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Fiberglass: Definition, Characteristics, Types, and Applications

Fiberglass, as a new material, is used as an additive in various products for reinforcement. Moreover, more and more industries are starting to pay attention to this reinforcing material.
In this guide, you can find some basic information about fiberglass.
Whether you want to understand its development process, or learn about its advantages, limitations, and application areas, all the information you’re looking for is here.

What Is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass is a material made from countless extremely fine fibers of glass, produced from various types of glass. Its primary components are silica or silicate. Fiberglass is a versatile material known for its high tensile strength, strong heat resistance, good thermal conductivity, and excellent fireproofing capabilities. Its applications are widespread across industries including airplanes, boats, automobiles, bathtubs, and more.

Another Term for Fiberglass

Fiberglass is sometimes referred to as “glass fiber,” “GRP,” or “FRP,” due to its many ideal properties for aviation and construction applications. The nicknames stem from its glass composition, combined with its superior tensile strength and corrosion resistance.

Types of Fiberglass

The main types of fiberglass include:

  • E-Glass: The most common type of fiberglass, known for its strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. Made from a mixture of silica sand, calcium carbonate, and other minerals, E-Glass is commonly used in hulls, surfboards, and home insulation materials, boasting excellent electrical and thermal insulation properties.
  • S-Glass: Made from silica sand and alumina, S-Glass is stronger and more wear-resistant than E-Glass. It’s renowned for its strength and flexibility, making it the ideal material for aerospace components, sports equipment, wind turbine blades, and fireproof materials.
  • A-Glass: Also known as alkali glass, A-Glass is the most commonly used insulation material. Made from aluminoborosilicate glass, it’s noted for its high thermal resistance and light weight. Its primary applications include insulation for homes and buildings, as well as hulls.
  • C-Glass: Known for its high strength and heat resistance, C-Glass is made from calcium magnesium silicate glass. It is the most expensive type of fiberglass, mainly used in high-performance applications such as aerospace, automotive, and sports equipment.
  • D-Glass: Composed of silica sand, boron oxide, and alumina, D-Glass is celebrated for its strength and flexibility. It is used in aerospace components, sports equipment, and electrical insulation.

How Is Fiberglass Made?

The manufacturing process of fiberglass is complex, involving several key steps: batching, melting, fiber formation, coating, and sometimes drying/packaging. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the process:

  1. Batching: The first step involves accurately weighing and thoroughly mixing raw materials (mainly silica sand, limestone, kaolin, dolomite, and other minerals) to form a consistent batch. The mixture is then introduced into a furnace for melting.
  2. Melting: At this stage, the batched raw materials are heated in the furnace to temperatures between 1500 to 1700°C (2700 to 3100°F). This process transforms the mixture into molten glass through a series of chemical reactions. The melting process varies slightly depending on the type of fiberglass being produced, such as E-Glass or S-Glass.
  3. Fiberization: This step involves turning the molten glass into fine fibers. There are two main methods of producing fibers: the spinning process and the flame attenuation process. In the spinning process, centrifugal force drives the molten glass through small holes in the rapidly spinning cylinder walls, forming fibers which are then shattered into pieces by an airstream. In the flame attenuation process, molten glass flows through many small holes under the influence of gravity, forming threads that are then stretched to the breaking point by high-speed hot air and/or flames.
  4. Coating: After the fibers are formed, they are coated with a chemical binder, a thermosetting resin that bonds the glass fibers together. The composition of the binder varies depending on the product type but typically consists of a solution of phenol-formaldehyde resin, water, urea, lignin, silane, and ammonia. Colorants can also be added to the binder. This coating, also known as sizing, may include lubricants, adhesives, and/or coupling agents to protect the fibers and improve their compatibility with resins.
  5. Drying/Packaging: The final step involves drying the formed strands and then collecting them into bundles to form glass roving. This glass roving is wound onto drums, forming a spool-like package. After drying in an oven, the packages are ready for shipping or further processing into short fibers, rovings, or yarns.

