Fiberglass – a pioneering composite: A retrospective view of how fibreglass paved the way for CFRP

Who remembers fiberglass? Well, anyone of a certain age will recall the impressive rise of fiberglass into public consciousness during the 1970s, largely as body panels for sports cars and kit cars, although in reality its use was far greater – boats, hot tubs, water tanks, roofing, pipes, cladding and door skins – to name but a few.

 As a fiber reinforced polymer made of a plastic matrix and reinforced by fine fibers of glass, this innovative material is sometimes known asGRP (glass reinforced plastic) or GFRP (glass fiber reinforced plastic). In truth, it hasn’t really gone away; it’s simply been replaced with something better – CFRP (carbon fiber reinforced plastic).

 Yes, fiberglass is a lightweight, strong and robust material that has favourable properties compared to metals, but CFRP goes even further, gifting designers with far greater values of strength and stiffness. Until recently, the argument for fiberglass was that its raw materials are less expensive, but as demand for CFRP ramps up, so the costs are falling.

Aside from aerospace and automotive, improved manufacturing techniques are also reducing the costs and time to manufacture CFRP, making it increasingly common in small consumer goods as well, such as laptops, fishing rods, archery equipment, tent poles, racquet frames, bicycle frames, stringed instrument bodies, drum shells, golf clubs and pool/snooker cues.

Tooling from Sandvik Coromant is playing its part to ensure CFRP gives designers a cost-effective and easily manufactured engineering solution, with countless cutting tool innovations now available for this innovative material. Sure enough, the historical importance of fiberglass will remain; both as an early composite success story and a milestone of material science, but CFRP is the future. Just as steel began to usurp iron in the 1870s or when aluminium popularity soared in the early 1960s, so CFRP is already firmly embarked on becoming industry’s premier engineering material.

So what do you think it is CFRP or fiberglass, or perhaps both!  We would love to hear your thoughts.

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