What is UHMW Polyethylene?

February 11, 2018
What is UHMW Polyethylene?

Engineering plastics are ruled by mighty acronyms and advanced terminological labels, industry labels born of intricately formulated polymers. UHMW polyethylene is a prime candidate among a burgeoning group of designer polymers. The acronym in this tough plastic stands for Ultra-High Molecular Weight, a prefixing term that defines this form of polyethylene as a particularly dense subset of this popular thermoplastic.


Abrasion-Resistant Hero

Superior molecular density is a useful feature for a tough polymer, one that targets sheets and rods of the plastic squarely at abrasion-prone industrial sectors. The molecular structure of UHMW polyester consists of long chains, which gifts the material with a formidable atomic structure. Indeed, molecular density exceeds standard polyethylene by a factor of 10, which means products built from this material are certain to be durable and fully abrasion-resistant all the way down to the atomic scale.

UHMW-PE Processing Caveats

Defined as a decidedly effective shield or barrier in intense mechanical shock scenarios, the substance absorbs impacts without bowing to deformation or wear, but there are issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, the initial benefits mentioned above are also viewed as drawbacks by designers and engineers. In short, the tough plastic is as daunting as any alloy. It takes high-end tooling and superb processing proficiency to work with UHMW polyethylene. This statement applies to extrusion stages, moulding techniques, and other processing work. Advanced thermal treatments need to be applied here, high temperatures that reach the 131°C crystalline melting point of the tough plastic and use this fiery heat to alter the viscous properties of the material, thus making the extruded slugs more workable.

Desirable Characteristics Aplenty

Mechanical strength jumps to the top of the list, but there are numerous other benefits, material advantages that make the hard work more than cost-effective. Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene is self-lubricating and formulated with bacterial growth cancelling properties. It’s also a champion when used in hot environments, can function in super-cold environments, and is imbued with a low friction coefficient that partners superbly with an impressively accomplished chemically-resistant structure.

As all of these attributes are ruled by atomic density, the grading of the material can be adjusted to target the polymer at many contrasting applications. Snowmobile tracks and skis made from UHMW coast over snow and gritty rock without wearing or cracking. Strengthened pipes that require additional reinforcement push masses of sharp-edged slurry through UHMW lined innards. Mining chutes or toughened conveyor belts, the tough plastic fits into countless rugged applications with aplomb.