PMMA Properties, Production, Price, Market and Uses
Poly (methyl methacrylate) is a form of non- degradable polyacrylate widely being used for optical components of a high level of clarity & structural rigidity.
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Polymethyl methacrylate is a synthetic resin produced by the polymerization process of methyl methacrylate. It is a kind of transparent, rigid and clear plastic used commonly as shatterproof replacement of glass (windows, skylights, laminated signs & aircraft canopies etc).
This material has proved to be an economical alternative for polycarbonate when tensile strength, transparency, polishing & UV resistance is more important than impact strength and resistance to chemicals & heat.
It is preferred material over polycarbonate as it does not contain harmful bisphenol- A, which is a sub unit found in polycarbonate materials. This resin is also considered over others due to its moderate properties, ease of handling & processing along with its low cost.
It was first discovered by British chemist Rowland Hill & John Crawford at Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in England (the year 1930). ICI registered the product under the trademark of Perspex.
At the same time, Otto Rohm (chemist & industrialist) in Germany attempted to produce safety glass by polymerization of methacrylate between the two layers of glass.
As a resulting polymer separated from glass providing a clear plastic sheet which was given the trademark of Plexiglas. Both the products entered the commercial market in the late 1930s
Later, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company (now DuPont) in the U.S introduced their own product under the trade name of Lucite.
Major Application – During World War II, when aircraft windows & bubble canopies for gun turrets were made using PMMA.
This form of material is one of the members of huge methacrylate esters family with an attached group of Alkyl or Aryl. It is commonly produced by emulsion polymerization, solution polymerization & bulk polymerization.
PMMA material is an ester of methacrylic acid, which belongs to an important acrylic family of resins. It is primarily obtained by propylene (compound refined from light fractions of crude oil) used in production process.
Further, propylene & benzene are reacted together to produce cumene or isopropyl benzene. Afterwards, the produced cumene is oxidized to cumene hydroperoxide.
Then, it is treated with acid to produce acetone which is further converted to methyl methacrylate (flammable liquid). This liquid is polymerized in form of bulk liquid or suspended fine droplets of water under influence of free radical initiators to form solid (PMMA plastic)
It is majorly sold under the trademarks of Plexiglas, Lucite & Perspex.
Basic properties of this plastic material which make it an ideal choice to be highly used as a substitute for glass and for various other uses are:
- It is a strong, tough and lightweight material.
- Has better impact strength than both glass and polystyrene.
- Superior environmental stability as compared to other plastics.
- High thermal & chemical resistance.
- Low smoke emission.
- Excellent abrasion resistance.
- High strength and durability.
- High light transmission.
Density- 1.17- 1.20 g/cm3 (less than half of the glass)
Melting Point- 160°C (320°F, 433 K)
Water Absorption Rate- 0.3-0.4%
Ignition Temperature- 460°C (860°F)
Solvency- Melts & dissolves easily in many organic solvents.
Global trade of Poly(methyl methacrylate) is negative in the past few years. The import is more than the exports. The trade balance is constant since 2012. The import of Poly(methyl methacrylate) was US$ 1.36bn in 2016 while the export was worth US$ 0.97bn.
South Korea is the largest exporter of Poly(methyl methacrylate). It exported the material worth of US$ 267.35mn in 2016. It was followed by Singapore which exported worth of US$ 170.93mn and then Japan with a value of US$ 160.2mn.
The export market was dominated by Asian countries. Out of top 10 exporting countries, 7 countries were from Asia.
China is world’s largest importer of Polymethyl Methacrylate. It imported US$ 419.7mn worth of material. The growth of the market is due to rapid industrialization.
The second largest market is Germany which imported US$ 52.5mn followed by Mexico which imported US$ 48.7mn. China is the largest import market. China in 2016, imported Polymethyl Methacrylate worth of value more than the other top 9 countries.
PMMA plastic is being utilized across the world owing to its advantages and characteristics.The market size of polymethyl methacrylate is projected to reach more than US$ 6bn by 2021.
Increasing demand for plastic with high strength, durability & resistance is continuously driving the market.
Factors driving the global market demand are:
- Growing usage in end-user industries including electronics, automobiles, and construction.
- Developing technology for expanding applications of this material in various industries is also boosting the market.
- Development of bio-based PMMA material along with increasing demand for sustainable polymers is continuously enhancing the market demand.
- Favoring government rules and regulations for bio- base materials production.
Nowadays this plastic material is being widely used for internally lighted signs for advertising & directions (as it proves to be excellent transmitter of visible light)
Primarily the telecommunication sectors are using signs & display and even endoscopy applications which utilize fiber optics made of this material.
Rapid digitalization of rural areas is also driving the demand for attractive advertising in retail industry which leads to opening new market opportunities for these plastic polymers in coming future.
It is widely used in different end segment market for a variety of uses. Signs and display dominate the market with the maximum share in the total market demand.
It is followed by electronics segment where these plastic materials are used in TV displays and variety of daily use electronic equipment and their parts.
Automotive and Transportation sectors further driving the market demand. Demand is increasing for lightweight vehicles with better efficiency & lower emission especially in North America and Western Europe.
Automotive glazing is another application owing to the high weathering and UV resistance of this product, along with optimum acoustic properties.
Construction sector also has an effective role in the growth of the global market demand (primarily in China, India & Brazil) by rising use of this product in windows, light panels, coating & emulsions, cast acrylic & extruded sheets (for thermal insulation) etc.
Factors that hamper the growth of market demand are:
- Volatile petroleum raw material prices
- Raw material availability
- Frequent supply bottleneck situations in the market.
