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ResourcesMaterialsFiberglass: History, Characteristics, Types, Forms, and Properties
Fiberglass. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/MAKUYI

Fiberglass: History, Characteristics, Types, Forms, and Properties

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
October 18, 2023
 16 min read
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Fiberglass, a composite material made of woven glass fibers bound together by resin, has gained remarkable recognition due to its distinctive qualities. It is the top choice in industries ranging from construction to aerospace for its durability, resistance to corrosion, and lightweight properties.

This article explores the history, key traits, different types, various forms, and exceptional properties of fiberglass. Read on to find out more about this material. 

What Is Fiberglass?

Fiberglass, otherwise known as glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or glass-fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP), is a composite material made from extremely fine fibers of glass. These glass fibers are typically woven into a fabric-like mat or used as a reinforcement material in a plastic resin matrix. The resulting composite material combines the strength and durability of glass with the flexibility and moldability of plastic.

What Is the History of Fiberglass?

The history of fiberglass begins with ancient civilizations like the Phoenicians and Egyptians, who first experimented with glass fibers for decorative purposes. However, these early endeavors were limited in scope, producing only coarse fibers, and the true potential of fiberglass remained unrealized.

Fast forward to the late 19th century; John Player developed a revolutionary process for mass-producing glass strands, primarily for insulation. In 1880, Herman Hammesfahr received a patent for fiberglass cloth interwoven with silk, making it both durable and flame-retardant. These developments laid the foundation for future innovations.

In the 1930s, a chance discovery in Toledo, Ohio, changed the trajectory of fiberglass history. Dale Kleist, a researcher at Owens-Illinois, accidentally created a shower of fine glass fibers while attempting to weld glass blocks. Recognizing the potential of this accidental discovery, engineers refined the process of producing glass fibers efficiently and inexpensively, patenting it in 1933. This marked a crucial turning point, with the first commercially successful glass fiber product—an air filter—hitting the market in 1932.

What Is the Other Term for Fiberglass?

Fiberglass is also called: GRP, short for glass-reinforced plastic or polyester; FRP, which stands for fiber-reinforced plastic; or glass-fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP). The terminology used depends on the location and the industry or sector that uses it. 

How Is Fiberglass Made?

The manufacturing process of fiberglass starts with the careful selection and preparation of raw materials, including: limestone, silica sand, soda ash, and various additives like borax, magnesite, nepheline syenite, feldspar, kaolin clay, and alumina. Waste glass, or cullet, can also be used as raw material. These materials are meticulously measured and mixed together—a step known as batching—before it is introduced into a furnace. The furnace is crucial for melting these raw materials into molten glass, with temperatures reaching around 1,371 °C (2,500 °F). Precise temperature control is maintained to ensure a smooth and continuous flow of molten glass.

The molten glass is directed to various forming processes depending on the desired fiberglass type. Various processes can be used to create fibers, including the direct melt process in which molten glass is formed into fibers straight from the furnace, or the use of glass marbles of roughly 1.6 cm (0.62 in.) in diameter that allows visual inspection for impurities. Examples of these processes include passing molten glass through bushings that are electrically heated and have very small orifices, resulting in fine filaments. A continuous filament process involves winding the filaments at high speed to produce long, continuous fibers. A staple-fiber process rapidly cools the filaments with jets of air, breaking them into shorter lengths. Chopped fiber can be obtained by cutting the long-staple strand into shorter lengths.

What Is the Typical Duration Required to Manufacture Fiberglass?

There is no exact duration required to manufacture fiberglass. The time it will take depends on different factors like: the desired fiberglass type, specific product or application, product complexity, the manufacturing process used, the scale of production, curing time, automation, and finishing operations. Some simple fiberglass products may be manufactured in a matter of hours or days, while more complex items may take several weeks or even months to complete. The specific timeline for a fiberglass manufacturing project should be discussed with a manufacturer, as it depends on the product's unique characteristics and the production facility's capabilities.

What Is the Importance of Fiberglass in the Manufacturing Industry?

The importance of fiberglass in the manufacturing industry lies in its unique blend of properties. Not only is it lightweight, but it is also stronger than most traditional materials. Besides this, it can withstand harsh conditions without warping and buckling. This is why it is implemented in such a wide range of applications, from construction and pool and bath manufacturing to printed circuit boards and sporting equipment..

