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How Polyethylene film is made

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Posted by tri-cor on Thu, Apr 2nd, 2015 at 8:51 pm


The process for making polyethylene film and bags is called extrusion. This process
starts with melting down small plastic pellets, ( called resin ), until they become molten
and pliable.


The molten plastic is pushed, ( extruded ), through a circular die to form a continuous
tube of plastic called the bubble. The bubble is inflated with air to the desired diameter
and drawn vertically up a tower giving it time to cool before it is flattened to its lay flat
width. The thickness of the film is controlled by the speed at which it is pulled from the
die. The width of the film is controlled by the amount of air inserted in the bubble.

Film color can be changed in the molten process by adding resin pellets that contain
colored pigment.

Many things can be done during this “inline” process. A printing press may be printing
images, instructions, warnings, company logos, ect.. on the film. A bag making machine
can seal and perforate the film to form varying lengths of bags on rolls. The film can be
cut and separated for individually cut bags. You can also add vent holes, which are
punched through the film in a variety of patterns and sizes.

The inline process has some further processing limitations. If the film requires more
technical alterations then rolled film will be taken off the extrusion line to be further
modified in what is known as out of line converting. Here is where you see Process
printing and laminating, in addition to process of making sideweld bags, reclosable
bags, and wicketed bags, is done out of line.
Plastics are made from natural materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt and crude oil through a
polymerisation or polycondensation process.


Plastics are derived from natural, organic materials such as cellulose, coal, natural gas, salt
and, of course, crude oil. Crude oil is a complex mixture of thousands of compounds and
needs to be processed before it can be used. The production of plastics begins with the
distillation of crude oil in an oil refinery. This separates the heavy crude oil into groups of
lighter components, called fractions. Each fraction is a mixture of hydrocarbon chains
(chemical compounds made up of carbon and hydrogen), which differ in terms of the size
and structure of their molecules. One of these fractions, naphtha, is the crucial compound
for the production of plastics.

Two main processes are used to produce plastics - polymerisation and polycondensation -
and they both require specific catalysts. In a polymerisation reactor, monomers such as
ethylene and propylene are linked together to form long polymer chains. Each polymer has
its own properties, structure and size depending on the various types of basic monomers

There are many different types of plastics, and they can be grouped into two main
polymer families:
 Thermoplastics (which soften on heating and then harden again on cooling).
 Thermosets (which never soften once they have been moulded).
Examples of Thermoplastics
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) Examples of Thermosets
Polycarbonate (PC) Epoxide (EP)
Polyethylene (PE) Phenol-formaldehyde (PF)
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) Polyurethane (PUR)
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)
Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) Unsaturated polyester resins (UP)
Polypropylene (PP)
Polystyrene (PS)
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

Forty years ago, anything made of plastic was considered “cheap.” That’s certainly not true today
when plastics are used in thousands of products ranging from computers, automobile parts and
important medical equipment to toys, cookware, sports equipment, and even clothes. And the
plastics industry continues to grow rapidly. Just where do plastics come from?
What are plastics?
It may surprise students to learn that gutta-percha, shellac, and the horns of animals—all naturally
occurring substances—were used as plastic material before the first synthetic plastics were
produced. Gutta-percha is derived from the sap of certain trees, and shellac is made from the
secretions of a tiny scale insect. Before horn can be used, however, it must be “plasticized,” or
softened, by being boiled in water or soaked in an alkaline solution.
The first synthetic plastic was made from the plant material cellulose. In 1869, John Wesley Hyatt,
an American printer and inventor, found that cellulose nitrate could be used as an inexpensive
substitute for ivory. The mixture could be plasticized with the addition of camphor. Celluloid, as this
new material was called, became the only plastic of commercial importance for 30 years. It was
used for eyeglass frames, combs, billiard balls, shirt collars, buttons, dentures, and photographic
In 1951, two young research chemists for Phillips Petroleum Company in Bartlesville, Okla., made
discoveries that revolutionized the plastics world. Today, the plastics they discovered—
polypropylene and polyethylene—are used to produce the vast majority of the thousands of
plastics products all over the world. (Read more about their discoveries in “Serendipity, Science &
Discoveries” in this publication.)
The source for today’s wide variety of plastics? Petroleum.
Petroleum to Plastics
The technological road from oil field to finished plastic product has numerous fascinating side trips.
Here’s the route taken in the petroleum-to-plastics process:

1. Petroleum is drilled and transported to a refinery.

2. Crude oil and natural gas are refined into ethane, propane, hundreds of other
petrochemical products and, of course, fuel for your car.
3. Ethane and propane are “cracked” into ethylene and propylene, using high-temperature
4. Catalyst is combined with ethylene or propylene in a reactor, resulting in “fluff,” a
powdered material (polymer) resembling laundry detergent.
5. Fluff is combined with additives in a continuous blender.
6. Polymer is fed to an extruder where it is melted.
7. Melted plastic is cooled then fed to a pelletizer that cuts the product into small pellets.
8. Pellets are shipped to customers.
9. Customers manufacture plastic products by using processes such as extrusion, injection
molding, blow molding, etc.

