What is Lexan?

Kitchenware. Bulletproof glass. Headlamps. DVDs. Lexan serves as an essential material for the creation of countless modern products and components, so much so that you’ve probably used an item made with Lexan today without even knowing it. But how, you may ask, can the same material be tough enough to stop a bullet and yet flexible enough to help create something as delicate as a DVD? The answer lies in Lexan’s unique chemical makeup and in a development process that led to it becoming one of our world’s most valued and widely-used plastics.

Lexan Basics

First off, it’s important to note that Lexan is a brand name and not the name of the material itself; the term “Lexan” has simply become synonymous with said material in the same way that Band-Aid has for bandages. That branding was formulated in 1960 by General Electric (GE), the company responsible for pioneering American development and production of the material. Bayer, meanwhile, has been creating the material under the name of Merlon (later Makrolon) since 1958; both companies discovered their version of the plastic within a week of each other and agreed to cross-license its manufacture so as to allow further development on both sides of the Atlantic.

None of that, however, gets into what Lexan actually is. Lexan is a polycarbonate resin thermoplastic. In a nutshell, what that means is that it’s a solid substance that can deform in extreme heat (typically 147 degrees Celsius, or 297 degrees Fahrenheit) and whose molecules are comprised of repeating subunits. Lexan is but one of a family of thermoplastics whose main claim to fame is in its ability to undergo significant deformation without cracking of breaking. What’s more, when fully formed, the polycarbonate sheet boasts an impact strength 250 times greater than that of glass and 30 times greater than that of acrylic (a similar thermoplastic). This strength and flexibility has made Lexan sheet an indispensable material for a wide variety of manufacturers, as very few materials can claim Lexan’s transformative ability along with its outstanding heat and impact resistance.

Benefits and Uses

Those resistances, however, are but two of the attributes that have made Lexan such a popular and celebrated material. The polycarbonate's remarkable features include…

  • High level of impact resistance (250 times the impact resistance of glass)
  • Low rigidity and can be bought in flexible grades
  • Can handle temperatures up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit before deforming
  • Highly resistant to acids and other chemicals such as gasoline
  • Can be drilled without worry of cracking
  • Can be cold formed or bent without heating
  • Low level of flammability

That is not to say, however, that Lexan is a perfect material. There are a few tradeoffs that manufacturers are forced to accept for this level of flexibility and all-around strength, tradeoffs that include…

  • Easier to scratch than glass and some other thermoplastics
  • More expensive than glass and some other thermoplastics
  • Poor clarity, cannot be polished to restore clarity
  • Can be yellowed over time by UV rays
  • Low level of resistance to abrasive cleaners and surfaces
  • Can be dented easily

Generally speaking, these attributes make Lexan polycarbonate an excellent material for applications where you’re not as concerned about aesthetics as you are about creating an extremely resistant protective surface. That’s why it’s now found in products such as those listed above and as a major component in the following items.

  • Window well covers
  • Automobile windows and windshields
  • Reusable drinking bottles
  • Computers and phone cases
  • Transparent visors for football and hockey helmets
  • Molds for urethane and silicone casting
  • Machinery guards
  • LED light pipes and diffusers
  • Bullet-resistant “glass”

Working With Lexan

The unmatched flexibility of Lexan stretches beyond its ability to be easily deformed and reformed; the material also has the ability to be created in a variety of forms tailored to fit specific manufacturing needs. The selection of polycarbonate sheets available at A&C Plastics (sold under the brand name Makrolon) are evidence enough of that.

For common uses, A&C recommends our Clear GP Sheet, an industry-leading product perfect for protecting against high-impact incidents common to manufacturing environments and against the breakage and vandalism that plagues institutions of all stripes. If your final product will likely experience prolonged exposure to the sun, you may instead be interested in our Clear SL or our Clear SL2 sheet; both boast the same incredible flexibility and strength of common Lexan while also offering UV resistance to lengthen service life and protect against color shifting (the SL offers that resistance on one side of the sheet, while the SL2 offers it on both).

Color, however, may be exactly what you want from your Lexan. If that’s the case, our colored polycarbonate sheets may be just what you need to maintain your product’s aesthetic or to ensure that it doesn’t stick out in a colorful environment. Remarkably, Lexan is so flexible that it can even be created as mirrored polycarbonate sheeting. Whereas other applications for Lexan trend more industrial or institutional, this version can be found everywhere from retail signs to boutique mirrors to dentistry tools. If you need a reflected image on a nearly unbreakable surface, there may be no material more suited to the task than Lexan.

Conclusion

Lexan’s wide range of capabilities make it nothing less than a modern marvel, a material with infinite applications that enjoys prominent usage around the world. That said, it should be noted that not all Lexan is created equal; if you’re interested in adding this remarkable material to your manufacturing processes, it’s of the utmost importance that you choose a distributor with a track record of delivering a quality product at a cost you can afford. A&C has done just that for over forty years, and we look forward to working with you in fulfilling all your company’s plastic needs. If you have any further questions regarding Lexan or Lexan distributors, please feel free to get in touch with one of our knowledgeable customer service representatives.

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