What Are the Characteristics of Fiberglass?

The main characteristics of fiberglass are as follows:

  1. Durable and strong.
  2. Stiff.
  3. Lightweight.
  4. Fire resistant. 
  5. Excellent insulation material. 
  6. Exceptional chemical resistance.
  7. High corrosion resistance.
  8. Dimensionally stable material.
  9. Insensitive to temperature and humidity changes.
  10. Resists warping, bending, distortion, or shrinking.
  11. Moisture resistant.

What Is the Color of Fiberglass?

Fiberglass itself is typically whitish, almost colorless, or transparent in color. However, it can be manufactured and coated in various colors depending on the specific application and requirements. The color of fiberglass products can range from white or gray to black or other custom colors, depending on the additives, coatings, or dyes used during the manufacturing process. PTFE-coated fiberglass fabrics, tapes, and belts are commonly tan in color, often referred to as "natural" within the industry.

What Does Fiberglass Look Like?

Fiberglass typically appears as a fine, thread-like material made of glass. It can be in the form of filaments, mats, or woven fabrics, depending on its intended use. The color of fiberglass can vary but is often white or translucent. It may also be coated or treated with other materials, which can affect its appearance. Overall, fiberglass has a fibrous and somewhat translucent appearance (see Figure 1 below): 

fiberglass close up

Close-up view of fiberglass.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Pixparts

What Is the Density of Fiberglass?

Fiberglass has an average density range of 2.4–2.76 g/cm3. E-glass, R-glass, and S-glass are some of the most common fiberglass varieties, with varying densities attributed to their unique compositions (“E” for ethylene glycol, “S” for silica, and “R” for rayon). These fiberglass types serve diverse purposes, including: insulation, enhancing the strength of plastics and various materials, and contributing to construction applications.

What Are the Different Types of Fiberglass?

Different fiberglass types exist on the market, each with its own composition and unique properties. The different types of fiberglass are as follows: 

1. E-Glass Fiber

E-glass, or electrical glass, offers excellent electrical insulation properties. It is widely used in aerospace and industrial applications due to its lightweight nature and resistance to heat. Originally developed for electrical uses, it is now employed in various industries. Its composition includes: silica, soda, potash, lime, boric oxide, magnesia, and alumina.

2. D-Glass Fiber

D-glass is known for its low dielectric constant, making it suitable for optical cables, cookware, and electrical appliances. The key component in its composition is boron trioxide.

3. R-Glass Fiber, T-Glass Fiber, or S-Glass Fiber

These high-performance fiberglass types exhibit superior modulus, acidic strength, wetting properties, and tensile strength compared to E-glass. They are utilized in specialized industries like aerospace and defense, with specific compositions tailored to enhance their properties.

4. A-Glass Fiber

A-glass, also called soda-lime glass, or alkali glass, is commonly used for glass containers such as bottles and jars, as well as window panes. It is chemically stable, cost-effective, and suitable for glass recycling due to its ability to be softened and remelted. Its composition primarily includes: lime, alumina, dolomite, soda, silica, and certain finishing agents such as sodium sulfate.

5. Advantex® Glass Fiber

Advantex® glass is resistant to acid corrosion and can withstand thermal fluctuations, making it ideal for applications in corrosive environments such as: the mining industry, oil industry, power plants, and sewage systems. It contains a high quantity of calcium oxide in its composition.

6. ECR Glass Fiber

ECR glass fiber, or electronic glass fiber, boasts alkali and acid resistance, good heat resistance, low electrical leakage, and superior mechanical strength compared to E-glass. It is very environmentally friendly and used to create durable, transparent fiberglass-reinforced panels. Its composition comprises materials with alkali and acid resistance, high heat resistance, waterproof properties, and mechanical strength.

7. C-Glass Fiber

C-glass, also referred to as chemical glass, exhibits good chemical and impact resistance. It is used in corrosive environments, thanks to the presence of calcium borosilicate, and can be used as a surface tissue for the outer laminates in pipes and tanks holding water and chemicals. Its composition includes: silica, soda, potash, lime, boric oxide, magnesia, and alumina.

