Designers and plastics processors would love to have standard information that would tell them - accurately and consistently, if not unfailingly - how thermoplastic resins will perform in any given application over a specified period of time. Processors, designers and, perhaps most of all, end users such as automotive companies, crave such information. They want to know, for example, how changes in temperature and environmental conditions will affect the strength, flexibility and toughness of various thermoplastic materials.
Such information has been available for years for metals. However, the mature metals industries have had hundreds of years to compile information on material performance, while the plastics industry - still in relative infancy with 50 or 60 years of experience - has not amassed similar quantities of information.
Several organizations are offering solutions to the problem. But wading through their disparate efforts and contradicting competitive positions is almost as difficult as trying to predict the performance of thermoplastics using a compass and T-square.
Several organizations claim to have within their databases a solution to the problem of predicting material performances. The primary players include:
Integrated Design Engineer-ing Systems of Laramie, Wyo. It touts a complete performance database for 20,000 grades of thermoplastic resins.
CenTor Corp. of Garden Grove, Calif. It claims its database includes 100,000 descriptions of physical properties, distinctions at different temperatures and applications and chemical resistance for thermoplastic resins and ceramic materials.
A coalition of resin suppliers cooperating to produce an engineering resins database called Campus, which stands for computer-aided material preselection by uniform standards.
D&S Data Resources Inc., a Yardley, Pa., supplier of the Plaspec online materials selection database. It says its database includes 12,800 thermoplastic, thermoset and elastomer molding resins and compounds.
International Plastics Select-or Group, a part of the Data Business Publishing Unit of Information Handling Services Inc. of Engelwood, Colo. It offers information on 22,600 resins.
A new competitor, Rapra Technology Ltd., of Shrewsbury, England. It says its database includes a bibliography with 80,000 abstracts and complete physical and environmental performance information on thermoplastic resins. Rapra's materials database is based on a direct link to the Campus data, said Martin Gaddes, business manager for Knowledge Based Systems.
While providing the Campus information free of charge, Rapra also will be a distributor for the Windows version of the MC-Merge computer program produced by M-Base GmbH of Aachen, Germany. The program was designed to merge the Campus information from several resin firms for easy comparisons, Gaddes said by telephone.
McGraw-Hill Inc. is distributing the MC-Merge computer program in North America through Modern Plastics magazine.
The Ides, CenTor, Plaspec, International Plastics Selector and Rapra databases are based on resin performance data provided by resin producers.
The Campus database now covers nearly 4,500 grades of engineering thermoplastics that are most commonly used in the United States and made by 41 resin producers. Its adherents say it is growing daily. Campus is
based on a system that began in Germany, and was made commercial in 1988.
Detractors say the 10-year-old Ides database includes incorrect and outdated information, and that company executives are unwilling to change their database.
Detractors claim the CenTor and International Plastics Selector systems are unfocused because the companies compile data on a variety of materials, thermoplastics, ceramics and metals, so do not have the depth that other systems have.
Since it is not yet available, industry sources could not comment on the Rapra database.
Detractors say the Campus system, which is based on standard tests developed by the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization, suffers because testing standards cost too much and are not readily available, and because the Campus data is limited to resin companies participating in the program. The latter omits several U.S. industry stalwarts, such as GE Plastics.
``Campus challenged ASTM data and the problems with ASTM test methods, which allow leeway in the ways polymer materials are tested and reported,'' said Herm Dillon, general manager at D&S Data Resources. ``You can't compare Campus and Plastec. You would need to compare ISO with ASTM.''
While Campus information distributed to processors is free, it costs a resin supplier $5,000 for membership in the program, and then the company has to fund its testing of resins to comply with the program.
To further complicate matters, several executives interviewed said they are skeptical about all of the databases because the information is provided by resin manufacturers who could misrepresent performance characteristics for competitive purposes.
Perhaps putting the databases in better perspective, James Karlin, an industry consultant and designer in Fairport, N.Y., said they are necessary tools whose value has not been attained.
Karlin said none of the databases are complete nor infallible. He added that the engineers who would most benefit from using them are not adequately educated about them. In fact, he believes the majority of design engineers and materials designators are not even aware the databases exist.
Another materials engineer said he was aware of them, and agreed that he and his peers must be educated to their uses, but, he added, much of the information contained in the databases already is available through handbooks and from resin suppliers at no cost.
``It might be nice to have all that information, but I can't buy resins from all the players. I have to buy from our company's supply sources.
``Why should I spend any money or time getting an overwhelming amount of data that I won't use, when I can get the data I need [from my suppliers] for free?'' he said.
Michael Kmetz, president of Ides, responds to that criticism by saying his company's database can save time and money.
``If you are happy with one supplier's products, and don't need to find other suppliers, you probably don't need us,'' Kmetz said.
However, he said conducting a search of every supplier, and requesting specifications on a wide range of products could consume a lot of time, energy and money.
``This helps you find the correct product for the application, quickly and easily,'' Kmetz added.
Karlin agreed in part, saying ``These databases have to be used as a step, not a solution.
``There are some things that are still a black art in designing, and people want black-and-white answers where there are only gray solutions.''