History

The story behind Acrylic plastic goes back to around the 1840’s when Acrylic acid was first created. By 1865, Methacrylic acid was formulated, derived from Acrylic acid. In the late 1870’s the polymerisation process was discovered with the introduction of Methanol. In 1933 a German chemist patented the name Plexiglas and in 1936 ICI Acrylics began the first commercially viable production of Acrylic safety glass, Perspex. Through World War II both Allied and Axis forces used Acrylic glass for submarine periscopes and aircraft windshields, canopies, and gun turrets. Interestingly, airplane pilots whose eyes were damaged by flying shards of Acrylic fared much better than those injured by standard glass, demonstrating the much increased compatibility between human tissue and Acrylic as compared to glass.

Processing

The forming temperature of Acrylic starts at the glass transition temperature and goes up from there. All common molding processes may be used, including injection molding, compression molding, and extrusion. The highest quality Acrylic sheets are produced by cell casting. The strength of the material is higher than molding grades owing to its extremely high molecular mass. Rubber toughening has been used to increase the toughness of Acrylic owing to its brittle behavior in response to applied loads.

Handling, Cutting, and Joining

Acrylic can be joined using cyanoacrylate cement (commonly known as superglue), with heat (welding), or by using solvents such as di- or trichloromethane to dissolve the plastic at the joint, which then fuses and sets, forming an almost invisible weld. Scratches may easily be removed by polishing or by heating the surface of the material.

Laser cutting may be used to form intricate designs from Acrylic sheets. Acrylic vaporizes to gaseous compounds (including its monomers) upon laser cutting, so a very clean cut is made, and cutting is performed very easily. However, the pulsed laser cutting introduces high internal stresses along the cut edge, which on exposure to solvents produce undesirable "stress-crazing" at the cut edge and several millimeters deep. Even ammonium-based glass-cleaner and almost everything short of soap-and-water produces similar undesirable crazing, sometimes over the entire surface of the cut parts, at great distances from the stressed edge.Annealing the Acrylic sheet/parts is therefore an obligatory post-processing step when intending to chemically bond laser cut parts together. This involves heating the parts in an air circulating oven from room temperature up to 90 °C (at a rate of no more than 18 degrees per hour) down to room temperature (at a rate of no more than 12 degrees per hour). Temperature should be maintained as follows: one hour for 3 mm thickness, two hours for up to 6 mm thickness, four hours for up to 12 mm thickness, and six hours for up to 20 mm thickness. A rapid annealing cycle is reliable for thin sheets and involves placing them in a pre-heated oven to 80 °C for one hour, then removing parts from the oven and allowing to cool to room temperature. This added time component should be factored into the whole fabrication process, and the alternative Zero-rake saw cutting technique may provide better cost-effectiveness, unless complex non-straight line edges are required. In this respect Acrylic has an advantage over competing polymers such as polystyrene and polycarbonate, which require higher laser powers and give more messy and charred laser cuts.

In the majority of applications, it will not shatter. Rather, it breaks into large dull pieces. Since Acrylic is softer and more easily scratched than glass, scratch-resistant coatings are often added to Acrylic sheets to protect it (as well as possible other functions).

Formats of Acrylic

Acrylic lends itself to a wide range of manufactured formats. In the semi-finished range you will find Acrylic Sheet, Acrylic Rod and Acrylic Tube readily available. In particular the range of Acrylic Sheet is vast with an array of colours; opaque, translucent, tinted, fluorescent, day-glow, glass-look Acrylic and further decorative options which simulate a variety of stone finishes, not to mention different surface finishes. As finished Acrylic items the list is endless when used in the wide variety of processes’ open to manufacturers by extrusion, various moulding processes and so on.

Fabrication

Within Brissco Plastics we have our own fabrication workshop enabling us to produce a range of finished items to customers specifications for OEM’s, Sign Makers, Exhibition & Display Contractors, Machine guarding for Industrial & Engineering Companies, Domestic & Commercial Kitchen Contractors as ‘Splash backs’ -  in kitchens, bathrooms, shower-rooms and wet-rooms, Building Contractors to name just some examples of industries we serve. Being transparent and durable, Acrylic is a versatile material and has been used in a wide range of fields and applications such as: rear-lights and instrument clusters for vehicles, appliances and lenses for glasses. Acrylic in the form of sheets affords shatter resistant panels for building windows, skylights, bullet proof security barriers, signs & displays, sanitary ware (bathtubs), ‘Splash backs’ in kitchens, bathrooms, shower-rooms and wet-rooms, LCD screens, furniture and many other applications. It is also used for coating polymers based on MMA provides outstanding stability against environmental conditions with reduced emission of VOC. Methacrylate polymers are used extensively in medical and dental applications where purity and stability are critical to performance.