8. Z-Glass Fiber

Z-glass finds applications in various industries, including concrete reinforcement and 3D-printed fibers. It is known for its resistance to acid, alkali, UV, mechanical stress, scratches, salt, and wear. Its composition includes materials selected for resistance to various environmental factors.

9. S2-Glass Fiber

S2-glass fiberglass type performs the best, featuring high-temperature resistance, superior compressive strength, and excellent impact resistance. It is commonly used in composite and textile industries, with a specific composition for superior properties.

10. AR-Glass Fiber

AR-glass, or alkali-resistant glass, is designed to be used in concrete to prevent cracking, providing strength and flexibility. It is highly durable, resistant to water, and unaffected by changes in pH. The key component added to its composition is zirconia.

11. M-Glass Fiber

M-glass, distinguished by its elasticity, is utilized in various glassware applications, including: packaging, housing, building materials, and tableware. Its composition includes beryllium, which enhances its elasticity and suitability for such applications.

12. AE-Glass Fiber

This type of fiberglass is alkali-resistant, making it suitable for applications in which resistance to alkalis is required. It also has low electrical conductivity. Grade AE glass fiber filters are ideal for applications involving the monitoring of suspended solids and air quality. These filters offer fine porosity, ensuring efficient particle retention as small as 1.0 micron in size. Additionally, their binderless borosilicate glass microfiber construction provides a fast flow rate, making them a reliable choice for various filtration needs in both laboratory and environmental settings.

What Are the Different Forms of Fiberglass?

There are many different types of fiberglass, including:

1. Woven Fabrics

Woven fiberglass fabrics are made out of fine, continuous strands of fiberglass yarns that are woven together to form a flexible and strong material. These fabrics come in various weaves, such as plain, twill, and satin, each offering different properties like strength and surface finish. Woven fabrics are commonly used in applications requiring reinforcement, dimensional stability, and a smooth surface, such as: boat building, automotive parts, and surfboards.

2. Chopped Strand Mat

Chopped Strand Mat (CSM) consists of short strands of fiberglass that are randomly dispersed and bound together with a binder. This form of fiberglass is popular in hand lay-up and spray-up processes in composite manufacturing. CSM provides good coverage and is ideal for applications in which ease of wetting, thickness, and strength are essential, such as in the production of fiberglass boats, tanks, and pipes.

3. Tow and Roving

Tow and roving are continuous bundles of parallel fiberglass filaments. These types of fiberglass come in spools that can be unrolled and cut as required or even fed to filament winders. Tow refers to a thicker bundle which is particularly useful for automotive applications, while roving typically consists of a long and narrow bundle of fiber. These forms are used when high strength and consistency are required, such as in pultrusion or filament winding processes. Tow and roving are versatile and can be applied in various industries, including: aerospace, construction, and marine.

4. Veil Mats

Veil mats, also known as surfacing mats, are lightweight fiberglass mats that are used as surface layers in composite applications. They enhance the surface finish, providing a smooth texture and reducing the print-through of underlying fibers. Veil mats are commonly used during the production of composite panels, automotive parts, and equipment with high corrosion resistance.

What Are the Properties of Fiberglass?

The mechanical properties of fiberglass are outlined in Table 1:

Table 1: Mechanical Properties of Fiberglass
Physical PropertyDensity (g/cm3)Tensile Strength (GPa)Young’s Modulus (GPa)ElongationCoefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)Poisson’s Ratio
Physical Property
E-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.58
Tensile Strength (GPa)
3.445
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
72.3
Elongation
4.8
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
54
Poisson’s Ratio
0.2
Physical Property
C-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.52
Tensile Strength (GPa)
3.31
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
68.9
Elongation
4.8
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
63
Poisson’s Ratio
-
Physical Property
S2-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.46
Tensile Strength (GPa)
4.89
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
86.9
Elongation
5.7
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
16
Poisson’s Ratio
0.22
Physical Property
A-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.44
Tensile Strength (GPa)
3.31
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
68.9
Elongation
4.8
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
73
Poisson’s Ratio
-
Physical Property
D-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.11–2.14
Tensile Strength (GPa)
2.412
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
51.7
Elongation
4.6
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
25
Poisson’s Ratio
-
Physical Property
R-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.54
Tensile Strength (GPa)
4.135
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
85.5
Elongation
4.8
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
33
Poisson’s Ratio
-
Physical Property
EGR-glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.72
Tensile Strength (GPa)
3.445
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
80.3
Elongation
4.8
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
59
Poisson’s Ratio
-
Physical Property
AR glass
Density (g/cm3)
2.7
Tensile Strength (GPa)
3.241
Young’s Modulus (GPa)
73.1
Elongation
4.4
Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (10-7/°C)
65
Poisson’s Ratio
-

Table Credit: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265346634_Glass_fiber-reinforced_polymer_composites_-_A_review

What Are the Physical Properties of Fiberglass?

