Fiberglass is a type of fiber-reinforced plastic where glass fiber is the reinforced plastic. That is why fiberglass is sometimes known as glass fiber reinforced plastic or glass reinforced plastic.
Glass fibers can be comprised of different types of glass. Flattened into a sheet, the glass fiber is randomly arranged or woven into a fabric. Fiberglass is lightweight, strong and less brittle.
One of the most appealing features of fiberglass is that it can be molded into different shapes. This explains why fiberglass is widely used in construction, civil engineering, commercial and residential products, aircraft, roofing, and sporting equipment.
At the end of the 18th century, glass fiber was discovered by French scientist Rene Ferchault de Reaumur though it was left largely on the back burner. A German glass blower was recorded to have made a piece of cloth by weaving silk fibers in one direction with glass fibers in the other.
In 1893, at the Chicago world fair, Edward D. Libbey ─ from Libbey Glass Company ─ showcased a dress made of that cloth. For demonstration purposes only, the dress tended to break when folded and weighed 13.5 pounds.
Clothing aside, glass fibers offered potential for a number of uses though at that time, they were not completely flexible. There was also no way of mass producing these glass fibers.
Fortunately in the 1930s, Illinois-based Owens-Illinois Glass Company discovered a process to produce air filters made of glass fiber for ventilating equipment. These air filters were more efficient than the cotton material used for the same purpose.
Also, these glass fiber air filters were inexpensive and could be discarded when they became clogged. Owens-Illinois was a steady seller of these air filters for decades with the widespread use of air conditioning.
Fiberglass behaves like regular glass:
- It does not absorb moisture
It does not mold nor mildew
It is non-conductive
It does not rust, shrink, expand, or burn
Several decades and many discoveries later, Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) products are used to make items like rotor blades for windmills and helicopters, components for commercial and military aircraft, parts for vehicles and even trucks.
FRPs are used in sports and recreational equipment such as surfboards, snow skis, bicycles and sports gear like athletic shoes. The flexibility of FRPs produced in a process of manufacturing known as pultrusion means that profiles with flowing shapes can be created. This means that if the desired product can be modeled, it can be built.
The prices of traditional materials such as steel and wood have tended to increase while and the cost of FRP materials are on the decline. Also, manufacturing processes have improved over the years, becoming more efficient. For industries, FRP products are more economical year by year.
Previously, many of the FRP products needed to be painted as they tended to be translucent. Currently, manufacturers can spray a coat of gel before laying up the glass mats and resin. An innovative method of production known as pultrusion pulls strands of glass fiber through vats of resin into a heated die.
In this process of manufacturing stiff or flexible, customizable profiles can be produced and formed. These include rods, window reinforcements, tree stakes and driveway markers or any profile with a constant cross section such as an I-beam.
Types of Fiberglass:
Fiberglass can be broadly categorized into different forms, each of which is used for different applications:
- A-glass: Also known as alkali glass. A-glass fiber is resistant to chemicals and has some similarities to window glass. Outside of the United States, it is used to make process equipment.
- C-glass: Also known as chemical glass. C-glass offers great resistance to chemical impact.
- E-glass: Also called electrical glass. E-glass is an excellent insulator of electricity.
- AE-glass: Alkali resistant glass.
- S-glass: Also known as structural glass. S-glass is used for its mechanical properties.
Attributes of Fiberglass
High tensile strength: In thermal load-bearing projects, fiberglass rebars are as strong as steel when it comes to reaching a buckling point. They maintain their integrity and do not corrode when used in harsh environments.
In a study on FRP rebar used in construction for the reduction of thermal bridges, load-bearing fiberglass rebar had a higher longitudinal tensile strength and lower module of elasticity and density in contrast with steel (550 MPa and 200GPa for steel compared to 1000 MPa and 50GPa for fiberglass rebar).
- Electrical insulation: Fiberglass has excellent electrical insulation properties.
- Non-combustible: It is not combustible. It does not propagate or support a flame. When exposed to heat, it does not emit smoke or give off toxic chemicals.
- Dimensional stability: Fiberglass does not warp, bend or distort as it has a low coefficient of linear expansion.
- Does not rot: Fiberglass maintains its integrity and is not impacted by the action of rodents and insects.
- Thermal conductivity: Fiberglass is popular in building and construction as it has low thermal conductivity.
Applications of Fiberglass in Industries
Fiberglass is durable, safe and offers high thermal insulation. It not only provides better insulation and is fiberglass is widely used in industries given below:
- Manufacturing: Fiberglass grating has an embedded grit surface for slip resistance in wet areas or in places where hydraulic fluids or oils are present.
- Metals and mining: Fiberglass is used to make grating especially in areas that are exposed to chemical corrosion.
- Power generation: Many areas of the power generation industry like tank farms, scrubbers, and others use fiberglass as it has non-conductive properties.
- Automotive industry: Fiberglass is extensively used in automobile industry to make vehicle and body kits and components.
- Aerospace & Defense: Fiberglass is used to manufacture parts for both military and civilian aerospace industry including test equipment, ducting, enclosures, and others.
- Docks and marinas: Fiberglass does not get corroded, rusted and damaged by salty watery environments.
- Fountains and aquariums: Fiberglass is used to support rocks to help in circulation and filtering from under the rocks. Where there are large public fountains, fiberglass grating is used to protect spray headers and lights from damage. This also helps to prevent people from drowning in the fountains.
- Pulp and paper: Fiberglass has chemical corrosion resistant properties and is used in many applications because of its corrosion resistance and anti-slip properties.
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