First commercially manufactured in the late 1950’s, polycarbonate is a high-strength plastic with many industrial applications due to its special properties.  The material has good electrical insulation properties and is heat-resistant.  Polycarbonate is so ubiquitous in part because it can be manufactured as clear as glass.  The plastic is stronger than glass and has only 1/6 the weight of glass-making it the preferred choice for many manufacturers. 

Due to its strength and light weight, this material has many varied uses.  Let’s take a look at some of them.

1)      Bullet-Proof “Glass”

In World War II, combat vehicles used a type of bullet-proof glass made of two layers of glass bonded together with polyurethane.  Today, most bullet-proof glass actually includes a layer of polycarbonate for added strength and reduced weight.  The glass itself has two layers-one harder and one softer, allowing the glass to bend slightly upon impact without shattering.  You may have seen bullet-proof glass in banks, gas stations, or liquor stores.

2)      Eye Glasses

Polycarbonate is also a highly refractive material, meaning that it can change the direction of light. Therefore, transparent polycarbonate is often used in eyeglasses. Another reason it is used for glasses is that it can be easily manufactured to the desired shape without splitting or cracks.  Unlike most thermoplastics, polycarbonate can handle a high level of deformity before snapping.  High quality sunglasses also use this plastic, with filters added to block ultraviolet rays and polarization added to minimize glare.

3)      Consumer Electronics

The core of a CD or DVD is made of layers of injected molded polycarbonate.  Each layer has multiple tiny bumps that form, all together, a continuous spiral track of data.  This plastic is also present in smartphones. Nokia and Apple use it in unibody cases, while Samsung uses it for some of its phones’ battery covers.

4)      Electrical and Telecommunications Industries

These industries take advantage of this material because it is heat-resistant, flame-retardant, and a good electrical insulator. It can be used as a dielectric or electrical insulator in capacitors in a variety of electrical and telecommunications hardware.

5)      Medical Industry

Sterilized polycarbonate products are widely used in medical practice. Examples include the filter cartridges in dialysis equipment and the flexible tubes used for blood transfer in cardiac surgery.

6)      Automotive Industry

This industry also has myriad uses for the material. Since injection-molded polycarbonate can result in very smooth surfaces, aluminum can be deposited on its surface without requiring the extra expense of a base coat. It is also used in automotive headlamp cases due to its high impact resistance and low weight.

7)      Construction Industry

Many building materials are made of polycarbonate. Skylights are commonly made from it. Polycarb sheeting is used for sunrooms, solariums, and greenhouses. It’s even used for high-end fencing.

Polycarb comes in many different grades. These are distinguished in two ways: melt flow and additives.

Melt flow measures a plastic grade’s displacement under pressure at a specified temperature. It is an indirect measurement of the material’s molecular weight. As the molecular weight increases, the strength of the polycarbonate generally increases. Knowing a grade’s molecular weight is important because it indicates both the ease of processing the material, and the strength of the end product. Ideally, you want a material that’s easy to process (lower molecular weight) but has a high strength (higher molecular strength). Since these two properties are interrelated and not necessarily compatible, selecting a grade with the right molecular weight provides the material with the appropriate balance between the two for a given application. 

The second way polycarb grades are distinguished is by the type of additive introduced into the material. Adding glass fibers to polycarbonate greatly enhances its strength. Organic ultraviolet stabilizers are added to protect this material from becoming yellow and brittle from exposure to solar radiation in daylight. Pigments and colorants are used to alter the color of the material. Antimicrobials like organic acids and silver ions are added to polycarbonate products used in food-handling applications.  

Questions?  Let us know in the comments section below. 

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10 responses to “Top 7 Reasons Manufacturers Love Polycarbonate

  1. I was not sure what my friend was talking about when she mentioned polycarbonate. It was something that I wanted to learn a little more about since it looks like a great material. Knowing that you can use this for sunrooms or greenhouses is really cool.

  2. Polycarbonate polymers are used to produce a variety of materials and are particularly useful when impact resistance and/or transparency are a product requirement.

  3. Im asking if polycarbonate double wall/channeled panels used on windows for Hurricane protection will increase the indoor temperature of a home? I was told this could happen to @ a 10° increase.

    1. Nancy,
      Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ posts. I don’t see why the indoor temperature would increase vs. having just windows in place. Either the window area is closed or its open. Neither material is going to supply
      heat – other than passive solar.

  4. We are planning a fifty acre greenhouse complex. Looking for domestic production of polycarbonate sheeting that incorporates nano tech capability to generate electricity.

    1. Keith – Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ blogs. Try the Resolite (formerly Co-excorp) website – they should be able to help you.

    1. Thanks for reading the Craftech Industries’ blogs. I don’t believe PC can be changed into glass. Layers of PC can be used with glass sheets – as mentioned in our blog under Bullet Proof Glass.

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