Tag Archives: annealed glass

My Introduction to Polycarbonate

15 Oct

My introduction to polycarbonate began in 1981 when I started working for a plastics fabricator/thermoformer in Tampa, Fl. I had just finished working at a glass tempering plant as a custom & production glass cutter. I was 26 years old and in my physical prime – 6’1″, 230 lbs., played softball 3 times a week and was quite fit from carrying large sheets of heavy gauge glass in different phases of the glass tempering process.

I was hired at the plastics company as a “production laborer” which basically meant that I was given tasks of a simple, repetitive nature that required little skill or knowledge. My first day on the job was mostly one of orientation. I was given a quick tour and all of the equipment was briefly described to me as to how it operates and it’s function. I was then taken into the warehouse and shown a 55 gallon drum sitting on a furniture dolly. The fabrication manager (who hired me) came out of the employee entrance of the office and directed me to a huge rack of probably 300 pieces of plastic that ranged in size from 12″ x 18″ wide to 36″ x 96″ long. He pulled out a piece approximately 24″ x 24″ and laid it across the opening of the barrel. He informed me that all of the material in the rack was going to be scrapped and therefore it needed to be broken up and put into the barrel to be hauled off. He told me to let the shop foreman know when the barrel was full. He gave me a 2lb. mini-sledge hammer, a pair of safety glasses, turned on his heel and walked back into the office.

My knowledge of both annealed glass and tempered glass from my previous job told me that the huge hammer should have little problem cracking the plastic. The force of my swings steadily increased when the first couple of whacks didn’t  yield success and I was sure that something should be breaking soon. But after about the 5th swing of the sledge, the plastic scrap went flying about 8 feet into the air and the hammer recoiled back over my head where it had started. It was pretty clear to me that something was amiss and the incredible banging noise that I made with the hammer had drawn a crowd from the fabrication department on the other side of the wall. When I saw the huge grins and heard the muffled chuckles, I knew that I was “had”! The fabrication manager emerged from the same door that he had before, beaming with delight that he had gotten the best of me as about 20 of my brand new co-workers broke into hysterical laughter. If you haven’t figured it out by now, the plastic was polycarbonate and to this day, I will never forget my introduction to polycarbonate. I learned early on just how indestructible polycarbonate is. I would love to say that this was the only practical joke that was ever played on me, but I can’t so I suppose I have a few more stories to tell.

I learned a lot about many different plastics over the next 20 years and ended up working for 5 plastic companies as well as starting my own fabrication business making acrylic artwork and sculpture display boxes and covers. They were used in hotels, corporate offices, museums and homes. I also made everything from acrylic handbags for pricey boutiques and roadsigns for industrial parks, to acrylic windshields for fishing boats and clear underwater camera cases. I became knowledgeable not only about the different types and families of plastics but also about fabrication, thermoforming, extruding, molding, casting and machining plastics. I even worked my way up to the positions of branch manager (whoopee).

Although I haven’t worked for a plastics company for quite a few years now, I still make plastic items for my personal use at home. I also stay in contact with many of the people that I met in the “plastic years” of the past and I suppose you could say that I have plastic in my blood.