The world is an ever changing and frequently hostile environment. Damage can be caused by a range of factors: from storms, floods, tornado to fires, hurricanes and earthquakes – all natural disasters.
This is certainly evident in the recent earthquakes and tsunami that ravaged Japan and Haiti. In addition, we have man made disasters. The nuclear concerns in Japan have captivated people’s attention throughout the globe. The Gulf Oil Spill is an example of another environmental disaster. Plastic materials are the perfect choice in prevention, preparedness and clean up from natural disasters.
Plastics in disaster preparedness.
Many plastic materials are used in the prevention, control and repair management – whenever and wherever a natural disaster may occur.
One of the most visible plastics is the Polycarbonate used in hurricane window covers / shutters. Polycarbonate is a clear rigid plastic that has extremely high impact strength, and is the material most commonly known as ‘Bullet Resistant Glazing’. It is used in safety glasses, riot shields and bank theft prevention glazing. The Polycarbonate protects windows and inhabitants from flying debris and breaking glass caused by the high winds, hurricanes or tornado. Use of the Polycarbonate window coverings saves homes from damage, and helps reduce insurance premiums.
Hillsides are affected by storms and heavy rains, causing mud slides. The standard and most popular solution is to cover hillsides with Polyethylene film. This helps to prevent the rains from saturating the ground and causing the ground to move or shift. The Poly film is normally .004” – .010” thick in widths up to 20 feet and lengths of 100 feet (the same material used as painters tarps from home improvement centers). This film is then attached to the hill with spikes, stakes or sand bags; and this material sheds the water rather than letting it soak in. It can be applied with folds and used like rain gutters to direct water flow away from specific areas. Also, the current sand bags used are not the old cotton fabric bags used years ago; they are now a high strength and tear resistant woven polypropylene ‘fabric’ bag.
The recent critical issues with nuclear leaks bring up an interesting use of a plastic material. As you may recall, after the earthquake and tsunami, the Japanese energy experts were pumping water and boron into the reactors to help control the amount of nuclear energy released.
The nuclear industry uses a plastic material, High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) that has been filled with the natural mineral boron. This boron filled (typically a 5% boron fill) is used to shield neutrons and nuclear energy in many applications; nuclear submarines, nuclear power plants, hospital radiation, dental x-ray shielding and industrial radiation applications. It is normally produced in sheet, and can then be mounted in and around the radiation source as shielding. The benefit to using this boron filled HDPE is this sheet weighs significantly less than traditional lead shielding, and is therefore much easier to install.
Plastic used in clean up from disasters
It is much more difficult to clean up after natural disasters occur. Many of the methods used in the preparation limit the amount of clean up caused by natural disasters.
Depending on the severity of the natural disaster, the uses of plastics in the aftermath are almost limitless. In the cleanup and rebuild after major Earthquakes, shelter is a key component. One of the quick shelters brought in are simple wooden frames with twin-wall plastic sheets made from either Polypropylene or Polycarbonate stapled or nailed to the framework. This provides an inexpensive, easily movable and effective shelter for short term housing. The twin-wall design provides excellent insulation and energy savings. This style shelter is foldable, easy to transport and very easy to set up. Several versions can be made from small huts to larger family areas, to separate sanitary latrine units. These extruded twin-wall materials work well to protect against rain and excessive exposure to the elements. These can be used as assembled, or with a sand bag reinforced perimeter. In Haiti, there were reports of residents filling used one gallon water bottles with mud, and building shelters with these mud building blocks.
The gulf oil spill brought plastics to the front line in disaster cleanup again. Materials used to collect and dispose of excess oil from the waters were rushed to the area. Polyethylene bags are used to collect the oil covered and saturated cleaning rags and clothes, preventing additional dispersion. Many varieties of machinery were brought in to clean the waters. One style machine uses 8” UHMW rod as a squeegee roller that grabs the oil from the water surface and then collects it for later use. Oil booms and rotary wheels are common systems for collecting oil from spills. Because plastics have great surface tension, the oil ‘sticks’ to the plastic surface during the cleaning process. Then the plastic surfaces are wiped clean for reuse and capturing the oil. Plastic tubes and hoses are used to move the oil after collection.
A significant use of plastics would be in the aftermath of natural disasters, specifically in the sanitation and clean water areas. First is sanitation; plastics are used in keeping items clean and dry. Polyethylene film covers items such as medical supplies, shelters, clothing and food cartons. This film keeps the items protected during shipment and ready for use.
Water is the second area of concern. Clean water is critical during the clean up and resettling after a natural disaster. Individual use water bottles are the quick and easy way to deliver water. Larger rotationally molded tanks are brought in with the ability to store large amounts of water in the areas affected. Reverse osmosis equipment (many components are made from plastic) is brought in to convert contaminated water in the clean potable water on site.
In all of these examples, plastic is lighter in weight than the alternatives, normally less expensive that the alternatives, it lasts longer and the plastics are recyclable.
Plastics are excellent choices for material to use in natural disasters.
Some of our most popular questions are “Is this material UV stable”, or “How long will this last in direct sunlight”, or something similar. These are great questions. Just look at the ‘cheap’ backyard furniture you bought last year, yep, it is faded and cracking. Why is that?
