Acrylic is a generic term used to describe a family of products that are made out of materials derived from acrylic acid. Acrylics are best described as a clear material that looks a lot like glass and is often used in place of glass in many construction and building applications.
Acrylic materials: Benefits and Drawbacks
Acrylic glass is often used in place of conventional glass and other building materials because of its many strengths and advantages, including: Acrylic sheets resemble glass but weigh only about half as much while offering several times the impact resistance of conventional glass. It can also be tinted or colored easily and can be manufactured with an opaque, reflective and scratch resistant finish. It can be heated and formed to comply to irregular features and is able to withstand wide swings in temperatures. It can also be sawed instead of having to be scored like glass. In a construction environment, this is a much easier and less wasteful process. Compared to other types of plastics, acrylics withstand the elements much longer and will not yellow under most environmental circumstances. Acrylic is a good insulator, better than glass, and can provide for substantial savings in heating and cooling costs when compared to similar products made from glass.
While acrylic has many advantages, it does have two drawbacks that should be considered when deciding on a material for a specific application: While it is tougher than glass and actually allows more light to pass through it than glass, it is also generally a bit more expensive. Usually the lower cost of installation will negate the extra cost, but it should be considered in any calculation. If exposed to flame, acrylic is flammable and when it burns it gives off harmful gases.
Acrylic can be made by extrusion or casting. Casting is the more expensive process of the two while extruded acrylic is the more commonly used. Acrylic, either in extruded or cast forms, can be made into sheets of various thicknesses, boards, frames as well as in shapes like tubes and boxes. Because it is bendable, these forms can be integrated into a wide range of building and machine designs. If acrylic is cast in thicknesses of one inch or more, it becomes literally bullet proof. Acrylic is the material we see in airplane windshields, drive through bank teller enclosures and even in the pope mobile’s bullet proof bubble enclosure. Because of the way it is made and its composition, acrylic materials are found in a wide range of everyday products. We have probably all used acrylic based materials in such widely varied applications as acrylic paints for our home, acrylic cement used in bonding and repairing broken items and acrylic plastic in furniture, tools, and automobile components. Most of us probably even have clothing or clothing accessories that are made with acrylic fabrics, felts, or yarns. Acrylic based products have become an important and positive part of almost everyone’s environment and provide us with safe, economical, and attractive products of all kinds.