Value Engineering with Water-Retaining Acrylic

Simple Solutions for Cost-effective Results in Aquarium Design

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At Reynolds Polymer Technology, providing value to customers is not just a feature, it's a practice. A fundamental part of offering this benefit to clients is ensuring that their customers are no less amazed in the outcome. The challenge in all projects, from the world's largest custom aquariums to the smallest of viewing panels, is then to produce the best possible outcome from the available budget. This is precisely where many clients have found Reynolds Polymer to be an integral partner.

The RPT design team is uniquely adept in pairing vision and funding together in harmony. In the course of over 1,600 global projects that have comprised nearly every size, shape, and budget imaginable, Reynolds Polymer Technology has mastered the process of value engineering.

Because RPT manufactures and installs its own acrylic, the company has a wide degree of latitude as to what it can design and deliver. Its in-house engineering team is able to expertly configure a panel shape, size, and thickness to fit nearly any application's spending allowance. And most importantly, this can often be achieved without negating the desired viewing effect. The earlier in the design process that RPT staff become involved, the greater the variety of value engineering options that can be provided.

Value Engineering for Flat Panels or Sheet  
                                     
R-Cast® sheet, in thicknesses from one to four inches, is cast in a number of standard dimensions. A standard sheet that need not be formed, chemically bonded, or otherwise altered is going to provide the best value. The following is an explanation of methods that focus on utilizing RPT's stock panel sizes.

Method One: Design Around Standard Sizes

Standard Sheet Sizes
R-Cast® sheets are available in thicknesses ranging from 1" to 4" (25mm - 102mm).
 
M Panel
• 48" x 96" (1.22m x 2.44m)
 
S Panel
• 72" x 96" (1.83m x 2.44m)
 
P Panel
• 96" x 128" (2.44m x 3.25m)
 
L Panel
• 72" x 186" (1.83m x 4.72m)
 
BG Panel
• 111" x 283" (2.82m x 7.19m)
 
Acrylic leaves the mold as a sheet that must be leveled and polished. The more modification that takes place from this point forward, the higher the cost of the finished product.

To manufacture a panel around custom measurements, the factory must either bond multiple castings together or use a custom acrylic mold. Either option has the effect of increasing the cost of the product.        
                      
It can be enlightening to know just how much cost is accumulated through even small additions of material to a standard sheet. The figure below represents a common scenario in which length has been added to a standard P panel (panel P) in order to fit custom measurements (panel A). In this case, the P panel was cut to 78" in height and 10" of material was added to the length, requiring a chemical bond and further finishing. 

RPT's "off the rack" panel sizes come with an inherent cost savings benefit.

The value-engineered panel (panel V) was simply kept at 128" in length. This resulted in a savings of 21% on the panel price, as compared to the custom aquarium panel, while reducing size by only 7%. Designing the aquarium's viewing opening around a standard sheet size did not result in a significant reduction in size but did offer a notable cost savings.

Method Two: Utilize Borders

On the wet side, every aquarium viewing opening has a sill and a head. The sill is the lower border of the water-retaining panel while the head is the upper. What both of these sections have in common is that they are ideally not at eye level with the viewer.

By raising the sill height, or lowering the head height, one reduces the amount of acrylic in between. Much like the practice of using standard panel sizes, increasing the sill or head levels will not compromise the viewing experience if done in relative moderation.
                                                 
The example below shows costly chemical bonds being avoided by substituting 20" of concrete in place of the extra acrylic. The viewer's direct line-of-sight is not affected. Essentially, the acrylic can be shifted up and down in order to retain the original guest experience.

In each example, the guest is able to fully enjoy and photograph the exhibit.

Yet another option for utilizing borders is the use of mullions or structural columns to eliminate the need for chemical bonds. These methods will confine the panels to standard sheet sizes and decrease the amount of acrylic material being used.   

Structural columns can be used to eliminate chemical bonds, as shown here at Lithuania's AB Baltic Mall.
 
One possible downside of mullions is that they are often in the direct line-of-sight of onlookers. While this can detract from a viewer's experience, the right blend of theming and aquatic life can compensate for such an interruption. Most viewers will simply look past the mullions.

Value Engineering for Tunnels 

The underwater tunnel is a popular feature in many public aquariums and offers guests a semi-private realm in which to view aquatic life from multiple angles. Within this area of colorful movement and lighting, there are many opportunities to take advantage of such distractions. 
                                                               
Method One: Create Illusion

In the example below, taken from the Aquarium of the Pacific in California, USA, one may have to blink a few times to realize that this is not a tunnel at all, but two demi-tunnels made up of separate acrylic pieces. Each tunnel section offers enough arc for guests to peer up and down to a much greater extent than allowed by a flat panel. But, as compared to a literal tunnel, this example uses a third less material and also provides an avenue for lighting or ductwork. In some cases, the use of a demi-tunnel allows for thinner acrylic, thus offering further savings.

In addition to the reduced costs, the remarkable feature of this method is that most guests will never divert their attention from the water long enough to notice the tunnel type. When a magician uses slight of hand, misdirection is one of the most important elements in controlling the audience. Those who design public attractions are at times in the magic business as well.

Method Two: Change the Geometry

Simply put, the more acrylic material that goes into your project, the more expensive it will be. Changing the shape of the structure can serve to reduce the amount of acrylic needed to construct it. As discussed in the section about demi-tunnels, leaving the appropriate angles open for viewing will preserve the appearance of your tunnel. In the example below, a 15 inch reduction of rise does little to downgrade the appearance of the tunnel but goes far in savings.


Incidentally, a reduction in rise will also bring water and animal life closer to the public. For many guests, the difference between simply viewing the exhibit and feeling a part of it can be lessened by increasing the sensation that they are underwater.

Stem-walls are an affordable method by which to reduce the amount of acrylic used without subtracting from the experience of guests. A higher stem-wall, on one or both sides, might also serve as a seating area or a place to display informational signage. Stem-walls can also act as a barrier to protect the sides of a tunnel against scratching from objects such as baby strollers and shoes.        

Protecting acrylic from damage is just one of many possible stem wall functions.

The examples discussed in this article represent only a handful of the ways that Reynolds Polymer Technology can reduce the cost of a project without reducing the enjoyment of guests. By examining the function of a specific panel or tunnel and implementing material-saving methods, RPT staff can often merge the desired outcome with the needed value. Remember, the earlier in the design process that RPT staff become involved, the greater the variety of value engineering options that can be provided.

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Are you interested in learning more about R-Cast® acrylic and how it may be the right material for your next project? Do not hesitate to contact a member of our sales or design team.