Properties of Fiberglass

The characteristics of fiberglass include:

  • High tensile strength: Fiberglass has a higher tensile strength than steel wire of the same diameter, making it very sturdy and durable.
  • Dimensional stability: It is insensitive to temperature and humidity changes, with a low coefficient of linear expansion.
  • High heat resistance: Fiberglass maintains a relatively high tensile strength at high temperatures, with some types of fiberglass retaining 50% ofroom temperature tensile strength at 370°C and 25% at 480°C.
  • Good thermal conductivity: Despite being a good insulating material due to its high surface area-to-weight ratio, its low thermal expansion coefficient and relatively high thermal conductivity mean it dissipates heat faster than other materials.
  • Excellent fire resistance: As a mineral material, fiberglass is naturally non-combustible, does not support or spread flames, and does not produce smoke or toxic substances when heated.
  • Good chemical resistance: Apart from a few chemicals like hydrofluoric acid and hot phosphoric acid, fiberglass is highly resistant to most chemicals.
  • Outstanding electrical properties: It has a high dielectric strength and low dielectric constant, making it an excellent electrical insulator even at low thicknesses.
  • Dielectric permeability: This property makes fiberglass suitable for use in electromagnetic windows.
  • Compatibility with organic matrices: Fiberglass can be combined with many synthetic resins and some mineral matrices (such as cement), offering versatile applications.
  • Durability: It is not affected by sunlight, fungi, or bacteria, does not rot, and is not subject to damage by rodents and insects.
  • Resistance to rot, microbes/insects: Fiberglass does not deteriorate, mold, or rot, and resists most acidic substances.
  • Low moisture absorption: Fiberglass has very low moisture absorption, contributing to its durability and lifespan.
  • Non-flammable, safe at high temperatures: It does not produce smoke or release toxins when heated, making it safe for use at high temperatures.

Chemical Properties of Fiberglass

Fiberglass is composed of a combination of materials, primarily including:

  • Silica sand: Acts as the glass former.
  • Limestone: Mainly helps to lower the melting temperature.
  • Soda ash (sodium carbonate): Also helps to lower the melting temperature.
  • Alumina: Included in some types of fiberglass to improve performance.
  • Borax: Used to enhance chemical resistance.
  • Calcined alumina, feldspar, mica, magnesite, and kaolin: Adding these components improves certain properties of fiberglass, such as durability and chemical resistance.
  • Cullet (waste glass): Also a raw material in the production of fiberglass.

types of fiberglass

Type of Fiberglass Used for Pultrusion

The main types of fiberglass used in the pultrusion process include:

  • Untwisted glass fiber roving: Can be divided into assembled rovings, direct untwisted rovings, and bulked rovings, widely used as warp and weft in decorative or industrial woven fabrics.
  • Glass fiber mat: Includes chopped strand mats, continuous fiber mats, combination glass fiber mats, and untwisted roving fabrics, essential for providing sufficient transverse strength in pultruded FRP products.
  • Polyester fiber surface tissue: A new type of reinforcement material in the pultrusion industry, enhancing the product’s impact resistance, corrosion resistance, and resistance to atmospheric aging.

Physical Properties of Fiberglass

fiberglass properties

The physical properties of fiberglass include:

  • Density: Ranges from 2.4 to 2.76 g/cm³.
  • Melting point: Ranges from 500°C to 750°C.
  • Boiling point: About 1,000°C.
  • Toughness: Ranges from 6.3 to 6.9 g/den.
  • Elongation at break: About 3%.
  • Elasticity: Described as poor.
  • Moisture regain (MR%): 0%.

