Glass fibers have been produced for centuries, but the earliest patent was awarded to the Prussian inventor Hermann Hammesfahr (1845–1914) in the U.S. in 1880. Mass production of glass strands was accidentally discovered in 1932 when Games Slayter, a researcher at Owens-Illinois, directed a jet of compressed air at a stream of molten glass and produced fibers. A patent for this method of producing glass wool was first applied for in 1933. Owens joined with the Corning company in 1935 and the method was adapted by Owens Corning to produce its patented “Fiberglas” (spelled with one “s”) in 1936. Originally, Fiberglas was a glass wool with fibers entrapping a great deal of gas, making it useful as an insulator, especially at high temperatures.
A suitable resin for combining the fiberglass with a plastic to produce a composite material was developed in 1936 by du Pont. The first ancestor of modern polyester resins is Cyanamid’s resin of 1942. Peroxide curing systems were used by then. With the combination of fiberglass and resin the gas content of the material was replaced by plastic. This reduced the insulation properties to values typical of the plastic, but now for the first time the composite showed great strength and promise as a structural and building material. Confusingly, many glass fiber composites continued to be called “fiberglass” (as a generic name) and the name was also used for the low-density glass wool product containing gas instead of plastic.
Ray Greene of Owens Corning is credited with producing the first composite boat in 1937, but did not proceed further at the time due to the brittle nature of the plastic used. In 1939 Russia was reported to have constructed a passenger boat of plastic materials, and the United States a fuselage and wings of an aircraft. The first car to have a fiber-glass body was a 1946 prototype of the Stout Scarab, but the model did not enter production.
Advantages of Fiberglass
Fiberglass-framed commercial windows offer significant advantages, both thermal and structural, over traditional aluminum, vinyl, or wood framing materials. These benefits include super-insulation, structural performance, lower embodied energy, and new design choice.
- Fiberglass’ thermal conductivity is 800 times less than aluminum, making it the optimum material for super-insulating windows and preserving overall performance for the life of a window.
- Low thermal expansion maintains the windows’ structural integrity and minimizes warping or leakage, making fiberglass the most durable framing material that will not compromise the performance of the full window over time.
- Fiberglass particularly resists environmental damage caused by corrosive salt air or high temperatures.
- Comparing U-factor of materials, fiberglass offers 89% better insulation than aluminum (fiberglass U-factor is 0.2 – 0.3 compared to aluminum thermally broken of U-factor1.0).
- Superior strength to weight ratios making Alpen Windows ideal for large window openings – 86% of the yield strength of aluminum and, pound-for-pound, stronger than aluminum in the lengthwise direction.
- Pultruded fiberglass distributes impact load to prevent surface damage even in sub-zero temperatures.
Fiberglass composite structures: glass, but not fragile.
Fiberglass consists of numerous fine strands of silica polymers which may, depending on the type, include alkali oxides, aluminum, boron or other trace molecules. When embedded within an epoxy matrix and cured, the resultant composite is strong, lightweight and flexible. Conventionally known as fiberglass, such a composite is actually called glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP), and is manufactured in different forms for specific permutations of material properties such as tensile strength, tenacity, compression strength and thermal expansion, as well as for different pricepoints.
A few types of glass fiber.
E-glass (the E signifying electrical), for example, is the cheapest type of glass fiber. E-glass has low electrical conductivity, making it a good choice for applications requiring electrically insulative characteristics. Though it has relatively low fiber modulus (~10.5 Msi), it is fairly strong (~500 Ksi). E-glass is an alumino-borosilicate glass that contains no alkali oxides. It makes up most of the world’s glass fiber production.
S-glass (S for stiff, or alternatively, for strong) is an alumino-silicate glass fiber commonly used in aerospace applications. It has a higher modulus (~12.5 Msi) and strength (~600 Ksi) than does E-glass. While S-glass was a trade name developed by Owens-Corning Inc., other manufacturers use a different designation, such as T-glass and R-glass, for their S-glass equivalents, and the S-glass terminology has come to colloquially reference all of these. S-glass composites tend to be higher than other glass composites in tensile strength. C-glass is a glass fiber variant developed for its resistance to chemical degradation. It is ideal for laminate surfacing and for corrosive environments.
Fiberglass composite production at Advanced Composites Inc.
Advanced Composites Inc. produces many fiberglass composite (GRP) products. In some cases, such as our Cataract Oars SGX oar shaft, fiberglass is interlaced with carbon fiber in a layered composite matrix; in other cases, the GRP itself meets the specifications of a particular composite application. Most commonly, Advanced Composites Inc. manufactures fiberglass composite products for the aerospace, defense, energy and utility sectors.