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The Best of Both Worlds

As a professional, when you think of railing, what is the first image that comes to mind? If you are like most you think of metal, typically aluminum or steel. Especially is this so among those involved in the design of commercial or high use facilities and buildings. Railing is never really given much thought because it’s considered a low tech item. How could you possibly improve on railing?

While no single product can satisfy every need, there is a technology unknown to many designers and engineers that should be considered when seeking the best possible product for a facility. After all, as professionals we want the best product and best value for our clients.

To understand the options let’s first touch on the negatives considered inevitable with all metal railing systems, painted or galvanized. While the subject of size and gauge should always be considered, so as to satisfy use and load requirements, let’s assume that is always done. The issues associated with metals have to do with primarily with maintenance. The costs associated with proper maintenance can be exorbitant. Unfortunately, in the “real world”, most railing is ignored once installed. Even rail that is properly maintained will still inevitably need refinishing and will deteriorate, corrode and even rust. With aluminum its corrosion, oxidation and dissimilar metal reactions that cause major issues. Rust destroys and leads to loss of structural strength. The issues of color retention and fading are a nuisance but important to the rail owner. Install railing in a humid or salt atmosphere, as we have in much of the US, and the issues of deteriorating rail become ever more a concern. Read the fine print in the warranty of any reputable railing manufacturer and you will typically find “salt” as an exclusion.

The above “metal” issues are not new. Decades ago “Plastics” were being introduced to the building industry. One form of plastics, PVC, was touted as the end all. The fact that PVC was readily available, was relatively inexpensive, already being used widely in the plumbing industry and had a “story” made it an obvious candidate for several building products including railing. Sticking to the subject of railing, PVC railing proved over time to have issues of its own. Structurally it would not meet the codes required in high-rise or commercial construction or anywhere the rail would be subject to extreme use. PVC railing was limited to pastel colors, was subject to fading, and became brittle in cooler climates. Extruded profiles were almost impossible to bend so radius railing was not practical. The use of PVC railing became almost exclusively confined to residential applications where strength of product was not as critical.

What has changed? Not much! Let me clarify that statement. Technology has definitely evolved. There are good PVC railing systems available if used in a manner consistent with the design intend. Keep in mind, “Plastics” are simply a recipe of various chemicals. “Recipes” have been created so that the plastic can meet the demands of whatever the end use will be. Like all products, with PVC Railing you can buy a good, better or best system. Manufacturers seeking a greater share of the market found ways to “cheapen” the product. Certain ingredients, even when needed, were eliminated. Methods to reduce the amount of material used in their products were adopted. The specifier or buyer needs to be aware of what they are purchasing.

So what is “New” in the world of railing? Actually, “new is not accurate as the technology and even actual products have been manufactured using this “new” technology since the early 1990’s. Its “new” in the sense that the technology is unknown by the majority. The awareness may be lacking, however the system is tried and proven. Succinctly put; if you could incorporation the advantages inherent with different types of metal systems and marry them to the advantages of a properly formulated vinyl system then you would have the best of both worlds. Let me elaborate.

Thermoplastic Railing is a thick wall Plastic or Vinyl system containing a schedule 40 or greater internal “skeleton” of either galvanized steel, stainless steel or aluminum. In cooperation with plastic formulation, resin and color experts, a plastic was formulated to meet the requirements for a rail system necessary to surpass the structural codes commercially mandated. This product encapsulates the correct size and gauge of metal within a specifically formulated and proprietary acrylic or polyvinyl chloride plastic. Because the rail system chosen makes a major architectural statement a process known as co-extrusion was introduce to take advantage of the superior attributes of multiple plastic formulations. A planned deviation from the industry standard of thin wall PVC in square or rectangular traditional shapes and is used to better meet the needs of the commercial designer.

As previously stated, no one product or material can meet all requirements and a high quality aluminum rail system with a quality finish, i.e. a properly applied multiple layer powder coating, can offer many years of superior performance. However, the long list of advantages to Thermoplastic makes it a product that needs to be considered when choosing the right product to use in any design.

The list of facilities that have specified Thermoplastics: i.e. Entertainment theme parks, water parks, municipal and transportation facilities, sports arenas and stadiums, large and small commercial buildings, even private homes have proven Thermoplastic’s place in the railing industry.

We welcome the opportunity to support the above. It is not unusual to hear the comment  “I can’t believe this is plastic”. Allow us to show you in pictures and with technical data the value in the technology that has married the advantages of metal and plastic in rail design, the best of both worlds. Allow us to assist also in determining if it is Thermoplastic or Aluminum that best suits your needs. We will gladly share the wealth of information we have available that simply could not be included in a short article such as this. Ask us for pictures showing the use Thermoplastic enjoys. After all, pictures they say, are worth a 1000 words.

To see our Thermoplastic Products click here.