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Polyamide (Nylon): A brief introduction

Wallace Carothers (1896–1937), the creator of polyamide.

Polyamide, more commonly known as Nylon, was first synthesized by Wallace Hume Carothers, an American organic chemist working for the DuPont chemical company. In 1935, he developed the formula known as PA66, or Nylon 66.

Just a few years later in 1938, Paul Schlack, a German chemist working at IG Farben, developed PA6 (also known as Nylon 6), a different molecule based on the organic compound caprolactam. Both types of polyamides are well-suited for many kinds of applications. The use of PA6 or PA66 depends on the technical requirements needed as well as the economical constraints.

The two most widely used polyamides are by far PA66 and PA6. These polyamides are most often manufactured into fibers for the textile industry or blown into films used for the packaging industry. Polyamides are also used to produce parts for numerous industries.

Polyamides with the highest performances are PPA (Polyphthalamide or high-performance polyamide) and PA46. Polyamides with these qualities are often used as a replacement for metal materials or for very specific applications where the polymer is exposed to extreme conditions, e.g. automotive structural parts or safety helmets.

Differences between Polyamide 6 (PA6 / Nylon 6) and Polyamide 66 (PA66 / Nylon 66)

Polyamide 6 (PA6) is also known as Nylon 6 or Polycaprolactam. It is one of the most commonly used compounds in the polyamide family. PA6 is synthesized via the ring-opening polymerization of caprolactam.

Figure 1. Molecular structure of caprolactam.
Figure 2. Molecular structure of Polyamide 6.

Polyamide 66 (PA66), also known as Nylon 66, is one of the most popular thermoplastics for engineering purposes and is primarily used as a metal replacement for various applications. Nylon 66 is synthesized via the polycondensation of hexamethylenediamine and adipic acid (two monomers containing six carbon atoms each).

Figure 3. Molecular structure of Polyamide 66.

The differences between both PA6 and PA66 come down to a lot of little things. While both are cost effective, Nylon 6 is typically around 30% cheaper than Nylon 66. A comparison of different factors is made for the two polymers in Table 1.

Table 1. Comparison of PA6 and PA66
Parameter PA6 PA66
Machinability – low tool wear and surface finish Good Better
Mold shrinkage Lower Higher
Water absorption rate Higher Lower
Tensile strength 6.2 × 104 kPa (Good) 8.2 × 104 kPa (Better)
Crystalline melting point 225 °C 265 °C
Density 1.15 g/mL 1.2 g/mL
Typical molding shrinkage ratio 1.2 % 1.5 %
Key properties of PA66 and PA6

As stated earlier, Polyamide 66 (PA66) and Polyamide 6 (PA6) are used in so many different applications because of their excellent performance and relatively low cost. Some of the most important properties of these polyamides are listed below:

  • High strength and rigidity at high temperatures
  • Good impact strength, even at low temperatures
  • Good abrasion and wear resistance
  • Excellent resistance to fuels and oils
  • Good fatigue resistance
  • Very good flow for easy processing
  • PA6 has excellent surface appearance and better processability than PA66 due to its very low viscosity
  • Good electrical insulating properties
  • High affinity for water absorption can limit the applications and usage
  • Low dimensional stability (water absorption results in dimensional change)

Near-infrared spectroscopy as a tool to assess the quality of polyamides

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) has been an established method for both fast and reliable quality control within the polyamide industry for more than 30 years. However, many companies still do not consistently consider the implementation of NIRS in their QA/QC labs. The reasons could be either limited experience regarding application possibilities or a general hesitation about implementing new methods.

There are several advantages of using NIRS over other conventional analytical technologies. For one, NIRS is able to measure multiple parameters in just 30 seconds without any sample preparation! The non-invasive light-matter interaction used by NIRS, influenced by physical as well as chemical sample properties, makes it an excellent method for the determination of both property types.

In the remainder of this post, a short overview of polyamide applications is presented, followed by available turnkey solutions for polyamide analysis developed according the NIRS implementations guidelines of ASTM E1655-17.

Did you miss the first parts in this series? Find them here!

For more detailed information about NIRS as a secondary technique, read our previous blog posts on this subject.