The physical properties of some common fiberglass types are given in Table 2:

Table 2: Physical Properties of Fiberglass
Physical PropertyDescription/Value
Physical Property
Density
Description/Value
2.4–2.76 g/cm^3
Physical Property
Melting point (°C)
Description/Value
500–750
Physical Property
Boiling point (°C)
Description/Value
~1,000 °C
Physical Property
Tenacity
Description/Value
6.3–6.9 gm/den
Physical Property
Elongation at break
Description/Value
3%
Physical Property
Elasticity
Description/Value
Poor
Physical Property
Moisture Regain (MR%)
Description/Value
0%

Table Credit: https://textilefashionstudy.com/physical-chemical-properties-of-glass-fiber/

What Are the Chemical Properties of Fiberglass?

The chemical properties of fiberglass are given in Table 3:

Table 3: Chemical Properties of Fiberglass
Chemical PropertyDescription
Chemical Property
Acid
Description
Hydrochloric acid and hot phosphoric acid can damage glass fibers.
Chemical Property
Bases
Description
It is sufficiently resistant to alkali.
Chemical Property
Bleach
Description
Bleach does not harm fiberglass.
Chemical Property
Organic solvent
Description
Organic solvents do not change their composition.
Chemical Property
Mildew
Description
It is not affected by mildew.
Chemical Property
Insects and rodents
Description
It is unaffected by insects and rodents.
Chemical Property
Dyes
Description
It cannot be colored after production but can be colored before production by adding a dye to the solution bath.
Chemical Property
UV radiation
Description
It can change color due to UV exposure (yellowing), but the other properties remain unchanged.
Chemical Property
Fire
Description
Good fire resistance.
Chemical Property
Rotting
Description
Fiberglass does not rot.

Table Credit: https://textilefashionstudy.com/physical-chemical-properties-of-glass-fiber/

What Are the Applications of Fiberglass?

Fiberglass finds applications in various industries and products due to its versatility and beneficial properties. Some notable applications of fiberglass include:

1. Swimming Pools

Fiberglass is commonly used to manufacture swimming pool shells due to its durability, water resistance, and smooth surface. 

2. Boats

Fiberglass is a popular material for boat construction because it is corrosion-resistant, lightweight, and can be formed into many different shapes.

3. Aircraft

The aerospace industry utilizes fiberglass extensively, particularly sheets of S-glass fiberglass, for components such as wings, rotor blades, and armor due to their high strength and temperature resistance.

4. Surfboards

Fiberglass is used to reinforce surfboard structures, adding strength and durability while maintaining a lightweight design, which is crucial for surfers' performance.

5. Automobiles

Fiberglass sheets are employed in the automotive industry to create lightweight panels, hoods, doors, and bumpers, helping reduce fuel consumption while providing strength and design flexibility.

6. Storage Tanks

Fiberglass is the material of choice for manufacturing corrosion-resistant tanks, including underground petrol tanks and storage tanks in energy production, due to its exceptional resistance to harsh environments.

7. Piping

Fiberglass pipes are used in various industrial applications, such as chemical processing and wastewater management, due to their corrosion resistance, lightweight nature, and durability.

What Are the Advantages of Fiberglass?

Some advantages of fiberglass are outlined below:

  1. Exceptionally strong, often stronger than steel, yet it is lightweight. 
  2. Can be formed into different complex shapes, thanks to its flexibility and versatility.
  3. Exhibits excellent resistance to many corrosive chemicals.
  4. Is not magnetic, which can be advantageous in certain applications.
  5. Is well-suited for all weather conditions, such as rain. 
  6. Being non-conductive, it serves as a good electrical insulator.
  7. Under most conditions, fiberglass is chemically inert.
  8. Does not rust, burn, shrink, or expand, maintaining its shape and integrity.
  9. Is highly durable, outlasting many other materials even in harsh conditions.
  10. Is recyclable using various methods, contributing to sustainability and allowing for repeated use.

