Jun 9, 2023 11:40:50 AM | Tiia Jalkanen | Polycarbonate (PC)

5 property comparison for polycarbonate and glass - Which is better?

We have been working closely with transparent high-performance plastics for over 35 years. We have helped select the most suitable plastic material for our customer's applications and fabricated products for various work machines such as forestry machines and tractors. 

5 property comparison for polycarbonate and glass - Which is better?

Polycarbonate (PC) has gained popularity in recent years as a glazing material. The choice between polycarbonate and glass for industrial applications depends on various factors and the application’s specific requirements. The requirements can be related e.g. to durability, transparency, chemical resistance, temperature resistance, and cost. Let’s go through these requirements from the perspective of material properties.

1. Durability

Polycarbonate is known for its exceptional impact resistance, making it highly suitable for applications where there is a risk of breakage or high impact forces. Glass, on the other hand, is more brittle and susceptible to shattering under certain conditions. Even though tempered glass is more resistant to impacts, its impact resistance is nowhere near polycarbonate. Polycarbonate sheet is 200 times more impact resistant than traditional glass.

Therefore, polycarbonate is a better choice if the application involves potential impacts or requires high durability. For example, safety glazing for forestry machines is manufactured from hard coated polycarbonate to ensure the operator's safety in extreme conditions. In addition, for transparent noise barriers, we recommend Aikon® PC AR 1020 as the material has great performance even if it faces vandalism.

2. Density

Polycarbonate is an extremely lightweight material compared to glass. The density of polycarbonate is 1,20 g/cm3. Traditional glass weighs approximately twice as much as polycarbonate sheets, the density of glass is 2,5 g/cm3.

Material weight significantly impacts the total carbon footprint of vehicles or machines. Therefore, if your target is to lower your carbon footprint, choosing an energy-efficient material with a low density such as polycarbonate is best. In addition, large lightweight components are easier to handle and assemble. 

3. Light transmission

Glass typically offers slightly better optical properties compared to polycarbonate. However, the difference between the materials is not that significant. The minimum light transmission of glass is 88 % whereas the light transmission of polycarbonate is 87 %.

4. Temperature resistance

The highest possible operating temperature of glass is 200 °C and it’s significantly higher compared to polycarbonate (120 °C). Glass transition temperature of polycarbonate sheet is 148 °C, meaning the material softens gradually above this point. If the application requires higher temperature resistance, glass is a better choice for the application. However, glass is a poor thermal conductor and rapid changes in temperature may create stress fractures in the glass that may eventually crack. On the other hand, polycarbonate has good temperature resistance to cold temperatures. The minimum temperature for polycarbonate is -50 °C. 

5. Chemical resistance

Glass has significantly better chemical resistance compared to plastics in general. Without a coating agent, polycarbonate doesn’t withstand strong acids, and weak alkaline substances can cloud its surface. When hard coating polycarbonate sheets, the coating agents improve the materials’ chemical resistance making it a suitable material for applications that require decent chemical resistance. However, hard coated polycarbonate should be cleaned according to the correct cleaning instructions in order to maintain its good properties.

In general hard coating improves significantly the properties of polycarbonate making it a long-lasting solution. If you are looking for a transparent material that has excellent impact resistance, low weight, and high light transmission, polycarbonate is the right material for your application. 

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