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Plastics Technicians


Thermoplastics, plastics that soften with heat and harden when cooled, were discovered in France in 1828. In the United States in 1869, John Wesley Hyatt, a printer, created celluloid while attempting to create an alternate material to supplement ivory in billiard balls. His invention, patented in 1872, brought about a revolution in production and manufacturing. By 1892, over 2,500 articles were being produced from celluloid. Among these inventions were frames for eyeglasses, false teeth, the first movie film, and, of course, billiard balls. Celluloid did have its drawbacks. It could not be molded and it was highly flammable.

It was not until 1909 that the Belgian-American chemist Leo H. Baekeland produced the first synthetic plastic. This product replaced natural rubber in electrical insulation and was used for phone handsets and automobile distributor caps and rotors, and is still used today. Other plastics materials have been developed steadily. The greatest variety of materials and applications, however, came during World War II, when the war effort brought about a need for changes in clothing, consumer goods, transportation, and military equipment.

Today, plastics manufacturing is a major industry whose products play a vital role in many other industries and activities around the world. Plastics is a $432 billion industry in the United States. It is difficult to find an area of our lives where plastic does not play some role. For example, plastics engineers and technicians assisting those in the medical field may help to further develop artificial hearts, replacement limbs, artificial skin, implantable eye lenses, and specially designed equipment that will aid surgeons and other health professionals in the operating room. The position of plastics technician was created by technological developments in the plastics industry that required people with some technical background, but not an engineering degree.

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