Plastics technologists or polymer scientists perform highly skilled work in the plastics industry, which is linked to the chemical industry. The raw materials used in the manufacture of plastics are mainly coal and by-products of coal.
Polymers are large complex molecules, made by combining smaller building blocks called monomers. Polymer scientists are chemists that manipulate both their molecular structure and chemical or other processing to create useful materials that have unique properties. Various techniques and processes are used to produce the different types of plastics known.
Polymers are created as ingredients for products with unique physical and chemical properties. These products may be lightweight, hard, strong and flexible, and may have special thermal, electrical and optical characteristics. Many of these are used in the furniture, communication, packaging and transportation industries, in items ranging from tractors to detergents, fabrics or aircraft. The polymer may be the end product in itself, or it can be an ingredient that changes the properties of another mixture.
Examples of these are Kevlar, Teflon, biodegradables, fibreglass, polyester and nylon among countless others. While some scientists work on designing and creating new polymer materials, other polymer scientists continue adjusting previous designs, for example, making Kevlar more lightweight and durable.
Scientists use their knowledge of organic chemistry, structural patterns and sometimes computer modelling programs to perform these kinds of tasks. They usually work in many disciplines since polymers may be synthesized for a variety of fields, from nicotine patches to paints and adhesives.
Plastics technologists test the processes used to produce plastics, and put the processes into operation. They oversee these processes and the production of plastics. They test the quality of plastics and the final consumer product. They are also involved in locating and correcting factory faults.
Plastics technologists are not only responsible for the development and testing of plastic products, but may also participate in the marketing, production, sales, services and management activities.
Schooling & School Subjects
Degree: BSc Eng or BSc - with suitable majors, such as Chemistry. Chemistry and Polymer Science - US
Diploma: N.Dip: Polymer Technology - NMMU. This course takes 3 years to complete and consists of 3 semesters’ full-time theoretical training and 3 semesters’ in-service training.
The Plastics Federation of South Africa offers a number of courses for foremen, managers and supervisors towards a Plastician Certificate. These courses are offered at the Plastics Federation’s training centre in Edenvale.
Post-graduate training: The University of Stellenbosch offers a BSc (Hons) degree in Polymer Science for BSc graduates with Chemistry as a major subject.
Tshwane University of Technology and Cape Peninsula University of Technology
The Plastics Federation of South Africa
Private Bag X68
Halfway House, 1685
Tel. (011) 314-4021