Things aren’t always what they seem, and that’s definitely the case with plastic. When most people look at a plastic bag or a plastic screw, they automatically assume that it’s made entirely out of plastic, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Many different kinds of fillers can be used in plastic fasteners. Even a substance called talc is used in plastic bags. However, one of the best ways to reinforce plastic is with glass fibers, and this is true for a wide range of applications.
Why add glass fibers to reinforce plastic?
There are so many different kinds of things you can add to plastic… so why choose glass?
First, glass can be a bit cheaper than other kinds of materials. For example, glass fibers are cheaper than carbon fiber. Glass fibers can also add additional benefits to the plastic. In the case of carbon fiber, glass fibers are much less brittle and can greatly increase tensile strength and flexural modulus, especially when it comes to fiberglass. That’s why fiberglass is often found in bathtubs, boats, golf clubs, and even amusement park rides.
However, just like any material, glass has its downsides. When compared to carbon fiber, glass fibers are not as strong or as rigid. It’s always extremely important to consider your particular application to determine whether glass fiber reinforced plastic is the best choice.
Types of glass fibers in reinforced plastic
Just as plastic isn’t just plastic, glass isn’t just glass. There are many different kinds of glass fibers that can be used to reinforce plastic fasteners and other plastic materials.
E-glass is most commonly used as a filler in plastic material. It was originally created for electrical applications, hence the label ‘E’. Today, it is used to reinforce plastic material. It was the first kind of glass that was formulated into a continuous filament, and it continues to be the top glass choice for making most of the fiberglass found around the world. E-CR glass is also a type of E-glass that has higher acid resistance than regular E-glass. All E-glass is alkali free, but it is susceptible to chloride ion attacks.
C-glass is less common than E-glass. Instead of being alkali free, C-Glass is composed of alkali-lime glass with a high boron oxide content. It is frequently used in insulation. T-glass is North America’s version of C-glass and is used in insulation-grade blown glass.
D-glass is also known as borosilicate glass. It boasts a low dielectric constant. Today, it is used in electrical applications where E-glass was once popular.
R-glass stands for ‘reinforcement glass’. It contains alumino silicate without MgO or CaO. It is preferred when high acid corrosion resistance is needed.
S-glass, or stiff glass, is similar to R-glass in that it contains alumino silicate without CaO, but it does contain MgO. That provides this type of glass with high tensile strength, making it perfect for constructing buildings and epoxies, like the kind used on aircraft.
Reinforced plastics are an alternative to steel
In some applications, plastics have replaced metal fasteners altogether. These types of plastics can even replace steel. Fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) is a prime example.
This innovative plastic is so revolutionary because the glass fibers can be woven, stitched, or braided. FRP can increase stiffness and tensile capacity, and the glass fibers can reduce shrinkage and improve mechanical and physical properties.
There are a few other reasons why some manufacturers turn to FRP instead of conventional steel:
- High strength
- Fatigue endurance
- High resistance to elevated temperatures
- Resistance to abrasion, corrosion, and chemicals
- Weighs two-thirds less than steel
Glass fiber reinforced plastic is being used in multiple industries
With so many benefits, it should come as no surprise that fiber reinforced plastics are being used in a wide variety of industries.
The construction industry often uses glass reinforced plastic in bridge superstructures and bridge decks. Because of its light weight, it takes the construction crew a lot less time to build the structure. It can provide better traction than steel when wet, which is extremely important when it comes to the bridge deck. It is also used for safety railings, and it can reinforce the existing beams and columns in buildings. It may cost more initially to use reinforced plastic as opposed to steel, but costs are ultimately lower because fewer maintenance and repairs are needed over the lifetime of the structure.
The automotive industry is integrating glass fiber reinforced plastics more and more into their automobiles. That’s largely due to the fact that plastic is lighter than steel, ultimately creating a lighter car that can go faster and uses less fuel. However, there are still some hurdles to overcome. This type of material cannot be reused, ultimately creating more waste. In addition, the fibers can disintegrate instead of break, which can have very unpredictable results.
The aerospace industry often uses this type of plastic instead of steel, once again because of the weight savings. For example, the Boeing 787 is 20 percent lighter due to reinforced plastic, ultimately increasing airplane efficiency. The airplane utilizes a one-piece composite barrel that reduces drag, as well as the amount of maintenance that is required with conventional steel bodies that have joints, fasteners, and splice plates.
Explore all your glass fiber reinforced plastic options
There are countless benefits of using reinforced plastic, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right for every application. At the end of the day, sometimes a material like steel is best. The key is understanding exactly what you need.
If you aren’t sure what kind of material or fastener you need, give us a call. Our experts know plastic fasteners, and we know metal fasteners, too. We’ll help you find a material that’s just right for your application.