Matching the right material with the right application
The following list summarizes the information provided above for the major categories of glass and plastics used in ICI construction and provides suggested applications for each.
Untempered, unlaminated glass
Because it forms razor-sharp triangular shards when it breaks, there is very little use for untempered glass in commercial applications except as stained glass, which is cut in to small pieces, minimizing the hazard. Clear plain glass is very cheap and can be found in residential windows, (vertical, not overhead) greenhouses, cheap shelving, etc.
Almost all glass used in commercial applications is tempered. It is used as shelves, guardrails, windows, screens etc. It is not recommended for situations where failure would lead directly to injury, such as stair treads or other structural applications.
If the laminated glass is restrained correctly, it will remain in its framing even if one or both layers are broken. This makes it ideal for security applications such as vandal or storm-proof windows and doors, as well as overhead applications such as skylights. Glass laminated with liquid, especially if there is artwork in the interlayer, must be evaluated for performance before the specific process is specified. If there is no frame it will collapse like a wet blanket. Glass with translucent or nearly opaque laminating film is widely available.
Structurally laminated glass can be used for any application, from stair treads to supporting structures to windows and skylights. The only barrier is the the specialized engineering and the higher cost of the glass.
Lenses for bollards and recessed lamps, chandelier crystals, glass block, etc.
Patterned, screened, printed
Unlaminated, laminated and curved glass can all be printed with ceramic frit.
Privacy windows and screens, features. Weaker than untextured glass and cannot be easily laminated or otherwise processed.
Curved glass can be used in any application in which flat glass is used and there is no olonger a restriction on available radii. It can also be laminated, though the cost of good curved and laminated glass is high.
Plastic, Acrylic (Plexiglas)
Hardest of the commonly used plastics, so most scratch resistant. But also brittle, will break if smacked hard enough or fastened incorrectly. Simple bends and bubbles (skylights) are OK but vacumm forms poorly. Available in a veritable panoply of colours.
Plastic, Polycarbonate (Lexan)
Much tougher than acrylic, but softer as well. Not recommended if you want to be able to see through it, because it will become crazed in no time. Perfect for backpainting, too elastic for most vaccumforming. Colour pallette is limited.
Plastic, Copolyester (Vivac)
Half way between acrylic and polycarbonate, this material vacuum-forms well but is softer than polycarbonate. Also a lot less expensive.
Most commonly refers to polyester resin, the stinky stuff used in making boat hulls and repairing cars. Useful wherever a transparent or translucent block of plastic with integral colouring is required. Urethanes, though more expensive, are used in place of polyester resin for enhanced toughness / flexibility. Epoxies are the most expensive and well-known as the stuff used on memorabilia-filled tabletops in seafood restaurants.
Plastic, filled (Corian, etc.)
Solid surfacing materials are essentially plastic (resin) mixed with rock dust (often marble) and pigments. They can be sawn, glued, polished and bent to large curves.
Copyright Julian Bowron and Vector Praxis, october 2011