When plastic products don’t measure up, the cause can be a challenge to identify. Even if the chemical composition and processing parameters haven’t changed, internal structure differences in the materials can cause surface irregularities, leaks, dimensional changes, or distortions with no apparent cause.
In such cases, atomic force microscopy (AFM) might help identify a solution. AFM is a relatively new technology that uses a tiny nanometer-scale bar positioned near the surface of the material. As the beam is moved over the surface of the specimen, individual atoms exert force on it and cause it to bend. By recording the deformation of the beam, the molecular structure of the material can be mapped out and flaws can be detected.
I met with Mike Mallamaci, co-owner of PolyInsight, today. His Akron-based company is one of only a few independent analytical laboratories to use atomic force microscopy to examine the internal structures of polymeric materials. The lab is equipped to prepare specimens so that both surfaces and cross-sections of plastics can be inspected.