Everything You Need To Know About Acrylic (PMMA)

Acrylic plastics are becoming increasingly popular and for a good reason. Acrylic has more than 100 uses in commercial construction. If you are considering construction materials involving acrylic for decor, furniture, windowpanes, or any other use, this article guides you on everything you need to know.

What is Acrylic

Poly (methyl methacrylate) is a synthetic material whose formation process starts when a catalyst is added to a monomer. It is referred to by other names such as PMMA, acrylic, Plexiglass, Lucite, or Perspex. The acrylic PMMA manufacturing process first started in the late 19th century in Germany before advancements in its production led to its introduction in the US in the 1950s.

The Types of Acrylic

Acrylic materials have a myriad of uses in the construction sector as they come in multiple shapes and forms. The decision of what type of material you need in terms of acrylic narrows down to cast or extruded. Each of these acrylic types has its unique uses and advantages.

Cast Acrylic

The formation of cast acrylic is labor intensive and this makes the acrylic type more expensive. The formation process of cast acrylics results in materials that are durable and homogeneous.  Hence, cast acrylics are the ideal material when working on large projects as they are durable and strong.

The cast acrylic has key advantages such as its low moisture absorbency coupled with its ability to dry up quickly. Therefore, your projects will be less susceptible to weathering and yellowing due to long-term exposure to sunlight. Although the material is more expensive, its added chemical resistance makes it desirable for large installations.

Extruded Acrylic

The formation of this material differs from cast acrylic as it involves a high precision process where acrylic granules are fed to uniquely designed barrels where they are heated with the resulting products having the desired shape and thickness. The level of extrusion may differ which results in heterogeneous products. Extruded acrylic has a melting temperature of 300 °F -315 °F which supports its easy application in construction as you can laser cut and polish.

This material is more impact-resistant than glass and also has excellent optical properties. They also have a better edge finish when you laser-cut or flame-polish. This makes the material excellent for framing and general signage.

Benefits of Acrylic

Acrylic materials have emerged as versatile and superior alternatives to key materials in construction. While this material is durable it also allows you to shape them as you wish. Additionally, the acrylic material is flexible, inexpensive, and accessible.

Acrylic materials are flexible with low melting temperatures such that they support safe cutting and refining by utilizing accessible consumer-grade workshop tools. This flexibility means that acrylic materials are less-likely to break when working on them as they can handle bending and other stress factors.. 

Application of the acrylic is cheaper than other materials. This cost-effective feature is because acrylic materials are cheaper to produce and have low shipping costs. If your project demands project savings, acrylic is a suitable material for construction.

Working with the materials has an easy learning curve. Using acrylic only demands materials that are easily accessible in your tools’ store. Thus, most techniques of working on the acrylic can be learned.

Additionally, acrylic PMMA is environmentally sustainable because it is highly recyclable compared to other materials it substitutes. PMMA acrylic recycling does not impact its good condition or durability and is used in many products.

Although impact resistance is PMMA acrylic material’s most popular feature, it is also an effective sound barrier. The material’s natural properties ensure that noise is reduced when used in windows of busy environments. 

The acrylic materials also come in different colors which support you in making customizations to your applications.

Disadvantages of Acrylic

Despite having plenty of advantages, PMMA acrylic materials have a few cons listed below. 

Vulnerability To Scratching is High

A key disadvanatge of utilizing the acrylic material for construction purposes is its susceptibility to scratches. Such a scratch may not impact the functionality of the installation but rather the aesthetics of the application.

The good news is that while PMMA acrylic resin materials are easy to scratch, they are just as easy to repair. The scratches on the PMMA acrylic glass are easily fixed by the use of specialty paint that buffs out the installation material

Long Exposure to High Temperatures Impacts Acrylic Resistance

PMMA acrylic has a low tolerance for high temperatures making it difficult to withstand long exposure to high temperatures. High temperatures make the acrylic brittle and easy to break, reducing its impact resistance.

The solution for applying acrylic in the presence of high temperatures is to avoid their installation completely. Locations such as furnaces should not be candidates for the use of acrylic as this impacts the material’s strength.

Complete Replacement Incase of Huge Damage.

While you can repair scratches on acrylic, if they crack or break, they will need a complete replacement. This is because its properties do not allow repairing such damage through melting or the use of glue.

How To Work With Acrylic

Aside from understanding acrylic and how these materials can benefit your construction needs, it is vital to understand the various operations on these materials. Key operations include cutting, bending, binding, drilling, and polishing. 

How to Cut Acrylic

Cutting is a common operation when working with PMMA acrylic. You can use a plastic-scoring blade or opt for more traditional solutions like table saws or jig saws when performing this operation.

A key caution to take when cutting acrylic plastic is having a high-tooth-count saw. The kind of cutting you are looking for will also influence the tool you choose as some tools like circular saws are restricted to straight cuts.

