The History of The Ubiquitous Plastic Container

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Plastic bottle design

Have you ever wondered how we get all the industrial plastic containers, colored bottles, and custom plastic bottles that we take for granted around us every day? We in the United States are using 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, and the plastics industry is our third largest. Around the world, 600 billion pounds of plastic are made every year, and that market grows by 5% every year. An enormous amount of that is industrial plastic containers and plastic bottles of all sorts, the vast majority of which are made by blow molding.

Where Does Blow Molding Come From?

Blow molding is, at its simplest, using air to blow a hot material into a particular shape. Glass blowing is the oldest form of this art, and early glassblowing was taking place in ancient Syria and Egypt thousands of years ago. Melted glass would be put on the end of a hollow tube, and someone would blow into the tube while rotating it, to create useful and decorate shapes. In the Middle Ages, this process was ramped up because of the demand for bottles to ship wine.

How Did We Get From Glass to Industrial Plastic Containers?

In 1851, a man named S.T. Armstrong was the first to get a patent for blowing something other than glass. He was working on a machine that could do the blowing and turning more efficiently than a person and was the first to mention plastic for this process. As plastics developed, better machines for blowing it into custom shapes were developed. From the 1930s to the 1940s, it was possible to make blow molded plastic bottles, but there were still a lot of limitations.

What Precipitated the Rise of Blow Molded Plastics?

It wasn’t until the 1950s that commercial blow molding equipment could be bought, and it was in the mid-1950s that higher quality plastics were patented. Plastics are far cheaper than glass or aluminum for making bottles, so this set off an explosion of new plastic bottle products. IN the beverage market, the Coca-Cola company was the first to use plastic soda bottles. AS blow molding processes became faster, cheaper, and more reliable, soon everyone turned to plastics.

What’s the Modern Blow Molding Situation?

Microprocessor resins were invented, and that allowed plastic materials to be used for even more applications, like industrial plastic containers, fuel tanks, and even air conditioners. The Japanese and Germans introduced 3-D blow molding which allowed far more complex shapes to be made.

What’s the Future of Blow Molding?

It’s hard to imagine any limits at this point, as the technology and the materials only continue to advance. Everything from surfboards to bumpers, industrial plastic containers to milk jugs, toy wheels to ductwork are made by blow molding. The limits are only human creativity.

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