Understanding Building Materials
Construction projects bring many considerations to the table when choosing the best material. Contractors must weigh the cost of the material with the benefits it brings, as well as its characteristics and overall strength. In many instances, this means a choice between aluminum composite material (ACM) and polycarbonate. Both have benefits and drawbacks, so you must weigh these against your needs to determine the best project.
What Is ACM?
ACM is a building material that typically comes in a panel form. It has two layers of aluminum surrounding a polyethylene core. This is a durable product that requires minimal maintenance. It can even be printed on and is easy to cut, shape, and drill into.
What Is Polycarbonate?
Polycarbonate is a plastic that has good chemical and electrical properties. It is lightweight and strong, so it resists impact damage and scratching. It also does not rust or have other damage from water exposure.
Differences in Material Composition and Properties
Polycarbonate is created through a reaction between bisphenol A and phosgene COC12. This plastic polymer can be made through various processes, including thermoforming, blow molding, injection molding, and extrusion. Sheets, the more common form of building materials, are usually made through extrusion.
Polycarbonate panels have the following properties:
- 88% light transmittance
- 250x more impact resistant than glass
- Easily drilled without cracks
- Resistant to chemicals, including acid
- Low levels of flammability
- Can be cold formed
- Continuous working temperature of 240 degrees Fahrenheit
- Less weather resistant than ACM
Aluminum composite material is made by bonding thin aluminum sheets to a polyethylene or a fire-retardant plastic core, depending on the need. The manufacturing process varies depending on which core is used.
ACM panels have the following properties:
- No light transparency
- Lightweight option
- Available in a wide range of colors
- Corrosion resistant, even to saltwater
- Easily drilled without cracks
- Easily fabricated
- Fireproof with the flame-retardant inner layer
- Highly impact resistant
- Continuous working temperature of 302 degrees Fahrenheit
- More weather and UV-resistant than polycarbonate
Cost: Which Is More Economical?
When it comes to the upfront cost, polycarbonate is more affordable than ACM. However, it would be best to consider the material’s durability when weighing costs.
ACM is more resistant to UV and weather damage. For outdoor applications, this means you won’t have to replace the panels as frequently. This makes ACM a more cost-effective option for outdoor uses. Polycarbonate will be a more cost-effective option for indoor applications or in areas with extreme heat or cold issues. The risks of degradation addition are lower, so you can benefit from the reduced cost.
In addition, polycarbonate needs more upkeep than ACM. For example, polycarbonate panels must be bleached every one to three months to avoid yellowing and graying, while ACM can be washed with soap and water when dirty. Thus, if the upkeep is a high-cost concern for our project, ACM is more economical.
Size is also a consideration. Because polycarbonate is cheaper, you may choose the more affordable material if you have a particularly large building project. That said, if you build in a residential application, ACM has a higher resale value. In addition, buyers know that ACM will be replaced infrequently, which adds value.
Ideal Applications for Aluminum Composite Panels and Polycarbonate
Polycarbonate and ACM panels have similar uses. You can find these products used for:
- Signage – Both channel letters and sign panels can be made from this product.
- Point-of-purchase displays – Kiosks and displays need to be durable, and these products work well.
- Wall partitions – Both materials make great wall partitions in offices and public buildings, as these panels stand up to impact well. They also make great acoustic panels to prevent sound pollution.
- Curtain walls and cladding – Cladding can create a decorative look on an interior or exterior wall, and these panels work well.
- Column covers and beam wraps – Covering steel columns and beams with ACM or polycarbonate improves their appearance while adding some strength to the design without adding to the weight of the building.
What's Best for You?
When choosing the right material for your construction project, considering ACM and polycarbonate properties, costs, and applications is essential. While ACM offers advantages such as weather resistance, UV protection, and high impact resistance, polycarbonate is more cost-effective upfront and requires less maintenance.
To make an informed decision, assess the specific needs of your project. For example, ACM may be the best choice if you require a durable, long-lasting solution for outdoor applications. On the other hand, if your project is indoors or involves extreme temperature conditions, polycarbonate could be more cost-effective in the long run. Consider factors like upkeep, size, and potential resale value when weighing your options.
For expert guidance in selecting the ideal material for your construction needs, don't hesitate to reach out to Piedmont Plastics. We are here to assist you in making the right choice that aligns with your project's requirements.