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About Fiberglass Composites


What Are Composites?

A composite is the combination of at least two materials with different physical or chemical properties combined to obtain properties that cannot be achieved by any of the components alone. 

Typically, composites are made up of two components, the reinforcing phase and the matrix phase. The reinforcing phase is in the form of fibers, sheets, or particles and is embedded into the other materials, the matrix phase. The reinforcing material is usually strong with low density, while the matrix material is usually ductile or tough. Combined you get the strength of the reinforcing material and the toughness of the matrix material.

Benefits of Using Composites

  • High Strength – Can be designed to meet specific strength requirements.
  • Lightweight – Can be designed for both lightweight and high strength. Composites are used to produce the highest strength to weight ratio known to man.
  • Corrosion Resistant – Provide long term resistance to severe chemical and temperature environments.
  • Design Flexibility – Can be molded into complex shapes at relatively low coast.
  • Durability – Have an exceedingly long life span and low maintenance requirements.

Applications for Composites in Consumer Goods

Consumer products such as boats, automobiles, and recreation products have been manufactured with composites since the early 1950s. Typically, consumer composites are products that require a cosmetic finish, such as boats, recreational vehicles, and sporting goods. The cosmetic finish in many cases is an in-mold coating known as a gel coat. Consumer products make up a large portion of the overall composites industry. Other examples of consumer composites are:

  • Golf clubs
  • Tennis rackets
  • Bicycle frames
  • Jet Skis
  • Racing car bodies
  • Fishing rods
  • Applications for Composites in Industrial Applications

    Composite products are also used in industrial applications, where corrosion resistance and performance in adverse environments is critical. Premium resins such as isophthalic and vinyl ester formulations are required to meet corrosion resistance specifications.

    Cosmetic finishes are typically secondary to the performance of the product in industrial composites. Examples of industrial composite products are:

    • Underground Storage Tanks
    • Scrubbers
    • Piping
    • Fume Hoods
    • Water Treatment Components
    • Pressure Valves
    • Heavy and Light Rail Components
    • Marine Applications

    The Beginning of Composites

    • The first known composite is adobe, a mud and straw mixture that was used as an early building material. The straw allows the water in the mud (or clay) to evaporate and distributes cracks in the mud uniformly creating a very strong material.
    • In the 12th century Mongols made archery bows that were smaller and more powerful than their rivals by combining cattle tendons, horns, bamboo, silk, and bonded with natural pine resin. The tendons were placed on the tension side of the bow, the bamboo was used as a core, and sheets of horn were laminated to the compression side of the bow. The bow was then tightly wrapped with silk using the resin adhesive.
    • In the late 1800s canoe builders glued layers of craft paper together with shellac to form paper laminate. The concept was successful, however the product preformed poorly and therefore the idea did not last.

    The Beginning of Modern Day Composites

    • Between 1870 and 1890 the first synthetic resins were developed. These polymer resins are transformed from their liquid states to the solid state by crosslinking molecules. Early synthetic resins include celluloid, melamine, and Bakelite.
    • In the early 1930s American Cyanamid and DuPont independently formulated polyester resin for the first time. In the same time period, Owens-Illinois Glass Company began weaving glass fiber into a textile fabric on a commercial basis.

    World War II Helps to Increase the Growth of the Composite Industry

    • Between 1934 and 1936 experimenter Ray Green combined these two new products and began molding small boats. During World War II the development of radar required non-metallic housings and the U.S. military advanced the fledgling composites technology with many research projects.
    • Following World War II, composite materials emerged as a major engineering material.

    Composite Industry Growth Speeds up and New Process Methods are Developed

    • The composites industry began to take off in the 1940s and grew rapidly in the 1950s. By 1955 most of the composites processing methods used today had been developed. Open molding, hand lay-up, chopping, compression molding, filament winding, resin transfer molding, vacuum bagging, and vacuum infusion were all developed between 1946 and 1955.
    • Today, the composites industry continues to grow as a major provider of products.
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