What Is Lexan Made Out Of?

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Lexan is a commonly used replacement for glass and even Plexiglas in a variety of areas. Stronger and more resilient, but still providing many benefits of glass, Lexan is used in industry, in communication, and even signage. But the process used to make this material, as well as the definition of what Lexan is and isn't, can sometimes get a little complicated.

1 Lexan

Lexan is a name for a sheet of polycarbonate resin that is generally considered to be a shatterproof material. Though still technically a plastic, Lexan is stronger and more durable than either traditional glass or the plastic Plexiglas, and it is used in situations where extra survivability of the material is considered worth the extra cost, such as "bulletproof" windows in police stations or armored vehicles.

2 Process

Lexan is made through a patented chemical process. By reacting a chemical compound called Bisphenol A with carbonyl chloride (also known as phosgene), the base resin that makes up Lexan is produced. While sheets of this resin material can be cut into a variety of lengths, only those which are between .03 inches (or 0.75 mm.) and .48 inches (or 12 mm.) are ever referred to as actually being Lexan.

3 Development

Lexan was first developed in the 1950s by General Electric Plastics. Dr. Daniel Fox was attempting to create a new, more durable plastic to be used as a wire coating when he made the discovery in the GE labs. This exact same breakthrough had happened independently in Germany, where a Dr. Herman Schnell of Bayer was equally impressed by the extreme toughness of the new resin material. Though a scramble for patents ensued, GE Plastics became the main manufacturer and distributor of Lexan.

4 Properties

Though it is a great deal tougher, Lexan bears a very strong resemblance to Plexiglas, also known as Lucite or Perspex. Lexan often has a shiny, acrylic look though it is a great deal tougher than any acrylic. Lexan will scratch in a manner similar to Plexiglas, however. Throughout a variety of tests, Lexan has been shown to be nearly shatterproof, and to even withstand bullets depending on the size of the weapon and distance the shot was fired from. One of the other properties of Lexan, and one which can be a major health risk, is that the resin may leach bisphenol A. This chemical, which is used in Lexan's manufacturing process, has been linked to cancer by several studies.

5 Uses

Given its durability, Lexan has been used in a huge variety of products and industries. Lexan is a favorite of the aerospace industry for making cockpits and windscreens that are used in a variety of aircraft. More commonplace items, such as the original Apple Ipod (which had a white plastic body made of Lexan) also use this shatterproof plastic. Additionally, Lexan is popular in racing, being used for both helmets and windshields to reduce the weight that is active in the vehicle. Also, whether or not fans of the show are aware of it, Lexan is often used on shows such as "Myth Busters" and "Deadliest Warrior," where the clear, protective sheets are used to keep the hosts safe from explosions and flying debris.

Neal Litherland is an author, blogger and occasional ghostwriter. His experience includes comics, role playing games and a variety of other projects as well. He holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Indiana University, and resides in Northwest Indiana.