Applications of Fiberglass

Due to its unique properties of strength, durability, and corrosion resistance, fiberglass has a wide range of applications across various industries:

  • Aerospace and defense: Fiberglass is used in the aerospace and defense industries for components such as engine covers, luggage racks, instrument casings, bulkheads, pipes, storage boxes, and antenna casings. S-Glass and S2-Glass types of fiberglass are known for their high mechanical performance, valued for their high strength-to-weight ratio and performance retention at high temperatures, suitable for manufacturing airplane wings, helicopter rotors, aircraft armor, flight deck armor, floors, and seats.
  • Construction: In the construction industry, fiberglass has multiple uses, including conduits, interlocking blocks for seismic walls, transparent screens for natural lighting, high-temperature resistant roofs, and insulation materials to improve energy efficiency. The chemical resistance, corrosion resistance, heat resistance, and lightweight nature of fiberglass make it the preferred material for construction projects.
  • Consumer products: Fiberglass is used to produce consumer goods such as furniture frames, partition screens, decorative plates, wall plaques, sports equipment, and playground equipment. The high strength, lightweight, and moldability of fiberglass make it an ideal material for these applications.
  • Automotive industry: In the automotive industry, fiberglass is used to manufacture bumpers, doors, hoods, and casings. Additionally, fiberglass can be used in timing belts and serpentine belts, where glass strands are embedded in rubber for reinforcement, as well as in brake pads and clutches to enhance wear resistance.
  • Maritime sector: Fiberglass is widely used in the shipbuilding industry for constructing ships, yachts, fishing boats, surfboards, dock boxes, and other marine components. The high electrical insulation, moisture resistance, and mechanical performance of fiberglass make it suitable for this field.
  • Infrastructure and transportation: Fiberglass pultruded products are used in infrastructure and transportation due to their waterproofing, rustproofing, corrosion resistance, and warp resistance. This includes applications inside and outside homes, in new construction, and renovation projects.
  • Electrical insulation: Fiberglass is a non-conductive material with excellent strength, stiffness, and performance, making it an ideal material for electrical insulation. It can be used in tools with fiberglass handles and fiberglass ladders to provide protection from electric shocks.

Limitations of Fiberglass

The limitations of fiberglass include:

  1. Health risks: Inhalation of fiberglass particles can be harmful to health.
  2. Compared to steel materials, it can generally only be used below 100°C, and with high-temperature resins, only between 150 and 200 degrees.
  3. Prone to aging: Fiberglass can age easily under the effects of UV light, snow, and various chemical media, leading to a decline in mechanical performance.
  4. Lower transverse strength: While fiberglass has high longitudinal strength, its transverse strength is generally less than half that of ordinary steel.
  5. Compared to ordinary steel, it remains more expensive and is generally only used in certain specialized industries.

Is Fiberglass Stronger Than Plastic?

No, fiberglass is simply a raw material that acts as a reinforcement. It is made into a reinforced plastic by binding glass fibers together with a resin.

Is Fiberglass Safe?

Fiberglass is finer than human hair and can easily penetrate the skin, causing itching and redness. Prolonged contact with fiberglass requires wearing protective clothing and gloves.

Difference Between Fiberglass and Carbon Fiber

The differences between fiberglass and carbon fiber are significant:

    1. Raw materials: Fiberglass is made from inorganic materials such as silica sand, limestone, and soda ash; carbon fiber’s main component is polyacrylonitrile (PAN), made through spinning, stabilizing, carbonizing, and surface treatment processes.
    2. Weight: Fiberglass is heavier than carbon fiber.
    3. Strength: The strength-to-weight ratio of carbon fiber is approximately twice that of fiberglass, but it has lower flexibility.
    4. Impact resistance: Fiberglass has much stronger impact resistance than carbon fiber.
    5. Cost: Fiberglass is cheaper than carbon fiber.

Conclusion

Fiberglass is a highly versatile and widely used material with numerous applications across various industries due to its unique properties, including high strength, durability, and corrosion resistance. Despite its limitations, such as health risks and lower transverse strength compared to steel, its benefits make it an invaluable resource in modern manufacturing and construction.

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