The Truth about Thermoplastic Railing
When your safety is concerned, as well as your pocketbook, the astute person does not skimp on research. This is true with guardrail. There are many misconceptions that prevail concerning “Plastic Railing”. Many, without sufficient knowledge of the available materials, have branded plastic as unsuitable for a commercial grade guardrail system. This is a leftover misconception from the early years of the technology we simply refer to as “plastics”. Admittedly, the first generations of plastics left much to be desired however the promise was there. Today, plastics have overcome the issues that some still blindly accept as reality.
The truth is that plastics can satisfy almost any list of performance criteria. Plastics is a catch-all term as there are many types or formula. Plastic compounds are simply “recipes” where different ingredients are combined to make up a “plastic” for a specific end use. The key is to choose a thermoplastic “recipe” formulated specifically for the use and conditions it will be subject to in its final application. Too, technology exists that can combine two different plastics, a co-extrusion, or three, a tri-extrusion, in order to adopt the desirable attributes of multiple plastic types. For example, you can attain strength from one and outdoor weatherability from another. This is important. There is a common misconception that inevitability unsightly and extensive fading will occur when plastic is left exposed to the sun or in colder climates plastic will become brittle and crack. Technology has long since rendered that conception mute. It would be equal to saying that airplanes can only take you on short flights. While that was once true, we all know that today’s aviation technology can take you to the moon and back. Thermoplastic’s are being used in every conceivable climate and have proven superior in many applications verses any other more traditional railing materials such as woods and metals.
Once it is determined which plastic or combination of plastics, offer the best qualities for a railing system, equal concern must be given to the mechanical fabrication of the system. More succinctly, how is the railing put together? The decision maker should study design details to insure proper mechanical connections and the quality of any internal non plastic parts, i.e., nuts, bolts and screws. Obviously the most weather resistant and strong railing system will not perform if its internal parts rust or otherwise deteriorate and compromise the structural integrity of the entire system. Other considerations:
- Is the system fabricated under control conditions in a factory or is there reliance on an installer to “assemble” the system in the field?
- Does the system chosen meet applicable building codes?
- Has the system been properly and independently tested by an approved facility?
- What maintenance of the system is required?
- Will the strength demonstrated in a controlled test be maintained over time once installed?
In addition to the above, important items to consider to insure you are getting the railing system which will meet and exceed the conditions your railing will be subjected to over years of use are:
a) It is made from a proven Thermoplastic specifically for outdoor use?
b) How is the Thermoplastic parts joined together?
c) Are all parts mechanically and securely connected?
d) Has allowance been engineered into the system for expansion and contraction?
e) Any railing system is only as good as its weakest point so are the installation techniques and materials, which are independent of the rail, as weather resistant and strong as the railing system itself.
Major hotels, entertainment parks, sports arenas, universities, municipalities, public transportation areas where railing is needed, and others have learned that properly designed thermoplastic rail is an exceptional value. Thermoplastic when used as a component in an overall engineered guardrail system can offer the best value when considering both acquisition costs and ongoing maintenance.
Today’s lifestyle demands products that reduce or eliminate maintenance rather than add to it. Confirm that you are specifying and getting current technology, not yesteryears. A knowledge of plastics and the mechanical methods of joining railing components can put you in the position to make an educated decision should you need to purchase or approve a railing system.
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