Glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), is a composite material or fiber-reinforced plastic made of a plastic reinforced by fine fibers made of glass. Like graphite-reinforced plastic, the composite material is commonly referred to by the name of its reinforcing fibers (fiberglass). The plastic is thermosetting, most often polyester or vinylester, but other plastics, like epoxy (GRE), are also used. The glass is mostly in the form of chopped strand mat (CSM), but woven fabrics are also used.
An individual structural glass fiber is both stiff and strong in tension and compression -- that is, along its axis. (Although one might intuitively imagine the fiber to be weak in compression, it is actually only the long aspect ratio of the fiber which makes it seem so; i.e., because a typical fiber is long and narrow, it buckles easily.) On the other hand, the glass fiber is relatively unstiff and unstrong in shear -- that is, across its axis. In other words, the fiber is stiff and strong in a preferred direction, namely, along its length. Therefore if a collection of fibers can be arranged permanently in a preferred direction within a material, and if the fibers can be prevented from buckling in compression, then that material will become preferentially strong in that direction. Furthermore, by laying multiple layers of fiber on top of one another, with each layer oriented in various preferred directions, the stiffness and strength properties of the overall material can be controlled in an efficient manner. In the case of glass-reinforced plastic, it is the plastic matrix which permanently constrains the structural glass fibers to directions chosen by the designer. With chopped strand mat, this directionality is essentially an entire two dimensional plane; with woven fabrics or unidirectional layers, directionality of stiffness and strength can be more precisely controlled within the plane. A glass-reinforced plastic component is typically of a thin "shell" construction, sometimes filled on the inside with structural foam, as in the case of surfboards. The component may be of nearly arbitrary shape, limited only by the complexity and tolerances of the mold used for manufacturing the shell.
GRP was developed in the UK
during the Second World War
as a replacement for the molded plywood used in aircraft radomes
(GRP being transparent
). Its first main civilian application was for building of boats
, where it gained acceptance in the 1950s. Its use has broadened to the automotive and sport equipment sectors, although its use there is being taken over by carbon fiber
which weighs less per given volume and is stronger both by volume and by weight. GRP uses also include hot tubs
, pipes for drinking water and sewers, office plant display containers and flat roof systems.
Advanced manufacturing techniques such as pre-pregs and fiber rovings extend the applications and the tensile strength possible with fiber-reinforced plastics.
GRP is also used in the telecommunications industry for shrouding the visual appearance of antennas, due to its RF permeability and low signal attenuation properties. It may also be used to shroud the visual appearance of other equipment where no signal permeability is required, such as equipment cabinets and steel support structures, due to the ease with which it can be molded, manufactured and painted to custom designs, to blend in with existing structures or brickwork. Other uses include sheet form made electrical insulators and other structural components commonly found in the power industries.
A wide variety of storage tanks
are made of GRP with capacities up to about 300 tonnes. The smaller tanks can be made with chopped strand mat
cast over a thermoplastic
inner tank which acts as a preform
during construction. Much more reliable tanks are made using woven mat or filament wound fibre with the fibre orientation at right angles to the hoop stress
imposed in the side wall by the contents. They tend to be used for chemical storage because the plastic liner (often polypropylene
) is resistant to a wide range of strong chemicals. GRP tanks are also used for septic tanks
Glass reinforced plastics are also used in the house building market for the production of roofing laminate, door surrounds, over-door canopies, window canopies & dormers, chimneys, coping systems, heads with keystones and cills. The use of GRP for these applications provides for a much faster installation and due to the reduced weight manual handling issues are reduced. With the advent of high volume manufacturing processes it is possible to construct GRP brick effect panels which can be used in the construction of composite housing. These panels can be constructed with the appropriate insulation which reduces heat loss.
GRP and GRE pipe systems can be used for a variety of applications,
underground as well as above.
- Firewater systems
- Cooling water systems
- Drinking water systems
- Waste water systems/Sewage systems
- Gas systems
Fiberglass Hand Lay-Up Operation
First, resin is mixed with a catalyst (e.g butanox LA) or hardener if working with epoxy
, otherwise it won't cure (harden) for days/ weeks. Next, the mold is wetted out with the mixture. The sheets of fiberglass are placed over the mold and rolled down into the mold using steel rollers. The material must be securely attached to the mold, air must not be trapped in between the fiberglass and the mold. Additional resin is applied and possibly additional sheets of fiberglass. Rollers are used to make sure the resin is between all the layers, the glass is wetted throughout the entire thickness of the laminate, and any air pockets are removed. The work must be done quickly enough to complete the job before the resin starts to cure. Various curing times can be achieved by altering the amount of catalyst employed.
Fiberglass Spray Lay-Up Operation
The fiberglass spray lay-up process
is similar to the hand lay-up process but the difference comes from the application of the fiber and resin material to the mold. Spray-up is an open-molding composites fabrication process where resin and reinforcements are sprayed onto a mold. The resin and glass may be applied separately or simultaneously "chopped" in a combined stream from a chopper gun. Workers roll out the spray-up to compact the laminate. Wood, foam or other core material may then be added, and a secondary spray-up layer imbeds the core between the laminates. The part is then cured, cooled and removed from the reusable mold.
is a manufacturing method used to make strong light weight composite materials
, in this case fiberglass. Fibers (the glass material) are pulled from spools through a device that coats them with a resin. They are then typically heat treated and cut to length. Pultrusions can be made in a variety of shapes or cross-sections such as a W or S cross-section. The word pultrusion describes the method of moving the fibers through the machinery. It is pulled through using either a hand over hand method or a continuous roller method. This is opposed to an extrusion
which would push the material through dies.
Chopped strand mat
Chopped strand mat
is a form of reinforcement used in glass-reinforced plastic. It consists of glass-fibers
laid randomly across each other and held together by a binder.
It is typically processed using the hand lay-up technique, where sheets of material are placed in a mold and brushed with resin. Because the binder dissolves in resin, the material easily conforms to different shapes when wetted out. After the resin cures, the hardened product can be taken from the mold and finished.
Using chopped strand mat gives a glass-reinforced plastic with isotropic in-plane material properties.
Examples of GRP use
- Sailplanes, kit cars,Sports cars, microcars, karts, bodyshells, boats, kayaks, flat roofs, lorries, wind turbine blades.
- Pods, domes and architectural features where a light weight is necessary.
- Bodies for automobiles, such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Pontiac Fiero.
- A320 Radome.