The material commonly known as acrylic is in fact called polymethyl methacrylate, abbreviated to PMMA. Plexiglass is a trade name that has become synonymous with this material. Compare it with Luxaflex as a general name for horizontal blinds. PMMA is also known under the brandnames Oroglas®, Perspex® and Altuglas®, but especially as acrylic. Whatever you call it, all these names do give a hint to the most important application of PMMA, namely as a replacement for glass. But how is acrylic actually made?
The production of acrylic
The raw materials of PMMA are not particularly friendly substances: acetone, methanol, hydrogen cyanide and sulphuric acid. The latter two, in particular, are highly toxic. The production process (polymerisation) of these substances into PMMA is already 90 years old. The end product is a totally harmless but extremely versatile plastic. Polymerisation is the joining of two or more substances to create a new substance with different properties. Compare polymerisation with the production of a TV set: you combine glass, copper, metal and some other substances, and after an hour it has become a television. All the individual substances are still present, but the end product is completely different. The production of PMMA starts with methacrylic acid, which reacts with methyl alcohol. This creates methyl methacrylate. PMMA is formed by polymerising this substance.
Even so, after its discovery, it took more than eight years before a commercial application for PMMA was devised. An American chemical company introduced the product “Plexiglass“, as a replacement for traditional glass. Plexiglass has a higher light transmittance, a higher impact resistance (30 x) and is much easier to process than glass. Acrylic sheet can also be moulded into complex shapes. Heating makes it flexible and the possibilities are almost limitless; and crucially, it is much lighter than glass.
Fire safety and residual product
Over the last 90 years, acrylic has replaced glass in many situations around the world. The advantages are numerous, but acrylic cannot be used as safety glass. There are two main reasons for this: it is flammable and it can break. It takes a lot of power and effort, but it is possible for acrylic to break. In addition, above 450 ° Celsius, PMMA burns away completely to harmless carbon dioxide and water. For applications where enormous impact resistance is required, polycarbonate is used. We also deliver that to cut to size at plasticsheetsshop.uk.