The quick answer is the material had either no UV (Ultra Violet Light) stabilizer or very little. Most plastic materials are not UV stable to start with, other than Acrylic which is invisible to UV. All other materials need a little something to give it the protection it may need from the sun. Many plastic materials, if given the proper additives, can be used in direct sunlight for 10 – 15 years giving excellent performance.
The first factor in picking such a material is the intended use. Not all materials are good candidates for all applications.While some materials will perform very well, others under the same conditions will fail. Please contact us for details on a material to meet your needs. HDPE sheet is one of the best materials for long term outdoor use, if given the proper additives. Next time you drive by a children’s playground in your local city, look at the brightly colored panels used to make the play equipment. This is a HDPE sheet with heavy UV additives, and this makes an excellent application. Available in a rainbow of colors and able to be fabricated easily, this material is excellent for many outdoor applications. If your application is more mechanical, other materials that might be used would be: Polycarbonate, UHMW, ABS (especially with Korad cover), Acetal, Noryl and many more. Our standard Covestro Makrolon Polycarbonate is a UV stable material in sheet, and is frequently used in replacement glazing applications. The remaining materials on the list are available in Black (a carbon black pigment) which extends outdoor usage. While still not recommended for direct sunlight, they can be used with a good possibility of success – depending on design. Plastics can become brittle or lose properties over time if material does not have UV stabilization, with the proper material and the proper additives, you can get years of trouble free service.
Is Lexan® the same as Makrolon® or Tuffak® Polycarbonate?
The short answer is no, are they very similar, yes. The reason is that both Lexan® and Makrolon® are brand names, along with Hyzod®, Cyrolon®, Zelux®, Paltuf®, Tuffak®, Ensicar®, Unicar®, Texin®, Apex® and many more. Lexan® is a brand name for SABIC (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation) which acquired the entire General Electric Plastics division several years ago. Makrolon® (formerly Hyzod®) is a trade name for Covestro (formerly Bayer MaterialSciences).
These materials are all Polycarbonate which is a very tough, high impact plastic material. The base resins are very similar, however, the end product varies quite a bit depending on the manufacturer. The Covestro Bayer Makrolon® GP-V material does meet the UL 94 V-0 flame retardant certification (at .220″ thick), and the Makrolon® GP is UL 94 HB rated.
How do I tell the difference between Lexan® and Makrolon®?
It would be impossible to tell the difference between brands by just looking, unless it still has the masking on, it would take some testing. The majority of both brands of materials are available in a very clear, UV stabilized glazing grade and look identical to the naked eye. This material is excellent for replacing window glass and is virtually unbreakable.
Industrial Plastic Supply stocks the Covestro (Bayer) Makrolon® GP Polycarbonate materials in stock and ready for shipment. We have chosen to carry the Covestro Makrolon® Polycarbonate because of its superior quality, physical properties and ratings. You will find these materials available as sheet and rod here. If you have further questions, or would like to see the data sheet on Makrolon® Polycarbonate and/or Lexan® Polycarbonate for comparison, please give us a call: 866-832-9315 or email: email@example.com
This post is part of our effort to answer as many questions for you as possible, and to assist you in choosing the proper material for your applications, this is another very popular question we hear.
Yes, Lexan® and Makrolon® are both Polycarbonate materials. And we believe that the Covestro Makrolon® is the best Polycarbonate sheet available in the market place.
This is a popular question received from clients. This question has a rather long answer. Most Thermoplastic materials are thermo-formable, and thus vacuum forming compatible. Some of the most common and easier materials for forming are listed below.
Check with us for other materials that may be available for your requirements
Each plastic material has a variety of different properties, and they form at different temperatures. The Acrylic, PETG and Polycarbonate sheets are normally clear (can be special ordered in colors), however the Polycarbonate may have to be heat dried prior to the vacuum forming temperature phase (depending on thickness). ABS and HIS both form very well, and are normally White or Black. The ABS normally has a fine texture called Hair Cell on the primary surface, the Styrene is smooth on two sides. On a special basis Styrene and ABS can be run in almost any thickness up to .375″ thick, and in almost any color (minimums apply) and in a huge range of custom run sheet sizes. While many other materials may be available for special applications and with various improved properties, these are the most commonly available and used materials. Some of the important factors in choosing a material for your vacuum forming project would be: clarity, strength of finished part, temperature, depth of draw, UV resistance, Flame Retardant Rating, thickness and size range.
Large parts can be produced using this process, for example – Hot Tubs and Pick Up Truck Bed Liners. Also vacuum forming is used to produce very small parts like chocolate molds and numerous packaging applications.
Most vacuum forming started in their garage (or kitchen). A simple vacuum forming ‘machine’ can be produced at very low cost using 2 X 4 wood, peg board, and your shop vac. Obviously this is not the way the above hot tub was formed, but the process is rather simple and is much more an art than a science. We have seen several YouTube videos showing entry level – DIY style vacuum forming machines. Most use the kitchen oven as the heat source and are used to make small chocolate molds, wax molds, hobby parts and more. Many materials can be used in this simple process, and we are happy to assist you with your basic questions of the vacuum forming process. There are also a wide range of commercial thermoforming machines (see video) available, in almost unlimited range of sizes.
There is a wide array of materials that can be used, and they have different properties – no one material meets all your needs. Contact us for details on your vacuum forming requirements or with question.