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I wanted carbon fiber, but they sold me on fiberglass instead

1.3.2018 14:30 EET



It’s not uncommon for a customer to ask or specify carbon fiber for a project. Many times, fiberglass is actually a better choice. We see a preconceived idea that just because fiberglass has been around for a long time that it may not be the best solution for today, that the newer carbon fiber must be better. Kim Sjödahl from Exel Composites talks about why fiberglass is still a high-performance choice.

The first successful use of what we would call a fiberglass composite was during World War 2, and the fiberglass as we know it today was developed in the 1930’s. So, yes, fiberglass is an old material in that sense. And since it’s such a common material, many of us have had an experience with a fiberglass boat or car body that was being repaired at some point in our lives. This all adds to a sense that fiberglass must be an old material, and maybe not the best choice available today.

The fact is clear, fiberglass is still a high-performance composite

Think about that, for a minute. Our experience with fiberglass throughout our lives has shaped our preconceptions about its usefulness. Yet, since it was developed and used commercially, there’s only one other composite that can compete with fiberglass, and that’s carbon fiber. However, because of the price difference between the two materials, carbon fiber may not be a fair comparison.

Today, there isn’t another competitive commercial composite that outperforms fiberglass, both from a materials specification and a cost perspective. That’s because fiberglass is a high-performance composite.

Fiberglass has a very good “ultimate tensile strength,” a measurement of how strong, or stiff the material is, higher than most metals. It’s a great insulator, it has a very low coefficient of thermal expansion, and it is corrosion and weather resistant, making a perfect choice for door and window frames. It’s also radiolucent, or radio frequency transparent, which is especially useful for the upcoming, very dense, short wavelength 5G networks. Using more fiberglass in buildings will allow more signals through to reach our growing number of connected devices.

Fiberglass’ insulating properties also mean it is nonconductive; great for a wide range of electrical uses, from poles to grab live wires to insulating rings used in AC motors. It is used today in cars, trucks, busses, and trains to replace plastic and metal parts, to add strength and impact resistance and reduce weight for higher vehicle efficiencies.

What about carbon fiber?

Carbon fiber is a great material, for the right applications. Because carbon fiber is less dense, and has a higher ultimate tensile strength than fiberglass, it is used for applications where every gram maters. Make no mistake, we are happy to sell carbon fiber solutions just as much as we sell fiberglass. Only we believe that the more informed the customer is, the happier they are, and that’s why when we see that fiberglass is a better solution, we’ll tell them.

Carbon fiber has a very high sex appeal, that’s clear. That’s why it’s used in many high-end automobiles and special applications. We can easily imagine aircraft, professional sporting equipment, or even space vehicles full of carbon fiber components. Yet fiberglass has been the workhorse of the composite industry for many decades, and will continue to be so. It’s strong, it’s versatile, and it’s long lasting while it is available in large quantities.

If you have questions about which composite is right for your need, give us a call or send us an email (Contact us). We have over 50 years of experience pioneering composite solutions, and we are happy to share our expertise and talk over your projects with you.

Exel Composites Oyj, Vantaa head office, Mäkituvantie 5, FI-01510 Vantaa, Finland