Why plastic flashlights are still manufactured and successfully marketed?
In this piece, I will attempt to explain my theory on the answer to that question.
The first flashlights of the very late 1890s were not made of plastics, but rather leather, brass, and fibers.
Also, most of the higher end “tactical” flashlights are not made of plastics either, no they have been made mostly of Aircraft Aluminum and other strong but light metals since about 1968.
Plastic flashlights were not even available until the 1930s and they were not really common until the 1950s and 1960s.
Then from the 1970s to the mid-2000s, they were very common, both for consumers and in the trades.
But American consumers since about 2005, have had a growing taste for “tactical” flashlights.
However, plastic flashlights are still heavily manufactured both in the US and in foreign countries on a very large scale.
By the way, I don’t think the reason has so much to do with the fact that plastic is cheap and can be easily made into any shape although that is a considerable factor, especially on the consumer market.
It’s not really the consumers who want them anymore, except for maybe the really low income, sometimes elderly consumers, but rather tradespeople who need them on their jobs, for various reasons which I am about to further elaborate on.
Flashlights made of High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Polypropylene (PP), but also more complex blends such as Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) are perfect in a plethora of jobs for the following reasons:
Their bodies are highly resistant to most corrosive chemicals, making them ideal for chemical plants but also in the plumbing, custodial and even the food service industries.
Their bodies are nonconductive to electricity, which makes them an excellent choice when working on live circuits in the electrical, electronics, Information Technology and HVAC/Refrigeration fields.
Their bodies are generally shock absorbent and also pretty forgiving of drop impacts as well as being transported in a tool satchel and other types of heavy-duty use that naturally comes with hard working people. Many of these people arrive at their job sites before the sun comes up and knock off after the sun goes down, which means they need decent illumination to and from their vehicles
Their bodies are nonsparking, even when struck against many if not all other surfaces, meaning they can be explosion proof when fitted with the proper circuitry, which gives them approval in any occupation where hazardous materials are transported, handled, manufactured/produced/mined or otherwise present.
Finally, because their bodies are made of cheap material and only cost roughly between $5 and $40 apiece, usually paid on the company’s dime anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal if they are misplaced on a job site, stolen by a jealous or greedy coworker, taken home and left there either by accident or on purpose, or broken from the rough conditions the workforce presents. All these situations quite frequently happen in most of these aforementioned jobs, by the way.
Here are a few situations where I will mention the model and make of an industrial plastic flashlight and its perfect application for a job. There are some awesome vintage models I could very well mention, but I will only discuss those models currently on the market:
I find that the Energizer® Hard Case® Professional LED Inspection Light (constructed of ABS) is perfect for working the Information Technology and Computer Service trades. It is more than bright enough (100 Lumens) for inspecting the insides of a server or mainframe, yet compact enough to be clipped to a chest pocket. It costs right around $20 after taxes. Also if dropped into a computer tower that is running it won’t short any of the circuits out, provided the metal pocket clip was removed, which can be done without any damage. I use one specifically when I am working on computers.
There is a very cheap, ~$5 with battery included, but decently built 6 Volt Krypton Lantern made by Dorcy. I believe it is constructed of PP, but not sure. I cannot find an exact model number for it at the moment, but it is currently sold at The Dollar General. I think this flashlight would be ideal for a custodian to keep in his or her closet in the event of a power failure or other emergency but also to assist any skilled technician doing repairs to the facility. This could also come in handy for those running pipes, television or data cables through attics or under houses, due to its ability to cast a long range beam.
For those working in the logistics of hazardous materials, I would highly recommend the Koehler-Bright Star Work Safe Line (molded out of PP.) They carry multiple global safety approvals. They are fairly rugged. The only drawback is that their O-Rings and other parts are high maintenance, but multi-billion dollar transportation companies can easily foot the bill. The price of these varies depending on size and features, but usually not more than $20.
For chemical plant personnel, I would recommend the Energizer Intrinsically Safe Line. These flashlights are explosion proof and made of PP, but also very bright for work in dark areas of the plant and they have carabiners for attaching to belt loops or other articles of clothing, which would make climbing scaffolding easier. These are the most pricey and can cost between $15-$40, but they are well worth it. One of my characters who is a chemical plant laborer carries one, in fact.
For HVAC Technicians, Electricians and Plumbers, I would recommend the Eveready 1251 or 1251L. Either one costs around $8-$15. These flashlights are made of chemical resistant, nonconductive PP. They are fairly rugged and cast a sharp beam, but can also illuminate close up work. I have an older one that rides in my tool satchel and use it when working on anything with live electricity, especially electric motors. These also come very much in handy when trying to operate a breaker panel in total darkness. Also since it is cheap enough, I would recommend it for use in the food service industry for helping a skilled technician repair kitchen equipment.
There are other brands which specialize in higher quality plastic flashlights such as Bayco and Pelican, but these can be extremely pricey and are used in niche markets or by companies who can truly afford them.
I now need to take my medication, both I hope this article has shed some light as to why plastic flashlights are still very much in use…