic and the additives that make it up.
Reverse engineering is commonly used in industry to analyze competing products, improve the design of existing products, and understand material composition. Plastics can experience a wide variety of failures due to factors such as improper design, quality of materials, faulty processing, or wear over time.
These failures are due to factors such as inadequate design, quality of materials, faulty processing or wear over time. Here we present three examples of plastic failures that can be analyzed and resolved through reverse engineering:
- Fatigue Cracks: This type of failure occurs when a plastic is subjected to cyclic loading or repeated vibration over time, causing microscopic cracks to form that eventually propagate and can cause a rupture. To analyze it through reverse engineering, the damaged plastic part is disassembled and analyzed to identify the location and pattern of the cracks. This allows engineers to determine whether the design, material or loading conditions are responsible for the failure and take corrective action.
- Failure due to environmental stress: Some plastics can be affected by environmental factors such as humidity, UV radiation or exposure to chemicals, which can weaken their structure and cause premature failure. To reverse engineer it, the environmental exposure history is evaluated and laboratory tests are performed to determine how and why the plastic degraded. This may involve identifying the source of contamination or finding more resistant material alternatives.
How to analyze the types of plastics and their additives
Analyzing the types of plastics and their additives is important to understand their properties and characteristics, as well as their impact on the environment and the possible failures they may have. Here is a basic guide on how to carry out this analysis:
Sampling and preparation
The first step in analyzing a type of plastic is to collect a representative sample. This can be done by collecting small pieces of the plastic object or by obtaining plastic fragments in the case of waste or final product. Once the sample is obtained, it is cleaned and prepared, eliminating any surface contamination that could interfere with the analysis.
Identification of types of plastics
To determine what type of plastic is being analyzed, several techniques can be used, such as Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and Raman spectroscopy. These techniques allow the molecular vibrations characteristic of each type of plastic to be identified, which facilitates precise identification.
In addition to identifying the type of base plastic, it is important to know the additives that have been added to modify its properties. This can be achieved using techniques such as mass spectrometry and atomic absorption spectroscopy. These methods help identify the presence of additives such as heat stabilizers, antioxidants, colorants and other compounds that can affect the properties of the plastic.
Identifying potential failures in plastic parts through reverse engineering involves a systematic process to analyze, understand and diagnose existing problems or defects in a plastic component. After material analysis, a non-destructive inspection is performed to look for internal defects that are not visible to the naked eye, the geometry is analyzed, and a failure analysis is carried out. For this phase, different equipment is used such as:
- Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR): Determines the chemical composition of the plastic.
- Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC): Measures heat changes associated with thermal transitions in the material, such as melting, crystallization, or amorphous transitions.
- Thermogravimetric Analysis (TGA): Measures changes in weight and temperature as a function of time under controlled conditions.
- Scanning electron microscope (SEM): Allows you to observe the microstructure of the plastic surface at the nanometer level.
- Contact angle: measures the wettability of the surface.
- UV-Vis Spectroscopy: Analyzes light absorption in the ultraviolet-visible range to determine the presence of additives and colorants.
- Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy: Provides information on the molecular structure and configuration of polymers.
One of the fields where reverse engineering of plastics has proven to be most valuable is in the recycling industry. Knowing what type of plastic makes up a product makes it easier to separate and recycle efficiently.
To better understand how reverse engineering is applied in plastics analysis, let’s consider an example. Suppose we have a recyclable plastic bottle and we want to determine its composition. Using FTIR spectroscopy techniques, we can identify that the plastic is high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Then, using mass spectrometry, we can detect the presence of additives such as antioxidants and specific colorants.
In the industrial sector, ATRIA has analyzed different failure analyzes of different types of plastics. Some of the most recurring failures of our clients are adhesion problems. In the retail sector, various analyzes have been carried out, depending on the type of plastic, its additives and even surface roughness. Some of these applications are:
Poor adhesion of inks on plastic
Problem of adhesion of the inks with which the logos are printed on the surface of the plastic. The surface energy of different samples from each stage of the production process was analyzed. It was concluded that in some pieces there could be poor adhesion due to poorly rinsed soap residue. This contamination means that there is better adhesion with water than with solvents.
Paint adhesion problems on plastic
The objective was to know the cause of the paint adhesion problem in samples from different suppliers. Different tests were carried out to characterize the surface of the samples from both suppliers in order to compare them with each other and find out if there are differences. The origin of the problem was in the supplier’s polishing, since, as shown in the photos of this project, it generated different roughnesses, affecting the adhesion of the ink.
Improvement of resistance to solar exposure of colored polymers
The objective was to propose one or more solutions to improve the resistance of the material and develop an accelerated test that would allow several alternatives to be studied. These prototype samples were tested in an accelerated aging test, which made it possible to select those with the best resistance.
Compatibility problems between new plastics and cleaning products
Variation in the chemical composition of plastics can influence the resistance to pH conditions and surface-active surfactants that some cleaning products may have. For this reason, at Atria, we have carried out analyzes of different types of plastics against cleaning products. One of the most interesting projects aimed to evaluate the influence of the use of hydroalcoholic gel on the polymeric components.
This knowledge allows us not only to recycle plastic properly, but is also used in the research and development of new plastic materials, allowing the improvement of their properties and the creation of more sustainable products.
The role of reverse engineering in security
Analyzing plastics through reverse engineering is crucial for several reasons:
- It helps to better understand the materials we use in daily life, which can have important implications for health and the environment.
- It allows identifying opportunities to improve the recyclability and sustainability of plastic products.
To illustrate the importance of reverse engineering in identifying types of plastics, let’s consider the example of water bottles. At first glance, they all may look the same, but through detailed analysis, we can discover that some are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and others are made of HDPE (high-density polyethylene). This information is crucial to the recycling process, as different types of plastics must be separated and recycled separately to maintain their quality.
The ability to accurately identify types of plastics and their additives is of great importance in several aspects:
Plastic recycling has become a fundamental part of efforts to reduce environmental pollution. Reverse engineering helps sort and separate plastics more effectively, making it easier to recycle and reuse.
Accurately identifying types of plastics helps minimize the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or the environment. This contributes to reducing pollution and caring for nature.
Development of new materials
Understanding the composition of plastics and their additives can inspire the development of more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials. Reverse engineering provides valuable information for innovation in the plastics industry.
Failure analysis of plastics through reverse engineering plays a crucial role in improving quality, safety and efficiency in a wide range of industries. By unraveling the reasons behind failures in plastic materials, it opens the door to greater innovation, cost savings and development of stronger, more durable products.
In addition, it guarantees compliance with applicable standards and regulations, which is essential in environments where user safety is paramount. This process not only solves technical problems, but also encourages continuous learning that drives excellence in the production and design of plastic products, thus strengthening the competitiveness of organizations in today’s market.
In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, the ability to analyze what type of plastic we are using is essential. Reverse engineering has become an invaluable tool for this task, allowing us to accurately identify the types of plastics and their additives. This, in turn, contributes to efficient recycling, waste reduction and innovation in more sustainable materials.
In summary, reverse engineering allows us to analyze what type of plastic we are dealing with, including the identification of its additives. The application of reverse engineering in the identification of plastics becomes essential to make informed decisions and promote more sustainable practices.
Do you want to know more about plastic analysis and reverse engineering? Contact us!