What is PVC?
PVC or polyvinyl chloride is a form of plastic used for a wide variety of products in everyday life, including cable insulation, imitation leather, inflatable products and automobile parts such as dashboards.
In the US, PVC can often be referred to as vinyl.
PVC is different from the material uPVC, although uPVC products, particularly those with hard frames, are often just referred to as PVC.
PVC is made with the addition of plasticisers which makes the material flexible as opposed to the rigid form of uPVC. For more information, see the page: What is uPVC?
PVC is made from heating vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) in a catalyst containing a reactor - a process known as 'polymerisation'. VCM gas is heated to over 200°C, whereby the molecules join together to make longer molecules called polymers; in this case PVC plastic. Plasticisers are then added to make the product more malleable and flexible.
A brief history...
PVC was first discovered by accident at least twice during the nineteenth century, but it was French chemist Henri Victor Regnault that first managed to isolate the product (separate it from other materials) in 1835.
Despite this, the PVC we know today was not developed until 1926 by the B.F Goodrich company. This was the first time the material had been developed into something more flexible and manageable, that could actually be used.
PVC has many properties, most of which have been engineered specifically to make the material more useful and advantageous.
The most important properties of PVC are its flexibility and durability. The adding of plasticisers mean that PVC is flexible and can be used as a replacement for rubber in many instances.
Despite being flexible, PVC is still strong, which makes it ideal for parts such as car dashboards, which should be strong but must also be flexible so that in an accident they will bend rather than shatter.
PVC is often used on the handles of many tools as a coating. In this instance it replaces rubber to provide a non-slip and more comfortable handle for the user. This can be on tools such as spanners, tube cutters, screwdrivers and hammers.
PVC is also used to make tarpaulins designed to withstand extended use in adverse weather conditions. PVC is used for this as it is flexible enough to be made into tarpaulin, but is also very durable and weather resistant.
PVC is also used for electric cable insulation as can be wrapped tightly around the cables whilst still allowing them to keep their movability. PVC is also an electrical insulator, so will not conduct the electricity flowing through the cables.