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Polycarbonate - Details and Uses

Written by The Plastic People
15/05/2018 09:02:12

Polycarbonate is a tough and stable clear plastic offering unique advantages. After acrylic (perspex) is one of the most popular plastics available in the consumer market due to its versatility. A combination of prized features, makes polycarbonate the plastic of choice for many commercial and engineering uses as well as DIY projects.

A group of thermoplastics containing carbonates, polycarbonates were first discovered back in 1898, but did not become comercially available until the 1950s. What sets polycarbonate apart from other plastics is the fact that is is both incredibly strong, but can be easily molded for engineering projects. 

In this blog from The Plastic People, we are going to take a deep dive into the world of polycarbonates, discussing the plastic's main characteristics, applications, and even how you can work with polycarbonate in DIY projects. We supply polycarbonate - among other plastics - cut to any size or shape. 

Buy Polycarbonate sheets here.
The Characteristics of Polycarbonate 

  • Strength: Compared to glass, polycarbonate is virtually indestructible. This plastic is 250 times stronger than glass and 30 times stronger than the other popular clear plastic, acrylic. Due to this great strength and durability, polycarbonate is used in a variety of safety settings, such as bullet proof 'glass', riot shields, and safety glazing. 
  • Clearness: Polycarbonate is primarily a clear material (though twinwall and multiwall forms are available in an array of colours). The transparency of this plastic is high (it lets around 88% of natural light through - glass is around 90% transparent), this means that is often used for glazing in greenhouses, summerhouses, and conversatories. Polycarbonate is often treated with UV protective filters too, making it perfect for protecting you and your family from the sun. 
  • Usability:  Polycarbonate is a relatively light material, and has great imapct-resistant qualities, which means it is easy to work with in both DIY and engineering settings. Polycarbonate can be easily cut, bent, and fixed with nuts, screws or bolts. Any shapes can be cut out of polycarbonate, and it can be used in thermoforming and machining. 
  • Heat: As previously mentioned, polycarbonate is classed as a thermoplastic, which means it can be reformed under certain temperatures. Thermoplastics typically become liquid at 155 degrees Celsius. Polycarbonate offers fantastic heat resistance, dimensional stability, shock resistance and resistance to humidity. It stays stable in demanding temperatures and applications where other materials cannot be used. Polycarbonate’s high expansion is extremely important for the correct sizing of the sheets so if you would like any advice about using polycarbonate, do let our friendly plastic experts help you out.

The Different Types of Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is produced in different grades (and prices) by several polycarbonate manufacturers. The common brands are Makrolon, Palsun, Lexan and Marlon. A key consideration when choosing polycarbonate is your end use. Standard polycarbonate may be adequate for some uses but where exposure to sunlight will occur, or scratch resistance is important. But other grades will provide better longer-term purpose.
If using polycarbonate outdoors in direct sunlight, a protected polycarbonate sheet is a better long-term option. With UV protection included, protected polycarbonate resists yellowing and decolourisation. Polycarbonate sheets are also available with a hard coating applied to give a harder finish and improve their scratch resistance.
Polycarbonate mirror is also available, which delivers the mirroring of glass with superior properties, such as significantly stronger impact strength, resistance to heat and dimensional, and UV stability.
Solid polycarbonate sheets are often used instead of glass but, for roofing, a popular choice is twinwall and multiwall polycarbonate. These types of polycarbonate offer additional insulating properties. To find out more about polycarbonate roofing, check out DIY installation guide by clicking here. 

The Applications of Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is unlike some other plastics as it is used widely by both professionals and everyday consumers. You will polycarbonate in projects by manufactuers, engineers, and DIYers alike, as they all utilise separate characteristics of this versatile material. 

Typically, outside of the home, you will find polycarbonate being used in the manufacture of:

  • Technology such as CDs, DVDs, and mobile phones 
  • Automotive and aircraft components such as headlamps and windscreens
  • Medical applications and equipment such as safety goggles 
  • Construction materials such as roofing and sound walls on motorways. 

Overall, polycarbonate is an excellent choice for applications where sheet metal lacks viability, namely when transparency is needed and when a non-conductive material with good electrical insulation is a requirement.

In the home, you will find a wide range of DIY uses for polycarbonate. Here are some of our customers most common uses for this material: 

  • Greenhouse Glazing: Due to its virtually indestructible strength, polycarbonate is often used to replace broken greenhouse glazing, or in the construction of brand new greenhouses/cold frame glazing. Click here to find out more and get a quote today. 

How to Join Polycarbonate Sheets

Polycarbonate sheets can be glued together at home in 2 ways. Before you begin, make sure your polycarbonate sheets are nice and clean - just rinse them in lukewarm soapy water and wipe in the direction of the grain with a soft cotton / gentle cloth. Dry the polycarbonate off with another soft cotton / gentle cloth.

There are two ways to bond polycarbonate sheets:

1. Glue - polycarbonate sheets can be joined together with an epoxide glue. It is easy, just like gluing two materials together.

Please note you will need to use an epoxide glue: if you use regular glues or solvents your polycarbonate sheets will appear to have tiny little cracks all over the surface and underneath the polycarbonate. You won't be able to feel these cracks and the polycarbonate will remain strong but aesthetically not the clear polycarbonate you bought

2. Fusing with methylene chloride - which gives a superior, seamless result and stronger bond (please do this in a ventilated area though as methylene chloride is toxic).Apply your methylene chloride along the edge of your polycarbonate sheet. Go for a small amount and give it a moment to soak into your polycarbonate sheet.

When it feels slightly sticky place this edge onto the surface of the other polycarbonate sheet where you would like it to fuse. Press your two polycarbonate sheets so that they stay in constant contact to get a strong bond. When they can support themselves, leave them to dry for at least 48 hours. Do not put anything onto your polycarbonate during this time as it might damage the bond

Further Help

If you have any further questions about polycarbonate or require help with a project do let our friendly customer service team know. They will be happy to help.

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