Despite the spectacular progress that has been made in the development of plastics, and steady reductions in the cost of their production, plastics have failed to make as much impact on the furniture industry as once seemed likely. High prices for oil and gas, the main source of raw materials, have tended to keep unit costs for plastic parts higher than those for wood-based components. The main areas where plastics have achieved dominance are in contract seating for restaurants etc., where toughness and easy care are crucial factors.
In essence, plastics are long chain molecular structures evolved from common elements and compounds—gases, lime, salt, coal, oil, molasses, cotton, wood, etc.—by chemical synthesis. Heavyweight molecules or monomers (one unit), usually but not invariably built up of carbon atoms, are linked together in long chains with or without cross-links to become polymers (many units), with the qualities of hardness, toughness, resilience, stretch, mouldability, translucence, dielectric properties, heat, acid and water resistance, etc., according to the type as determined by the molecules and their arrangement. Thus, in theory at least, the research chemist should be able to arrange the linkage of the molecules to give the physical qualities he requires, although obviously methods of achieving that linkage have to be evolved which are possible, practical and economic.
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