Thursday, November 10, 2011

Birefringence, Photoelasticity, Anisotropic Materials, Iridescence and the Rainbow Effect - Part 2

In the last post we discussed how stresses in Polycarbonate can cause the material to become Anisotropic and exhibit Birefringent properties. Light waves parallel to the stress direction will travel through the sheet at a different speed than the light waves perpendicular to the stress direction.

It is possible to visualize the stresses in the sheet due to the birefringent properties of the sheet. A technique known as Photoelasticity is often used. In this method light is first passed through a polarizing filter, in order to block all components of the light not vibrating in the direction of the plane. The light coming through the filter is then known as polarized light. The light is then allowed to pass through the Polycarbonate part being examined. The birefringent properties caused by the stresses cause the polarized light to be split into two perpendicular components each moving at different speeds which are governed by the amount of stress in each direction. The components of the light waves recombine on leaving the Polycarbonate. When this light is then viewed through a second polarizing filter it is possible to see the effect of the retardation of the light in the form of "rainbow" like patterns. There is a lot of theory that can be explored on the method of Photoelasticity and this theory can easily be researched by carrying out a web search. In this blog we do not plan to go into advanced theory of how the light waves recombine, but rather discuss how the method of Photoelasticity can be practically used.

In the picture at the top of this blog post is a photograph taken of a piece of Polycarbonate with a hole drilled through it. The photograph was taken with a simple phone camera and two polarizing filters bought from a camera shop for $25 each. One filter was put behind the Polycarbonate part and one filter was put in front of the part. Although this cheap set up does not compare with advanced equipment for visualizing and measuring Photoelasticity, it does provide a simple practical tool for visualizing stresses in Polycarbonate parts.

In the Photo it can be seen that there are high levels of stresses on each side of the hole. We suspect that these stresses were caused by poor drilling technique using the wrong drill bit for Polycarbonate and operated at the wrong speed. It is also possible that the drill was started while in contact with the sheet. The technique of Photoelasticity allows us to visualize these stresses and therefore allows us to adjust fabricating methods to minimize stresses. This information is particularly important as we know that areas of increased stress are prone to cracking and damage, especially when exposed to certain solvents.

We invite readers who are involved in fabricating Polycarbonate parts to try this test method themselves to see the stress areas on the parts. All you need to do is buy two Polarizing filters from a camera shop.

In this section of the trilogy of blog posts on the subject of the rainbow effect, we have seen how stresses in Polycarbonate sheet can lead to birefringence and that these stresses can be visualized through polarizing filters as a rainbow type pattern.
However, it should be understood that rainbow effect seen on some hard coated Polycarbonate sheet without the use of polarizing filters is not due to the birefringence of the material. These rainbow type patterns on hard coated sheet are often very easy to see with just the eye and can cause the visual appearance of the sheet to seem very poor. In the last post on this topic, we will discuss what causes the rainbow effect on coated sheet and how its effect can be minimized.

1 comment: