What Is Melamine?
Melamine is an organic compound also called urea or carbamide, that is mixed with formaldehyde to form a polymer resin. Melamine can also be mixed with other inorganic compounds to become a flame retardant, a fertilizer and a plasticizer for concrete.
Melamine is known as a thermoset or thermosetting polymer. Thermosets are stable substances that can be molded into a form but in an irreversible manner. This means that once formed a thermoset stays that way unless heated to its level of decomposition where it becomes toxic. This makes melamine a poor candidate for recycling and reuse because it cannot be broken down.
Designing Melamine Plates
One of the most well-known plate and dinnerware makers is the Pfaltzgraff Company. This company carries not only glass and pottery but melamine plates, too. In a paper written for the September/October 2002 issue of "IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications" magazine, the tools used by the The Pfaltzgraff Company to create these shapes are discussed. Their engineering department uses computer-aided design (CAD) to take the designers ideas and fabricate the tools (molds) necessary to produce the many dozens of new designs and shapes for plates and other dinnerware that they create. So although a designer creates the shape and pattern of the plates it is the engineer that makes the mold process work to create those shapes. The melamine plates sold in retail stores have gone through many hands before they reach the consumer.
Making The Melamine Plate
The melamine resin used to make plates is created under very intense heat. The process is truly two-fold. The maker of the polymer compound creates the melamine compound and the molder (The Pfaltzgraff Company would be considered a molder) completes the process by molding the melamine. Molding the melamine plate begins with the arrival of the white or colored crystalline powder or molding compound. The powder is then injected into molds under high heat and pressure. The heat melts the melamine and the pressure removes any excess water. If the excess water is not removed it will cause the polymer to become unstable in the curing process.
Once the water is removed the plate, it cures into a stable form that can be used to eat off of. However, its use should never include heating it in the oven or microwave as most melamine products have a temperature safety range with the high end at around 210 degrees. Higher temperatures cause the resin to break down.