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Concrete, Cars and Spaceships: Polythene in Engineering

Polythene is a material of a million uses.

Industrial polythene is used in everything from automotive to zoology – and it isn’t just centred around packaging. Car components are often made with polythene. The construction industry uses polythene in every part of the building process, from damp proofing to concrete curing. Polythene even gets used by NASA in space missions, and has been for decades.

And it’s all thanks to polythene’s special properties. It’s water resistant, flexible, insulating, inert, and incredibly strong – even at mere microns thick. Polythene allows wireless signals to pass through almost unimpeded, and in WWII, British forces took advantage of this to win the war. Because very high frequency radio waves pass through polythene, it became the perfect insulator for radar equipment. We still use it for radio systems today.

Learn more – The physical properties of polythene

But there’s so much more to this amazing material, and we’ve put just a handful of its practical engineering uses here, to demonstrate just how useful it really is.


Close up shot of an engineer welding, while wearing protective gear. Hands are exposed and visible. The sparks suggest arc welding, but could be another weld.


Applying polythene practically in engineering

Polythene in electronic engineering

In addition to its wireless signal handling, polythene is used in electronic engineering as an electrical insulator. It is highly ductile, which makes it great for cable coverings. As a sheet, polythene can cover larger areas, or whole components, with negligible additional weight.

Civil engineering projects using polythene

Polythene is used in construction as a damp proof membrane, a temporary covering – and in practically every point of the logistics chain. In large-scale civil engineering projects, polythene is most often used to cure concrete slabs and sections. In many cases, polythene is a vital part of the concrete curing process, and without it, the concrete could be too weak to perform.

Read more – How polythene makes concrete stronger 

Polythene is also used in irrigation and water delivery systems – usually in the form of MDPE piping. Greywater, wastewater, and even potable water can be carried by polythene pipes. It’s also used to deliver oil and gas, because it is less prone to cracking under stress and high pressure surges than most other materials. This is because of the inherent flexibility it possesses; polythene bends long before it breaks.

Polythene in aerospace engineering and space travel

In aircraft and aviation, polythene’s usefulness in radar systems and electrical engineering makes it commonplace. But it also has uses in space travel, as a space-proof food packaging system.

Read more – How is polythene used in space?

In space travel and rocket science, weight (or mass, as rocket scientists would call it) is everything. Even the tiniest little addition, like food packaging, adds to the heft a rocket has to lift, and will affect how it uses fuel and moves through space. Reducing weight is extremely important – and not just in space food packaging!

NASA is actively investigating polythene as a primary building material for spacecraft, and has developed its own polymer blend called RXF1.

Currently, heavy metals like aluminium or lead are used as shielding from cosmic rays. The effects of cosmic rays and space radiation on health are still not fully known, but they are linked to cancer, brain damage, accelerated cellular ageing – and lots of other nasty stuff.

Polythene is being investigated because it can reduce the impact of cosmic rays by up to 50% compared to aluminium – the next lightest material available for shielding. RXF1 is three times stronger than aluminium while being 2.6 times lighter, and soon, it could be the material used to shield astronauts from cosmic radiation on the way to Mars.

Harness the power of polythene

NPF Packaging creates high-performance, bespoke polythene products for packaging and industrial applications. Get custom blends, colours and prints. Get a quote now, or call us on 01773 820415 to start designing your custom polythene.