Applications and parameters for polyamides with NIRS

Polyamide production requires that certain important quality parameters be checked on a regular basis. Typical parameters are relative viscosity as well as the amine and carboxylic end groups, and moisture content. Functional group and viscosity analysis of polyamides is normally a lengthy and challenging process due to the limited solubility of the sample and the need to use different analytical methods. Furthermore caprolactam, an important precursor for polyamide production, is very hygroscopic and water soluble—therefore it is crucial to have a reliable analysis technique for determination of water content. Otherwise the quality of the final product could be compromised.

The most relevant applications for NIRS analysis of PA quality parameters are indicated later in this article in Table 2.

Where can NIRS be used in the production process of polyamides?

Figure 4 shows the individual steps from plastic producer via plastic compounder and plastic converter to plastic parts and textile producer. The first step in which near-infrared lab instruments can be used is when the pure polymers like PA are produced, and their purity needs to be confirmed. NIRS is also a very useful technique during the next step where polymers are compounded into intermediate products to be used for further processing.

Figure 4. Illustration of the production chain for polyamides.

Easy implementation of NIR spectroscopy for plastic producers

Metrohm has extensive expertise with analysis of polyamides and offers a turnkey solution in the form of the DS2500 Polymer Analyzer. This instrument is a ready-to-use solution for the determination of multiple quality parameters in different polyamides.

Figure 5. Turnkey solution for PA analysis with the Metrohm DS2500 Polymer Analyzer.

Application example:

Pre-calibrations available for the polyamide industry on the DS2500 Polymer Analyzer

The determination of the parameters listed below in Table 2 is a lengthy and challenging process with conventional laboratory methods. To measure them all, several different techniques are required which takes a significant amount of time, not only to analyze the sample (which has limited solubility, further complicating the situation), but also for the instrument management and upkeep.

Table 2. Primary method vs. NIRS for the determination of various quality parameters in PA samples.
Parameter Primary method Time to result (primary method) Relevant NIRS Application Notes NIRS benefits
Relative viscosity

Viscosity

90 min. preparation + 1 min. Viscometer

AN-NIR-077

AN-NIR-060

AN-NIR-005

All four parameters are measured simultaneously within a minute, without sample preparation or the need of any chemical reagents
Carboxyl end groups

Titration

90 min. preparation + 20 min. Titration
Amine end groups

Titration

90 min. preparation + 20 min. Titration
Moisture content

Karl Fischer Titration (oven)

2 min. preparation + 15 min. KF Titration (oven)

 

The NIRS prediction models created for polyamides are based on a large collection of real product spectra and is developed in accordance with ASTM E1655-17 Standard practices for Infrared Multivariate Quantitative Analysis. For more detailed information on this topic, download the free white paper.

To learn more about pre-calibrations for polyamides, download our brochure and visit our website.

Figure 6 shows the results of the Metrohm turnkey solution for non-destructive determination of several quality parameters in PA listed in Table 2.

Figure 6. Turnkey solution for relative viscosity (RV), amine end groups, carboxyl end groups, and moisture in nylon (PA6) using the Metrohm DS2500 Polymer Analyzer. A: Sampling and analysis of PA6. B: Results of the four analyses from NIRS compared to a primary laboratory method along with the Figures of Merit (FOM) for each analysis.

This solution demonstrates that NIR spectroscopy is very suitable for the analysis of multiple parameters in polyamide in less than one minute without sample preparation or using any chemical reagents. Learn more about the procedure in our free Application Note!

The examples shown above refer to PA6 and PA66, but NIRS is undoubtedly a great tool for the rapid screening and QC of polyamides with different chain lengths.

Future installments in this series

This blog is a detailed overview of the use of NIR spectroscopy as the ideal QC tool for Polyamide 6 (PA6) and Polyamide 66 (PA66). The last installment of this blog series will be dedicated to:

 

  • Polyols and Isocyanates to produce Polyurethane (PU)

For more information

About spectroscopy solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

We offer NIRS for lab, NIRS for process, as well as Raman solutions

Post written by Wim Guns, International Sales Support Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

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