Regional Insights– Asia-pacific regions are expected to have the highest growth in demand for the forecasted period due to increasing disposable income of people (especially in China & India) which fuels the automotive sales.
This region has also witnessed growth in recent years due to investment from MNCs and rising industries over time.
Asian-pacific regions are followed by the Middle East & African countries because of upcoming projects. There is a consolidation of industrial players and manufacturers in this region in recent years.
Further, Central and South American regions have higher demand especially because of increased demand for signs & display in Rio Olympics (2016) and also upcoming demand for Central American & Caribbean Games (2018).
Competitive Insights- Mitsubishi Rayon Co. Ltd (Japan), Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd (Japan), and Chi Mei Corporation (Taiwan) are some of the major leading players in the global market.
Poly (methyl methacrylate) is a versatile kind of plastic material which can be used for wide range of applications in different fields & in different forms.
Owing to its favorable physical, chemical & mechanical properties it can be used in following ways for a number of applications:
Transparent Glass Substitute
It is commonly used the material as glass substitute due to it transparent and clear nature. As a glass substitute this material is applicable in following areas:
- It is used for constructing commercial and residential aquariums.
- PMMA plastic glasses are used for viewing ports and also incomplete pressure hulls of submersibles. Even used as viewing spheres for submarines (e.g. Alicia submarine).
- Lenses of exterior lights in automobiles and spectator protection of ice hockey rinks.
- Aircraft windows and now days even police vehicles used in riot control have replaced the regular glass with this plastic glass.
- Used in making lighthouse lenses, roofing in compounds (Olympic Park) & ceiling (Houston Astrodome).
Poly methyl methacrylate is being used for a number of uses in different segments to redirect light. These applications include:
- Laser cut form of acrylic panels is being used to redirect sunlight into a light pipe or to some kind of tubular skylight to spread light in the room.
- Acrylic broadband light guides are mostly used for decorative purposes as they are even strong for distance over one meter.
- Pairs of acrylic sheets with a layer of micro-replicated prisms are being used for daylighting in windows & canopies so that the sunlight descending from the sky is directed on floor or ceiling of the room.
Medical Technologies & Implants
They are being used in different medical technologies and treatments such as:
- Eyeglasses & eye lenses are made from these plastic materials. They have compatibility with human tissues and are used to manufacture eye lenses on a wider range. Primarily acrylic type lenses are used for cataract surgeries as are induced to less inflammation.
- In orthopedic surgeries, they are used as a bone cement to remodel lost bone.
- In cosmetic surgeries, they are used in form of microspheres in some fluid which, is injected under the skin to reduce wrinkles & scars. It is even used to shape muscles (especially by bodybuilders).
- In Plombage treatment available for tuberculosis patient where lung cavity is filled with this polymer balls in the affected lung.
- Acrylic tubes are being used as an alternative to glass & stainless steel in bioprocess chromatography.
Artistic and Aesthetic Applications
This plastic is commonly used for a number of decorative uses due to its favoring properties like finishing, appearance ease of handling etc. The aesthetic uses of these resins are:
- They are used in acrylic paints which enhance the beauty of walls as compared to normal paints.
- Modern furniture especially office furniture make extensive use of this plastic to make it more glossy and beautiful in appearance.
- Acrylic sheets are used widely which come in a number of colors and sizes.
- They are widely replacing normal glasses in picture frames in a process called Diasec because of their light weight & low cost.
- It is used for sculptures and also mixed with chemicals to bring out new colors & refractions.
- It is also used in jewelry in form of pieces attached to ornaments to enhance their looks.
The unique properties of this material offer much other ease of uses for a variety of products such as:
- Sheets of this plastic material are used widely in the sign industry, usually to make flat cut out of letters on the boards of signs representing company’s names & logos.
- It is used in backlights as a light guide.
- It has its high usage demand in optic media. CDs & DVDs involve usage of acrylic for impact resistance.
- In furnishing sector, this material is used for tanning beds as the transparent surface separate the occupant tanning bulbs in the process of tanning.
- Poly methyl methacrylate is also used as plastic optical fiber which is used in communicating for short distances.
- Small strips of this form of plastics are used as dosimeter devices used during gamma irradiation process. They are also used to stop beta radiation being emitted from radioisotopes.
- It is also being used as a dispersant for ceramic powders to stabilize colloidal suspension in non-aqueous media.
- One of its unique kinds of application is that it is used as hybrid rocket fuel.
- Most of the musical instruments (especially their bodies) involve usage of acrylic. Electric guitar bodies are completely made up of acrylics even bodies of drums are also made of this material.
- Artificial fingernails, modern briar, tobacco pipes sports stem, deal toys, financial tombstones and many other alike kinds of products involve usage of these polymers.
- In construction sector also it has major usage in roofing and waterproofing applications.
As compared to other substitute plastic materials it has low impact resistance & strength. Sometimes it can experience some brittle failures as it is not that strong and may crack without bending.
This polymer material has one of the major advantages over other forms of plastic polymers as it does not contain or release Bisphenol A (BPA) during the process of hydrolysis.
Even the related plastic material which is polycarbonate contains BPA which makes it toxic in nature. Some studies prove that BPA is hazardous to health & environment.
It has resulted in the formation of “BPA-Free” kind of polycarbonates products (canning jars) whereas PMMA in itself is a BPA-Free kind of plastic that is non-toxic in nature when it is in its solid form.
Usually, fumes emitted during 3-D printing ore when used in a molten form for injection molding can prove to be toxic. It should be well ventilated during its manufacturing process to avoid inhaling, as it can result in health risks.