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Why There Are So Many Types of Fiberglass

If you have been researching fiberglass and found over a dozen different names for specific fiberglass materials, you may wonder why there are so many different kinds of fiberglass. In this article we will consider why there are so many names given to what might seem like the same material. But as you will see, there is more to the material(s) than meets the eye.

Usage Brings Requirements

We are going to give you the simple answer to the question representing the headline of this article right up front. The simple reason there are so many types is because there are many, many uses for fiberglass. Because of this, the material continues to be adapted for application in all sorts of industries. But that is the simply answer, the remainder of the article will delve into the details of the why part of the topic.

Fiberglass Composition Overview

We will start off our examination of the subject by clarifying what we mean when we use the term "fiberglass" in this article. Fiberglass is a term that is used to describe the glass fibers themselves. The term is also used to describe the resulting composite which is a plastic that is reinforced using glass fiber material. So in this article we will be talking about the resulting composite for the most part. When we refer to the fibers, we will use the phrase "glass fibers".

The Glass Fiber Arrangement

The reinforcing glass material may have the fibers arranged in various ways. For example, the fibers could be woven into fabric. Or, the glass fibers may be arranged randomly. There are several ways the fibers might be arranged. The idea though is that the arrangement of the fibers can vary.

Types of Glass Fiber

Glass fiber is made by colling pure silica as fuzed quartz into glass. To make the material easier to work with, other substances are incorporated into the recipe. Thus, there are various "flavors" of glass fiber used for different applications. Depending on what other substances are added, the glass fiber takes on various properties that allow it to be sufficient for a given application.

The properties, or characteristics, affect what the resulting glass fiber material is called. The table below shows these characteristics and the associated names of each.

Characteristic of the Material Glass Fiber Category
Soda Lime Glass/High Alkali A (Alkali)
High Chemical Resistance C (Chemical)
Low Dielectric Constant D (Dielectric)
Low Electrical Conductivity E (Electrical)
High Tensile Modulus M (Modulus)
High Tensile Strength S (Strength)
Glass Fiber With Special Purpose
Long term acid resistance, short term alkali resistance ECR
High tensile strength, properties at high temperatures R & Te

As you might imagine, the characteristics shown in the table above translate to specified uses. For example, if you needed the resulting composite to not conduct electricity, the choice might be a fiberglass that contains glass fiber from the E category. So, each category of glass fiber brings with it, benefits of which various industries make use.

The above properties are reflected in several types of "fiberglass". The following list shows the ones available:

Fiberglass' Plastic Matrices

In addition to the fiber arrangement, the plastic matrix in the composite can be of various types. Some of these include:

  • Epoxy
  • Polyester Resin
  • Vinyl-ester
  • Thermoplastic

A Variety of Composites

With the variants that we have looked at regarding the kind of glass fibers used, the arrangement of the glass fibers, and the type of material in the plastic matrix, one thing stands out. Namely, combining various glass fibers, in various arrangements with different matrices will produce an array of composites. The composites are known as fiberglass, GRP (Glass-reinforced Plastic), or GFRP (Glass-fiber Reinforced Plastic). For simplicity, we will just call all these materials "fiberglass".

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