Acrylic is a thermoplastic, scientifically known as Polymethyl methacrylate or (PMMA), which is commonly used as a lightweight, shatterproof alternative to glass. The material was first developed in 1928 through multiple laboratories and chemists, derived from acrylic acid, which is poured into moulds that are available in multiple shapes- most frequently in rectangular sheets. It was first brought to the market in 1933 by the Rohm and Haas Company under the name 'Plexiglas'.
PMMA is often simply known as Acrylic, however it is also known under many other trade names such as Acrylite, Lucrite, Optix, Perspex, Crylux, R-cast, Plexiglas, Cyrolite, Sumipex, Oroglas and Altuglas. Majority of these names derive from the transparent and ‘glass-like’ appearance that the material has. Due to this, Acrylic is commonly used for strong displays and sleek designs. In a large majority of acrylic applications, the material will break into large pieces of dull plastic if punctured with enough force, rather than shatter like glass.
The History of Acrylic
The first acrylic acid was created in 1843, by a french chemist, Charles Moureau. Polymethyl methacrylate (Later commonly referred to as Acrylic) was discovered in the early 1930s by two British chemists: Rowland Hill and John Crawford, who worked at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in England. After the discovery, ICI registered the product under the trademark Perspex.
Also in the early 1930s, chemists Otto Röhm of Rohm and Haas AG in Germany attempted to produce safety glass by polymerizing methyl methacrylate between two layers of glass.
The polymer separated from the glass as a clear plastic sheet, which was later given the trademarked name of Plexiglas in 1933.
Both forms of Acrylic were commercialised in the late 1930’s. In the United States, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (now known as DuPont Company) introduced its own product of Acrylic under the trademark of Lucite. In 1936 Imperial Chemical Industries (now known as Lucite International) began the first commercially viable production of acrylic safety glass.
World War I affected the rate at which acrylic was able to be tested and applied for different uses, however by the time of World War II, both the Allied and Axis forces used the new found strength and abilities of the acrylic glass at the time for submarine periscopes and aircraft windshields, canopies, and gun turrets.
More civilian applications followed after the war and by 2001, millions of tons of acrylic had been produced world wide.
Acrylic in it’s uncured form can be used in instances such as in inks, coatings and as a casting resin, and once cured, it can be shaped and manipulated to make multiple structures such as signs, shelving, transparent screens, personal and commercial aquariums, showcases, gates, guards, modern furnishing and decor and much more. Forms of Acrylic are also present in submarines, police riot control vehicles as well as previous models of aircraft. The material has also been utilised in many everyday objects such as pens, plastic drawers, paint, nails, many toys and even wool.
Working with Acrylic
How it’s made
Methyl methacrylate is the basic molecule from which polymethyl methacrylate and many other acrylic plastic polymers are formed. During polymerization, one leg of this double bond breaks and links up with the middle carbon atom of another methyl methacrylate molecule to start a chain. This process repeats itself until the final polymer is formed, in this case, the plastic. Acrylic plastic polymers are formed by reacting a monomer, such as methyl methacrylate, with a catalyst. A typical catalyst would be an organic peroxide. The catalyst starts the reaction and enters into it to keep it going, but does not become part of the resulting polymer.
Cutting, Drilling and Joining
Here at AcrylicoDisplays, we cut our acrylic using an industrial Laser-Cutter (1.5mm - 25mm thickness), resulting in sleek and high gloss edges on our products. Acrylic vaporizes to gaseous compounds upon laser cutting, resulting in a very clean cut, and amazing results for your needs. We design our products digitally before importing and sending them to our machine, which cuts acrylic with ease and precision. Other techniques of cutting Acrylic include using Power saws with specified Acrylic blades or Aluminium and Copper blades as long as the teeth are even. Saber saws with metal or plastic specific blades are also able to be used to cut acrylic. Hand sawing is also possible to achieve results, however it is also very difficult to do. Use a sharp, even toothed blade and ensure the acrylic is clamped or fastened to a cutting surface in order to avoid flexing the plastic, which may result in cracking if flexing too far.
When drilling acrylic, it’s best to use drill bits specifically designed for drilling into plastics and acrylic glass. Using the wrong bits can result in cracking and weakening the plastic in the drilled area. Using the correct sharpness and speeds, two ribbons of plastic would emerge from the other side of the acrylic. To ensure settings are correct, practice on a spare piece of acrylic first.
Acrylic can be joined using Solvent Cement, heat (welding), or by using solvents which dissolve the plastic at the joint, which then fuses and sets, forming an almost invisible weld. The most common techniques involves the use of solvent cement in capillary (joining two pieces together via masking tape and sinking the cement into the small joint, forming a strong bond)and dip/soak (dipping/soaking the plastic into solvent cement before attaching it to another piece)methods.
Cleaning your Acrylic Products
When cleaning and maintaining a piece of Acrylic’s appearance, one should use lukewarm water first to dampen the surface before cleaning with soap. Leaving to dry can cause water streaks on the surface, so a soft cloth or material is recommended to dry the cleaned area before the water dries.
Proper cleaners can be purchased at Acrylico Displays.
Acrylico Displays highly recommends to keep the listed substances away from/being used to clean acrylic products as they can result in damage and deformation.
Do not use these cleaners:
• Window Glass cleaner
• Lacquer thinner
Any type of solvent material that may damage the product should be immediately cleaned off the surface.
Our industrial laser-cutters are able to cut, etch and engrave wood, cutting board and acrylic, broadening our ability to create multiple projects that may stem across these materials. Some projects include, but are not limited to, the following:
• Light Boxes
• Engraved Light-up signs
• 3D Signs
• Machine guards
• Display stands
• Cake Toppings
• Cake stands
Shaping and Moulding Acrylic
The glass transition temperature (the temperature of which PMMA is able to be moldable and uncured) of commercial grades of Acrylic range from 85 to 165 °C. This therefore means that average room temperature will result in an organic glass from the material. Acrylic is able to be molded and shaped from the minimal ‘glass transition temperature’ and above, allowing for bending and movement of the plastic.
Common moulding processed that are used include injection moulding (material is fed into a heated barrel, mixed, and injected into a mould cavity, where it cools and hardens to its shape), compression moulding (the acrylic, preheated, is placed in an open, heated mould cavity which is then closed with pressure applied to force the material into contact with all mould areas, while heat and pressure are maintained until the acrylic has cured), and extrusion (used to create objects of a fixed cross-sectional profile, where preheated acrylic is pushed through a die of the desired cross-section).
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