Polycarbonates (PC) are a group of strong, impact-resistant, heat-resistant, thermoplastics. They are naturally transparent, with the raw material capable of transmitting light as well as glass—and they are much lighter than glass. While they are clear by default, PC plastics are commercially available in many colors.
PC plastics have characteristics similar to polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA or acrylic), but are stronger and better able to tolerate extreme temperatures. They are easily worked, molded, and thermoformed. They are also non-conductive materials with good electrical insulation properties. As a result of these characteristics, they are used in a wide range of applications.
As a thermoplastic, PC can be heated to its melting point (311 degrees Fahrenheit), cooled, and heated again without degrading. This makes it a great material for plastic injection molding and plastic part manufacturing, especially for items that should be recycled later. Parts made with PC can have many types of secondary machining performed on them, including grinding, drilling, tapping, turning, and ultrasonic welding.
Where is PC Used?
Because of its high strength and clarity, PC is commonly used in many types of products, including:
- Medical equipment
- Automotive components including headlamp lenses
- Lighting fixtures
- Smartphone components
- Plastic lenses in eyewear
- Telecommunications hardware
- DVDs, CDs, and Blu-ray discs
- Bulletproof glass such as in teller windows at banks
While PC is very impact resistant, it is prone to scratching. Consequently, PC lenses are typically coated with a scratch-resistant layer. PC is less resistant to some chemicals or oils, so you will need to consider what your product may face during use. In some applications its natural heat resistance is enhanced with flame retardant additives.
What’s the Connection Between PC and BPA?
PC may not be appropriate for uses where they will come into contact with food or beverages. This is because of the release of Bisphenol A (known as BPA) when the material interacts with water and degrades in a process called hydrolysis. While study results on the health risks of BPA have been mixed and sometimes controversial, most manufacturers of things like water bottles have begun using BPA-free plastics.
Considering PC for a Future Project?
At AIM Processing, we’re very familiar with the properties of polycarbonate. If you are thinking about using PC in a plastic part manufacturing process, we’d be happy to talk with you about our experience with it. Give us a call or stop by our shop in Longmont, Colorado.