Plastics Processing Methods

Extrusion Molding – the main process used to form plastics. A heated plastic compound is forced
continuously through a forming die made in the desired shape (like squeezing toothpaste from a
tube, it produces a long, usually narrow, continuous product). The formed plastic cools under blown
air or in a water bath and hardens on a moving belt. Rods, tubes, pipes, Slinkys©, and sheet and
thin film (such as food wraps) are extruded then coiled or cut to desired lengths.
Plastic fibers also are made by an extrusion process. Liquid resin is squeezed through thousands of
tiny holes called spinnerets to produce the fine threads from which plastic fabrics are woven.
Injection Molding – is the second most widely used process to form plastics. The plastic compound,
heated to a semifluid state, is squirted into a mold under great pressure and hardens quickly. The
mold then opens and the part is released. This process can be repeated as many times as necessary
and is particularly suited to mass production methods. Injection molding is used for a wide variety
of plastic products, from small cups and toys to large objects weighing 30 pounds or more.
Blow Molding – pressure is used to form hollow objects, such as the soda pop bottle or two-gallon
milk bottle, in a direct or indirect method. In the direct blow-molding method, a partially shaped,
heated plastic form is inserted into a mold. Air is blown into the form, forcing it to expand to the
shape of the mold. In the indirect method, a plastic sheet or special shape is heated then clamped
between a die and a cover. Air is forced between the plastic and the cover and presses the material
into the shape of the die.
Classroom Activity
Plastics: Imagine Life Without Them
Suppose you could step inside a time machine and go back 60 or 100 years. You may easily convince
yourself a day without cars, telephones, and television—maybe even computers—might be kind of
fun. Have you thought about the little things, though? Little things are often what are missed the
Imagine a day without touching something made of plastic!
People were cleaning their teeth before there was a choice of red, blue or purple plastic
toothbrushes, but would you really want one made from metal or wood? Milk and shampoo used
to be sold in glass bottles, and that wasn’t a problem unless you dropped one and it broke. What a
The word plastic comes from the Greek word plastikos, meaning “able to be molded.” That
characteristic, or what scientists call “property,” makes plastic perfect for things like action figures
and dolls. What other properties does plastic have that make it a good choice for particular
products? Try these experiments, then use what you learn to list 10 or even 20 good candidates for

 pieces of aluminum, plastic, and wood about the same size (approximately 2″ long, 1″ wide,
and 1/8″ thick (rulers or yardsticks might work)
 two 6″ stacks of books
 a 2-pound canned good item
 a 4-foot length of string
 a tennis ball
 a plastic and a paper grocery sack.

Place the two stacks of books about 9″ apart. Lay the aluminum strip across the books, making a
level bridge. Lay the string parallel to the strip. Next place the canned good in the middle of the
strip. Use the string to measure the deflection (bend) in the strip and write down your observation.
Repeat the process with the wood and plastic, then discuss what you have observed about
the strength and stiffness of each material. (Which material would you choose for a toothbrush
handle? How about the toothbrush bristles?)
Next, soak the tennis ball in water until it is thoroughly wet. Place it first in the plastic sack and then
the paper one, letting it sit in each for 5 minutes before shaking each bag vigorously. Which bag
stays dry? Does the water cause the paper bag to sag and even break? What can you conclude
about how each material repels or absorbs water? Which bag would you choose to carry your
carton of ice cream?
The information, or data, you’ve gathered from your experiments is just what a scientist uses to
decide what material to use in an engineering design!
(Activity provided by the engineers of Phillips Petroleum Company.)
Gideon, Joyce Kirkpatrick. The Plastics Pioneers:Phillips 66 Company. Phillips Petroleum Company.
28 December 1990.
“Life of the Past.” Investigating the Earth. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, Massachusetts. 1993.
“Plastics: Manufacture.” Compton’s Living Encyclopedia. Online. America Online. 22 April 1997.
Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. New World Dictionaries/Simon & Schuster. New
York, New York. 1993.
Methods of Manufacturing Plastic
by Eric Dontigney; Reviewed by Michelle Seidel, B.Sc., LL.B., MBA; Updated March 05, 2019

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Plastic is abundant in business and everyday life. You find it as product components, packaging and even in
the containers used to ship products. For businesses interested in manufacturing or packaging their own
products, an understanding of the major methods used in plastic manufacturing can prove useful in making
decisions regarding which process best suits their purposes. Molding plastic to form specific products opens
numerous avenues of invention for anyone willing to build the mold and create a functional and valuable

Manufacturing with Injection Molding

One of the most common plastic manufacturing methods, injection molding lends itself to mass production of
products ranging from cell phone stands to toys. The injection molding process melts resin pellets inside the
injection machine with a heated barrel. An auger moves the plastic forward and ensures an even mix of melted
plastic. The machine then drives the melted plastic into a metal mold.

The plastic fills the mold and results in a solid plastic part or product. Most injection molding processes
employ thermoplastics that you can melt and cool multiple times, which limits material waste.

Manufacturing with Extrusion Molding

Extrusion molding calls for a very similar process as injection molding. The machine still melts the plastic.

Rather than filling a mold with the plastic, the machine presses the melted plastic through a die that gives the
plastic a fixed shape. The extrusion molding process functions well in the production of a wide range of
products, including pipes, door frames and seals.

The extrusion process can employ either multiple-melt thermoplastics or thermoset plastics, which only
tolerate a single melting cycle.

Manufacturing with Blow Molding

Several variations of the blow molding process exist. The essential process calls for the production of a
hollow, pre-shaped length of melted thermoplastic, known as a parison. A mold closes around the parison. Air
pressure forces the hollow plastic to expand into the mold shape, leaving the interior of the object hollow.
Variations on the blow molding process include injection and extrusion blow molding as well as stretch blow
molding. Manufacturers employ blow molding processes to make bottles and other containers.

Manufacturing with Rotational Molding

Rotational molding offers a second option for manufacturing hollow objects. In rotational molding, the plastic

powder goes in the mold before heating. The closed mold enters a furnace and rotates, which allows the plastic
powder to coat the entire interior of the mold. The heat melts the plastic into a single layer that conforms to the
shape of the mold cavity, while leaving the interior of the final product hollow.

Manufacturers use rotational molding to create products and components for a wide range of uses, including
auto parts, toys and furniture.