Plastic reinforced with glass fibres has been around for a long time. First developed in the 1930s as an insulation material, its strength and ability to be moulded and formed into a wide range different shapes meant that it quickly found other uses.
Boats were among the first to take advantage of the lightweight material, and the first cars with fibreglass reinforced plastic bodies appeared shortly after the Second World War, gaining in popularity in the 1950s as they allowed small-volume makers to operate and compete without the need for expensive metal pressing machinery.
Its use in the automotive sector has since broadened. Although complete fibreglass bodies are still niche, the material is often found in after-market add-ons such as body kits, sills and spoilers. The material can also be found in many other areas, including aircraft production, where it’s used for radar covers and helicopter rotor blades. It can also be found in sports equipment like surfboards, telecommunications, storage tanks, building construction, medical equipment and much more.
Strength and Lightness
The reason that glass reinforced plastic is used in so many areas is that it has a versatile combination of properties. It’s naturally strong along the axis of the fibres, which means that by laying the fibre in different directions during manufacture, a very strong component can be produced that will flex but resist snapping. The latest Pultrusion techniques produce mouldings with a very high fibre content that deliver exceptional strength compared to earlier production methods and can be used to make things like box sections, channels, tubes and handrails for the construction and other sectors.
An added benefit of the material is that it’s also light, which is an advantage in many different situations. It makes handling easier and means that supporting structures can be correspondingly lighter. In some areas where high strength is required, carbon fibre is beginning to take over, but glass reinforced plastic is still a cheaper option and therefore remains a popular choice.
A further advantage is that the material is highly weather-resistant, so it’s good for many different outdoor applications such as cladding structures or covering machinery. Combined with the fact that it’s permeable to RF radiation, this means that fibreglass is useful for shrouding things like mobile phone antennas and radar installations to protect them from the weather and prevent them from appearing unsightly.
Its toughness means that fibreglass reinforced plastic is often used in underground piping systems. It is employed in water distribution and in waste water treatment applications, and it is also used for making septic tanks. It can even be used as protective covers for underwater installations.
Given its range of properties, versatility and ease of use, it isn’t hard to see why glass reinforced plastic remains a popular material in many different industries. Add in the latest production techniques that make for high-strength material with relatively quick and low cost production, and it’s a material with a bright future.