Thermoplastics and thermosets on the surface seem to be more similar than different. However, chemically and structurally, they are different and are used in diverse ways.

The key difference between thermoplastics and thermosets is how they react to heat.

Thermoplastics, when heated, will soften to be flexible. This allows it to be shaped into any mold. Thermoplastics do not change their chemical makeup when heat is applied to the material. It can be reheated and reshaped again and will remain the same thermoplastic.

Common thermoplastic materials are acrylic, polycarbonate, nylon, PVC, polypropylene, and polyethylene. Thermoplastics common applications in the advanced materials industry are in the automotive, aerospace, medical devices, and consumer electronics sectors.

The benefits of thermoplastics are that they can be reused and are resistant to environmental elements like impact and chemical exposure. Most thermoplastics are food-safe and can be blended with other fillers to increase their strength. They can also be shaped through injection molding.

Conversely, thermosets become set when exposed to heat and cured to a solid state. They exhibit irreversibility, as once they are set, they cannot be reprocessed into a different shape.
Frequently used thermoset materials include polyester, silicone, melamine, polyurethane, epoxy, and urea-formaldehyde. Thermosets’ common applications in the advanced materials industry are in electronics, including electrical insulation, construction, automotive, aerospace, and the marine industry.

The advantages of using thermosets are that they are stable materials because they are hard and rigid. They are also resistant to high temperatures and can be reinforced with Kevlar, carbon, or fiberglass to increase their durability.

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