Polycarbonate bent parts used in a wide range of applications such as windscreens, Protective covers. Unlike acrylic only could be heat bending, Polycarbonate sheets can be bent or deformed both from hot and cold bending. In this article, we’ll provide insights into the mechanics of polycarbonate plastic bending and share effective techniques for achieving the desired results.
What is Polycarbonate bending?
Polycarbonate bending means reshaping polycarbonate sheets or panels to achieve specific angles, curves, or forms. This can be done using various methods, including the application of heat, cold bending, or using specialized machinery. The sheet is folded into the desired shape when cold and then heated in an oven at a low temperature (maximum 70 degrees) to release the tension in the sheet.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Bending Polycarbonate
- Cost-Effective: Bending polycarbonate is cost-effective as it doesn’t demand specialized tools or equipment.
- Minimal Waste: Unlike cutting or milling, bending doesn’t result in material removal, reducing waste and optimizing material usage.
- Efficient: Bending is a relatively fast process, particularly for simpler shapes, expediting project completion.
- Energy-Efficient: The bending process consumes less energy compared to other shaping methods, contributing to environmental sustainability.
- Customization: Bending allows for the creation of custom and unique designs, catering to specific project requirements.
- Shape Limitations: Bending is suitable for a variety of shapes but may not accommodate highly complex or intricate designs.
- Risk of Stress Fractures: Incorrect bending techniques or parameters can lead to stress fractures in the polycarbonate sheet, affecting its structural integrity.
- Thickness Limitations: Bending thicker polycarbonate sheets can be challenging and may require specialized equipment.
Types of Bending Polycarbonate Sheet
Cold Line Bending Polycarbonate
- Tooling: Use tools with sharp edges for bending.
- Time: Allow one to two days after bending for the best outcome.
- Avoid Forcing: Don’t force the sheet into its final form or reduce the bending angle during installation.
- Overbending: Sometimes, you may need to overbend to counteract springback, where the sheet tries to return to its original shape.
- Test Run: Try cold line bending on a small sample piece first before working on a larger piece.
- Smooth Finish: Smooth the edges to prevent cracks from forming along the bend line.
- Bend Angle: Bend the sheet 20-40 degrees larger than the desired angle to account for springback.
Cold line bends are typically limited to angles less than 90 degrees to avoid exceeding the material’s elastic limit. This method isn’t suitable for hard-coated or UV-protected polycarbonate, as it may compromise their properties. Additionally, use items produced with this technique in low-impact situations due to potential residual stress in the sheet.
Cold Curving Polycarbonate
Cold curving involves bending an entire polycarbonate sheet to create a dome or arch shape. In this process, the cold forming radius plays a critical role, as it determines the minimum radius required to maintain the desired shape.
- To calculate this minimum cold forming radius, simply multiply the sheet’s thickness by 100: Minimum cold forming radius = Sheet thickness x 100
- This radius serves as a basic parameter in all cold bending procedures, ensuring the integrity of the final form.
Cold Press Break Bending Polycarbonate
Cold press break bending uses a press brake device to reshape polycarbonate sheets. This technique, originally used for metal sheets, has been adapted for polycarbonate due to its flexibility. Modern practices involve Computer Numerical Control (CNC) brakes, which offer precision and multi-axis control for accurate shaping. Operators can program CNC brakes via an attached screen, enabling simulations and real-time adjustments. To counteract springback, the sheet is bent rapidly, overcompensating for any rebound. Notably, avoid bending flame-retardant polycarbonate sheets to maintain their quality. This approach combines technology and speed to achieve precise, cold-formed polycarbonate shapes.
Hot Line Bending Polycarbonate
Similar with Acrylic bending, Hot line bending leverages the thermoplastic properties of polycarbonates for precise shaping. Here’s how it works:
- Sheet Softening: Begin by softening a section of the polycarbonate sheet using a narrow, heated strip. This can be achieved using a hot wire or an electric heater.
- Heating Considerations: Depending on factors such as sheet thickness, you can choose to heat either one side or both sides of the polycarbonate sheet. For sheets thicker than 3mm, it’s recommended to opt for double-sided heating.
- Protective Film: If the sheet surpasses 6mm in thickness, it’s advisable to remove the protective film, especially along the bend line. This prevents the film from melting onto the polycarbonate sheet during heating.
- Heating Temperature: Typically, the heated region becomes pliable at temperatures ranging from 155°C to 165°C. This pliability allows you to bend the sheet to the desired angle with ease.
Bending Polycarbonate Sheet with a Heat Gun
For DIY enthusiasts looking to bend polycarbonate without specialized tools like a filament or heating coil, alternative methods using an oven or paint burner can be used. Here’s how to achieve a successful result with some expert tips:
Preparation: Begin by placing wooden slats alongside the folding line. This strategic placement ensures precise and well-defined fold lines when applying heat to the polycarbonate.
Heat Gun Tips (adjustable):
- Remove the protective film from both sides of the polycarbonate sheet.
- Maintain a safe distance of at least 2 inches between the heat gun’s outflow opening and the sheet.
- Move the heat gun gently and consistently along the desired fold line, ensuring even heating.
- Periodically, gently tug on the end of the sheet to assess its pliability for bending
Plastic Thermoforming is a versatile method that uses heat, pressure, or molds to transform polycarbonate sheets into intricate 3D shapes. Here’s a detailed breakdown:
Types of Thermoforming:
- Vacuum Forming: Uses a vacuum to shape the heated polycarbonate sheet over a mold.
- Pressure Forming: Combines compressed air and vacuum force to create highly detailed shapes.
- Plug-Assisted Forming: Employs a plug to ensure consistent sheet thickness.
- Twin Sheet Forming: Joins two polycarbonate sheets into one fused product using molds and pressure.
- Drape Forming: Ideal for gradual curves like windscreens, where the heated sheet is draped over a mold.
Polycarbonate sheets tend to absorb moisture. Before thermoforming, pre-dry the sheets in an air-circulating oven. Ensure sheets are spaced at least 2.5 cm apart to facilitate drying. Commercial sheets provide recommended pre-drying durations based on thickness.
Recommendations for Forming
- Allow space between the mold and the clamp to account for sheet sagging during heating.
- Ensure a vacuum tank capable of sustaining at least 20” Hg pressure is used.
- Use double-sided heaters for even heating.
- Preheat the clamping frame and mold to prevent warping.
- For continuous production, consider aluminum molds with temperature control lines.
- Opt for molds with a slight matte finish to prevent sticking and air pockets.
- Account for natural shrinkage as the polycarbonate cools.
Applications of Polycarbonate Bending
Polycarbonate bending finds diverse applications, including architectural glazing, skylights, automotive components, aerospace windows, displays, greenhouses, and safety equipment due to its strength and versatility.
Plastic bending is a popular manufacturing process used to create a wide range of products in various industries. By understanding the basic principles of plastic bending, the different types of bending techniques, and the advantages and disadvantages of plastic bending, manufacturers can successfully create complex shapes and forms from plastic sheets. With proper equipment, materials, and techniques, plastic bending can be cost-effective and efficient.