Quality is key
Kids love ‘em - and ultimately so do parents
Ask your children what they like, and the answer is a foregone conclusion.
Their vote goes to colourful, multifunction, flashing toys that talk, come apart and join up...
And while some parents may profess a fondness for wooden toys, they’ll readily admit that plastics have enabled very low-cost, mass production which has made toys available to the vast majority of children. The bottom line is: what the children say, goes!
Plastics may be everywhere…in games and toys, but it would be wrong to think of them as low-end materials on two counts: parents’ (not to say children’s) wants, and stringently high safety standards in Europe. So toy manufacturers are working closely with the plastics industry to come up with polymers that meet both quality and cost dictates. Once again, efficiency is a must!
The reason why plastics are such a hit with industry (and not just toy makers!) is because they are relatively easily mouldable and dyeable. And the moulds can be in any shape and have a very long service life.
Standards well up to parental demands
Were you aware that the toy industry, in Europe, atleast, is one of the most closely supervised? “Standards exist and are applied for all toys sold in France wherever they originate,” says Patrick Nappez, quality manager for the French manufacturer Smoby. “Any toy put on store shelves has undergone a series of checks: in the factory, by our quality department, in independent laboratories and sometimes by the DGCCRF (national trading standards department).
To clear all these hurdles, a toy nowadays has to meet the legislative rules on all points - physical properties (flammability) and mechanical properties (durability) the risk of swallowing small parts, electrical properties, hygiene and the presence of hazardous substances like lead, antimony, arsenic, etc.
The standards for heavy metal migration, for example, impose much lower amounts than those accepted for adults. The authorities are not taking half measures here, because the migration limits have been set, not by reference to scientific studies, but purely by precautionary principle. So we, as manufacturers, have to meet them or have our products rejected."
One last piece of advice: when buying a toy, it must be with the CE mark. And even if your 18 month-old is a particularly early developer, don’t be tempted to buy him or her toys meant for older children.
Stick scrupulously to the warnings printed on the box.
Toys that owe it all to plastics
You couldn’t possibly list them all, there are so many. Suffice it to mention two of the most representative brands that would never have come about without plastics: Lego, first, which owes its success to the marketing clout of its Danish creator, Ole Kirk Christiansen. A real pioneer of plastic games, he came up with the idea for his brick in 1932 at a time when plastic was starting to come into use in the home. The initial sales fell short of the manufacturer’s expectations, but rather than give up, he set about improving his invention by making them easier to interlock. To date, Lego has sold more than 325 billion units worldwide. As to the Playmobil figures, which first appeared in 1974, it is needless to say that without polymers and modern moulding techniques, they could never have been produced or have achieved over 2.5 billion units in sales.
What plastic for what use ?
Polypropylenes (PP): polymers, copolymers, homopolymers: indoor and outdoor educational games, tricycles, garages, carriers ...
Polyethylenes (PE): low, medium and high density: large volume outdoor toys, dolls, telephones, pull-alongs ...
Polystyrenes (PS) : board game cases, toy components and structures (cranes, garages, toy tea sets...), rattles, puzzles, tiles, replica toys, doctor’s bags ...
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): Dolls, balloons, carnival masks
Polyamides (PA): replica toys
Elastomers: Baby toys
Synthetic resin: Modelling and moulding games
The various copolymers (ABS, EVA, SAN): rattle parts, educational blocks, indoor toys, teething rings ...
Special thanks to "Le Musée du Jouet" for their contribution for this article.
First page pictures :
Left: ©2011 The LEGO Group
Right ©Courtesy of Playmobil
Photo of "toys that owe it all to plastics: ©2011 The LEGO Group