Substitutes are readily available, based on desired material properties and the function of the finished part.
Supply-chain disruptions have left no part of our industry untouched over the last year. While there is light at the end of the tunnel in our fight against COVID-19, it is apparent the fallout will continue for some time. The impact is only heightened with the recent Suez Canal blockage and a shipping container shortage.The disruptions have combined to create a significant material shortage, increasing prices or downright halting the production of plastic-based components. Fortunately, the tremendous innovation we have seen in material development provides options for product developers willing to explore alternatives for commonly used resins.
During material shortages, substitution options are available based on desired material properties and the intended function of produced parts. (An extensive list is available on the Protolabs website.) Each lesser-known plastic could work as a replacement for commonly used plastics such as acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), and polypropylene (PP).Polysulfone (PSU)This resin is an amorphous, transparent, and pale-amber high-performance thermoplastic that exhibits good melt stability, which permits fabrication by conventional thermoplastic processing methods. PSU also has outstanding mechanical, electrical, and thermophysical properties, as well as excellent chemical and hydrolytic stability. The characteristics come together to make the resin a tremendous fit for components that are exposed to steam and hot water, like plumbing components, sterilizable plastic parts for medical devices, and membranes for water treatment, gas separation, and more.
Polyphthalmide (PPA)Semi-aromatic polyamides like PPA are often a cost-effective alternative to the more expensive, fully aromatic aramids. Featuring a combination of aromatic and aliphatic groups, PPA greatly reduces moisture absorption, which results in few dimensional changes and more stable properties. The material is a great fit for products that must withstand prolonged exposure to harsher chemicals and higher temperatures. With that, common applications are motor parts, coolant pumps, bearing pads, resonators, and more.