How to Polish Acrylic 

Polishing is another key operation on acrylic glass. Polishing matters because of the material’s susceptibility to scractching. Flame polishing is one way to make PMMA acrylic clearer but it is a delicate process due to the acrylic’s sensitivity to high temperatures and this operation will require some practice. 

Flame polishing works by glossing the flame over the edges such that the acrylic materials melt slightly and get a transparent appearance. A key precaution to note is that you should avoid brushing the flame on the edges that will be bound together as this makes them weak and more likely to break.

How to Bend Acrylic

For bending purposes, you can use a strip heater that is easily available at your local store. However, if you find this tool expensive you can use a heat gun but this should be applied cautiously. Application of heat to the acrylic and bending it against the edge of a straight metal or wood piece can allow for clean and straight corners.

How to Bond Acrylic

Solvent glue is commonly used to bind acrylic pieces together and this leads to stronger bonds compared to when using EVA hot melt. The gluing approach for acrylics differs from other materials since the solvent glue chemical bonds two different pieces of acrylic materials into one. Acrylic is an ideal material for plastic bonding.

How to Drill Acrylic

Drilling is another common process you will need when working on acrylic and it involves creating holes in the material. How you drill will be determined by the thickness of your plexiglass. If you are using thin acrylic materials, use a step bit and avoid the use of the conventional wood and metal drill bits as this can result in cracks.

You can use these conventional drill bits when handling a thicker piece of acrylic but still, the application of masking tape on the drill region and the use of lubricants can lead to better results. The speed of drilling also matters as it should not be too slow as it will result in a bad, ugly hole or too fast as this increases the likelihood of cracking.

Differences Between Acrylic and Glass

Both PMMA acrylic and glass are widely used for visual applications. Therefore, transparency is a key feature to compare the materials. While acrylic transmits 92% of visible light, different glass types will usually permit 80%-90% of visible light.

A key advantage of acrylic over glass is that its thickness does not impact its transparency quality. However, glass will mostly develop quality issues such as milky appearances when its thickness passes a particular threshold.

Acrylic boasts of its impact resistance making it a viable option when you are applying the material for security and protection purposes. To be exact, plexiglass is 20% more impact-resistant than its counterpart material. This is despite the plexiglass being at least half the weight of glass.

The properties of acrylic make it easy to mold it into any shape which supports customization and flexibility in your projects. Although glass can still be bent into curved shapes, the process will impact its strength and durability making it difficult to achieve complex shapes. The chart below makes additional comparison between acrylic and glass.

 GlassAcrylic
Risk FactorsVulnerable to shattering, sharp shards if it breaks.Impact resistant, shatterproof, and Less-likely to break when it drops (10-20 times more resistant to strokes).
PriceHigh shipping costs make it expensive to use.Cost effective (Low shipping costs).
WeightWeight will vary.Typically, less than half the weight of glass.
TransparencyMineral glass allows 80%-90% visible lightTransmits 92% visible light and has a softer reflection.
 Annealed withstands 250°C (482°F) (better suited to higher temperatures).Can be used from -30 degrees to 90 degrees Celsius.
Insulation4 times more thermally conductive than glass.Low thermal conductivity which is better for insulation (20 times better at minimizing temperature flux).

What is the Difference Between Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) and Methyl Methacrylate (MMA)?

PMMA and MMA are different in that the former is formed from polymerization of methyl methacrylate with no additional component. Meanwhile, the latter is a monomer that creates the foundation for the formation of acrylic-based polymers. 

Conclusion

The article has explored acrylics in their entirety including the various types, their advantages and disadvantages, and why they are excellent alternatives for wood and glass in construction. Although this article can be relied upon as a guide to understanding acrylic materials, if you have unique ideas on how to apply the material in your construction, consult with your expert suppliers.

 FAQ

Is Acrylic Toxic?

Acrylic materials do not contain Bisphenol A which is a key consideration you may make when choosing materials for construction. Furthermore, the material is not categorized as a carcinogenic material and will not release any dangerous chemicals when it gets heated. Although the manufacturing process of the material is associated with the release of some chemicals, the final product is safe for you. 

Will Acrylic be Yellow in the Sun?

The material does not yellow when exposed to the sun since its production process primarily uses natural gas. The acrylic glass will not discolor or yellow making it an ideal solution in the construction of sheds. The material’s properties mean it is not affected by UV light like its alternatives.  

Will Acrylic Scratch Easily?

A key disadvantage of the plexiglass is that it is highly susceptible to scratching. However, for most scratches, you can fix them by purchasing a scratch remover. While bad scratches may demand you to completely replace the damaged acrylic, they are still an ideal alternative to glass due to their longevity.

Tempered Glass vs Acrylic?

Tempered glass is stronger compared to regular glass and is referred to as safety glass since when it shatters it breaks into large sharp chunks like the regular glass. However, acrylic is still a better alternative since it is more durable and supports your customizations during construction.

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