Applications

Acrylic glass is commonly used for constructing residential and commercial aquariums. Designers started building big aquariums when poly(methyl methacrylate) could be used. It is less-used in other building types due to incidents such as the Summerland disaster. Acrylic is used for viewing ports and even complete pressure hulls of submersibles, such as the Alicia submarine's viewing sphere and the window of the bathyscaphe Trieste. Acrylic is used in the lenses of exterior lights of vehicles. The spectator protection in ice hockey rinks is made from Acrylic. Historically, with its excellent optical clarity, Acrylic was an important improvement in the design of aircraft windows, making possible such iconic designs as the bombardier’s transparent nose compartment in the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Police vehicles for riot control often have the regular glass replaced with acrylic to protect the occupants from thrown objects. Acrylic is an important material in the making of certain lighthouse lenses, once again utilising its impressive optical clarity. Acrylic was used for the roofing of the iconic compound in the Olympic Park for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. It enabled a light and translucent construction underlining the democratic approach to the games. Acrylic was used for the ceiling of the Houston Astrodome.

Artistic and aesthetic uses

Acrylic paint essentially consists of Acrylic suspended in water; however since PMMA is hydrophobic, a substance with both hydrophobic and hydrophilic groups needs to be added to facilitate the suspension.

Modern furniture makers, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, seeking to give their products a space age aesthetic, incorporated Lucite and other PMMA products into their designs, especially office chairs. Many other products (for example, guitars) are sometimes made with acrylic glass to make the commonly opaque objects translucent. Perspex has been used as a surface to paint on, for example by Salvador Dalí. Diasec is a process which uses acrylic glass as a substitute for normal glass in picture frames. This is done for its relatively low cost, light weight, shatter-resistance, aesthetics and because it can be ordered in larger sizes than standard picture framing glass. From approximately the 1960s onward, sculptors and glass artists such as Leroy Lamis began using acrylics, especially taking advantage of the material's flexibility, light weight, cost and its capacity to refract and filter light. In the 1950s and 1960s, Lucite was an extremely popular material for jewelry, with several companies specialized in creating high-quality pieces from this material. Lucite beads and ornaments are still sold by jewelry suppliers. Acrylic Sheets are produced in dozens of standard colors,most commonly sold using colour numbers developed by Rohm & Haas in the 1950s.

Other uses

Acrylic is used in tanning beds as the transparent surface that separates the occupant from the tanning bulbs while tanning. The type of acrylic used in tanning beds is most often formulated from a special type of polymethyl methacrylate, a compound that allows the passage of ultraviolet rays. Sheets of Acrylic are commonly used in the sign industry to make flat cut out letters in thicknesses typically varying from 3 to 25 millimeters (0.1 to 1.0 in). These letters may be used alone to represent a company's name and/or logo, or they may be a component of illuminated channel letters. Acrylic is also used extensively throughout the sign industry as a component of wall signs where it may be a backplate, painted on the surface or the backside, a faceplate with additional raised lettering or even photographic images printed directly to it, or a spacer to separate sign components. Acrylic was used in Laserdisc optical media. (CDs and DVDs use both acrylic and polycarbonate for impact resistance.) It is used as a light guide for the backlights in TFT-LCDs.

Plastic optical fiber used for short distance communication is made from Acrylic, and perfluorinated PMMA, clad with fluorinated PMMA, in situations where its flexibility and cheaper installation costs outweigh its poor heat tolerance and higher attenuation over glass fiber. Acrylic in a purified form, is used as the matrix in laser dye-doped solid-state gain media for solid state dye lasers. In semiconductor research and industry, Acrylic aids as a resist in the electron beam lithography process. A solution consisting of the polymer in a solvent is used to spin coat silicon and other semiconducting and semi-insulating wafers with a thin film. Patterns on this can be made by an electron beam (using an electron microscope), deep UV light (shorter wavelength than the standard photolithography process), or X-rays. Exposure to these creates chain scission or (de-cross-linking) within the PMMA, allowing for the selective removal of exposed areas by a chemical developer, making it a positive photoresist. PMMA's advantage is that it allows for extremely high resolution patterns to be made. Smooth Acrylic surface can be easily nanostructured by treatment in oxygen radio-frequency plasmaand nanostructured Acrylic surface can be easily smoothed by vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) irradiation. Acrylic is used as a shield to stop beta radiation emitted from radioisotopes. Small strips of Acrylic are used as dosimeter devices during the Gamma Irradiation process. The optical properties of Acrylic change as the gamma dose increases, and can be measured with a spectrophotometer. A blacklight-reactive tattoo ink using Acrylic microcapsules has been developed.Acrylic can be used as a dispersant for ceramic powders to stabilize colloidal suspensions in non-aqueous media. Due to its high viscosity upon dissolution, it can also be used as binder material for solution deposition processes, e.g. printing of solar cells. Acrylic has also been used extensively as a hybrid rocket fuel. In the 1960s, luthier Dan Armstrong developed a line of electric guitars and basses whose bodies were made completely of acrylic. These instruments were marketed under the Ampeg brand. Ibanezand B.C. Rich have also made acrylic guitars. Ludwig-Musser makes a line of acrylic drums called Vistalites, well known as being used by Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham. Artificial fingernails are sometimes made of Acrylic. Some modern briar, and occasionally meerschaum, tobacco pipes sport stems made of Lucite. Acrylic technology is utilized in roofing and waterproofing applications. By incorporating a polyester fleece sandwiched between two layers of catalyst-activated PMMA resin, a fully reinforced liquid membrane is created in situ.


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