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Plastic vs metal fasteners: why plastic can be a better choice

clock 1 minutes | 13 Feb 2018

Plastic fasteners used by NASA in space

Metal is the most common material used to create fastening solutions. However plastic fasteners offer a different set of characteristics. Notably, they’re used in space. The Hubble Telescope and International Space Station are held together using plastic fasteners.

On a more terrestrial level, plastic fasteners can offer advantages over their metallic counterparts for earth-based projects.

Plastic doesn’t rust

Typically, metal fasteners corrode and develop rust over time, especially when exposed to moisture or salty conditions. Corrosion, of course, leads to degradation. If it’s corrosion-resistant fasteners you need, you want plastic. If your product will face salt-water conditions, consider fasteners made from PVC, Isoplast or PET. These plastics also give you high strength to weight ratio, don’t absorb water, and withstand chemicals and corrosive substances such as diesel fuel and petrol.

Plastic resistant to UV rays

This is why NASA likes plastic: it’s much better than metal fasteners at standing up to UV rays. That being said, some plastics do absorb UV rays and develop free radicals that corrode. If UV protection is important, opt for fasteners made from polyimides or FEP.

Plastic is nonconductive

Plastic doesn’t conduct heat or electricity. This makes fasteners made from plastic materials ideal for electrical or electronic applications.

Plastics can cost less

Plastic clips weigh less than metal brackets. For the automotive industry, this means improved performance and efficiency. But this is just one reason the automotive industry often favours plastic fasteners. The other: plastic screws and bolts can cost less than metal fasteners. Plastic is simply a lower-cost material. When you’re mass producing a product or part, this can amount to substantial savings.

Plastic is more versatile

Plastic is easier to make in complex shapes. You can also produce plastic fasteners in any colour you want. Metal, however, has to go through secondary processes. For instance, metal brackets have to be cut or stamped, drilled and stamped again. The oil has to be removed and then coated.

When you should use plastic

A good rule of thumb when deciding between plastic and metal fasteners: think about your application. If environmental, thermal, weight, chemical or electrical properties need to be considered, go with plastic fasteners.

Plastic pieces