What Are the Disadvantages of Fiberglass?

The disadvantages of fiberglass include:

  1. High-quality fiberglass products can be expensive, especially when compared to certain plastics.
  2. Is non-biodegradable and challenging to dispose of, posing environmental challenges and concerns.
  3. Working with fiberglass can release fine particles that pose inhalation risks and skin irritation, requiring safety precautions.
  4. Can degrade when exposed to prolonged sunlight, necessitating protective coatings or additives for outdoor use.

Is Fiberglass Lightweight?

Yes, fiberglass is known for its lightweight characteristics. It has a low density, which means it is relatively light compared to many other construction materials. This lightweight property makes fiberglass an attractive choice for various applications in which weight is a critical factor. For example, in the aerospace industry, fiberglass composites are used to reduce the overall weight of aircraft, contributing to improved fuel efficiency and performance. 

Is Fiberglass Durable?

Yes, fiberglass is known for its durability. Its durability is attributed to several key characteristics. Firstly, fiberglass is resistant to corrosion, making it suitable for use in environments exposed to chemicals and saltwater. Additionally, it possesses high tensile strength, enabling it to withstand significant mechanical stresses without breaking. Furthermore, fiberglass does not absorb moisture, preventing issues like rotting or warping when exposed to water. Its resistance to various chemicals and low maintenance requirements further contribute to its longevity. 

Can Fiberglass Be Cut Using a Grinding Machine?

Yes. Fiberglass can be cut using a grinding machine, but it's not the most common or recommended method for cutting fiberglass. Grinding fiberglass with a machine can generate a lot of dust, which can be harmful if inhaled. Additionally, the process can be slow and may result in uneven edges.

Is Fiberglass Stronger Than Steel?

Yes, fiberglass is often stronger than steel, particularly when considering the strength-to-weight ratio. This characteristic makes fiberglass a preferred choice in many applications due to its comparable strength to steel but with the advantage of being significantly lighter. To learn more, see our guide on Steel Properties.

Is Fiberglass Safe on the Skin?

Yes, fiberglass is generally safe on the skin. However, contact with fiberglass fibers can cause skin irritation, itching, and redness. Exposure to fiberglass can lead to red and irritated eyes, as well as soreness in the nose and throat if fibers are inhaled. It's important to avoid prolonged or repeated contact with fiberglass, wear protective clothing and gloves when handling it, and wash your skin thoroughly if you come in contact with fiberglass fibers. However, touching fiberglass should not result in any long-term health effects.

Is Fiberglass Glass?

Yes, fiberglass is a type of glass-based material. It is composed of fine glass fibers that are woven into a fabric or used as reinforcement in various forms. These glass fibers are typically made from silica (SiO2) and other elements such as: alumina, boron, and calcium. The glass fibers are then combined with a resin matrix to create a composite material known as fiberglass.

While fiberglass contains glass fibers, it is different from traditional solid glass. Fiberglass is typically more flexible and can be formed into different shapes and forms. 

Is Fiberglass Plastic?

No, fiberglass is not plastic. Fiberglass is a composite material composed primarily of glass fibers embedded in a resin matrix. The glass fibers provide strength and reinforcement, while the resin matrix holds them together and provides structure. 

Summary

This article presented fiberglass, explained it, and discussed its characteristics and types. To learn more about fiberglass, contact a Xometry representative.

Xometry provides a wide range of manufacturing capabilities and other value-added services for all of your prototyping and production needs. Visit our website to learn more or to request a free, no-obligation quote.

  1. Advantex® is a registered trademark of Owens Corning

Disclaimer

The content appearing on this webpage is for informational purposes only. Xometry makes no representation or warranty of any kind, be it expressed or implied, as to the accuracy, completeness, or validity of the information. Any performance parameters, geometric tolerances, specific design features, quality and types of materials, or processes should not be inferred to represent what will be delivered by third-party suppliers or manufacturers through Xometry’s network. Buyers seeking quotes for parts are responsible for defining the specific requirements for those parts. Please refer to our terms and conditions for more information.

Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.

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