Polycarbonate Vs. Acrylic
Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate is a long-overdue debate between manufacturers looking for transparent material. However, both the materials are often compared with each other because of the similar appearance and the frequent need of utilizing one of them for see-through applications.
Both polycarbonate and Acrylic are 50% lighter than comparably sized glass, but strength is not compromised in both materials. They’re both stronger than glass (Acrylic is roughly 17 times more impact resistant than glass, while polycarbonate is around 200 times stronger than glass), and it is also effortless to clean both of them.
Polycarbonate offers much more durability than acrylic, making it ideal for tremendously demanding applications such as bullet-proof windows. Acrylic has a more gloss finish and is more transparent, making it a better option for display cases. However, acrylic is more prone to crack, while polycarbonate is more prone to scratch.
Below I have mentioned the pros and cons, general applications, and insights on both the materials.
Acrylic Plastic –
Acrylic is marketed and traded under trademark names like Plexiglass, lucite, Policril, Perspex, Vitroflex, Gavireli, R-Cast, Per-Clex, Altuglas, Polycast, Optix, Oroglass, Acrylite, Acrylplast, Plazcryl, and Acrylex. “Plexiglass” is the most popular acrylic plastic trademark, and its name is often taken interchangeably with acrylic plastic.
Acrylic properties :
- Durable against dents and scratches.
- More cost-effective than glass and polycarbonate.
- Sheets can be polished smooth.
- Unsusceptible to discoloration from the sun.
- 17 times more impact resistant than glass.
- Continuous working temperature – 82°C (180F).
- Outstanding chemical resistance to all solvents.
- High optical clarity.
- Decent weatherablity and UV resistance.
- Easy to cut and heat bent.
- Shiny surface.
- Available in a variety of colors.
- 92% light transmittance in all thicknesses, which is better than glass.
Acrylic Applications :
- Craft projects
- Retail displays
- Windows and glass substitutes
- Optical lens
- Fashion accessories
- Animal and reptile enclosures
- Light covers
- Medical implants and technologies
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Polycarbonate Plastic –
Polycarbonate is trademarked as Lexan or Makrolon. The two major differences between polycarbonate and acrylic are the cost and impact strength. Polycarbonate sheets are 35% costlier than acrylic, and although both materials are way stronger than glass, polycarbonate’s impact strength is unmatched by any thermoplastics available in the market.
Polycarbonate Properties :
- 250 times stronger than glass 30 times stronger than acrylic
- Available in bullet-resistant grades
- Low flammability
- 88% light transmittance
- High resistance towards acids and chemicals like gasoline.
- Can be cold-formed or bent without heating
- Less rigidity and available in a variety of grades
- Continuous working temperature – 115 °C (240F)
Polycarbonate Applications :
- Face Sheilds
- Protective glasses
- Roofing panels
- Greenhouse Windows
- Headlamp bezels
- Surgical instruments
- Appliances (Coffee machines, trimmers, television, washing machines, etc.)
- Data storage
- Reusable drinking bottles
- Outdoor signs
- Construction materials
- Diffusers and light pipes of LEDs
Advantages and Disadvantages of Acrylic and Polycarbonate –
As we’ve gone through the difference between acrylic and polycarbonate, let’s try to understand why these plastics possess different properties and attributes.
What is Acrylic or Polycarbonate are Made of?
Acrylic plastic and polycarbonate are both polymers and thermoplastics at that. A polymer is simply a material made from different molecules connected in long chains. That’s the reason why acrylic and polycarbonate look, feel, and act very differently from each other. Both are made differently, utilizing different molecules. The entire process of making polymers is called polymerization.
In laymen’s terms, polycarbonate is created by a reaction between bisphenol A and phosgene COCl2. Talking about acrylic plastic, it is made by harmonizing methyl methacrylate. Methyl methacrylate is generally made by a reaction between acetone with sodium cyanide to produce acetone cyanohydrin. This is then reacted with methyl alcohol to create methyl methacrylate finally.
These are the most common methods used to produce acrylic and polycarbonate. However, several other methods are used when materials with special features are required, i.e., color, non-glare, static, anti-static, UV filtering, weatherability, etc.
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Differences in Acrylic and Polycarbonate Manufacturing Processes –
How are Acrylic Sheets are Made?
The most utilized process to manufacture acrylic is bulk polymerization, in which the monomer (methyl methacrylate) and the catalyst (generally organic peroxide) are spilled into a mold. The mold is closed and heated to produce the reaction which will create the acrylic plastic polymer. Later the molded acrylic sheets need to be cured. The thinner sheets are easier to cure; they generally take 10 to 12 to cure; however, the thicker acrylic sheets can take several days to cure itself completely.
The molds are opened, cooled, and the resulting sheets are immediately used to improve the quality of the final product.
The two most adapted methods for manufacturing acrylic plastic sheets are Batch cell and continuous bulk polymerization.
How are Polycarbonate Sheets are Made?
Polycarbonate is a versatile thermoplastic material with phenomenal machinability towards manufacturing techniques such as Injection molding, blow molding, extrusion, thermoforming, and more; however, for producing polycarbonate sheets, the ideal process is Extrusion.
The process begins with polycarbonate resin being fed into an extruder and melted at the desired temperature. The molten polycarbonate is then forced through a die designed to produce parts with various widths, lengths, and thicknesses with uniform cross-sections. The process can make polycarbonate sheets with different sizes, geometries, colors, high or low glosses, single or multiple layers, and smooth or textured surfaces.
Once the sheets are made using the extrusion process, they a further processed to get the final product.
1. How can I tell apart polycarbonate and acrylic?
Ans. The difference is made by one key formulation in polycarbonate, which is not present in acrylic. While formulating polycarbonate, a bluing agent is used, making the edge of polycarbonate blue, while the edge of acrylic will look clear. However, they both look clear on the surface.
2. How long will polycarbonate last?
Ans. Although polycarbonate is a very durable material, UV protection treatment should still be given, preventing it from breaking down or turning pale or yellow. With adequate care, polycarbonate can last for 10-15 years. That’s way more than glass.
3. What are the disadvantages of acrylic?
Ans. The two main disadvantages of acrylic are more liable to scratching than glass and poor heat resistance.
4. Is acrylic waterproof?
Ans. Although it is slightly water-resistant, it still can’t be considered completely waterproof. However, additives can be added to give a boost to that property.
5. Is acrylic plastic bad for the environment?
Ans. Acrylic has a significant negative impact on the environment. Theoretically, it can be recalled, but the recycling process is challenging and complicated. That means most acrylic is being released into the environment, severely affecting the oceans, flora, and fauna.
The Conclusion –
That was my take on polycarbonate vs. acrylic. I have tried to mention all the necessary information making it a one-stop guide for everything. Having said that, kindly check out the detailed guides for acrylic and polycarbonate for detailed information on each plastic material.
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Have a lovely day 🙂