The ABC’s of FRP

This section is a FRP composites primer as it applies to FRP grating. Basic terms are used in the text with more technical definitions supplied in the glossary.

Introduction

A Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composite is defined as a polymer (plastic) matrix, either thermoset or thermoplastic, that is reinforced (combined) with a fiber or other reinforcing material with a sufficient aspect ratio (length to thickness) to provide a discernable reinforcing function in one or more directions. FRP composites are different from traditional construction materials such as steel or aluminum. FRP composites are anisotropic (properties apparent in the direction of the applied load) whereas steel or aluminum is isotropic (uniform properties in all directions, independent of applied load). Therefore, FRP composite properties are directional, meaning that the best mechanical properties are in the direction of the fiber placement. Composites are similar to reinforced concrete where the rebar is embedded in an isotropic matrix called concrete.

Composition

Composites are composed of:

  • Resins – The primary functions of the resin are to transfer stress between the reinforcing fibers, act as a glue to hold the fibers together, and protect the fibers from mechanical and environmental damage. The most common resins used in the production of FRP grating are polyesters (includingorthophthalic-“ortho” and isophthalic-“iso”), vinyl esters and phenolics.
  • Reinforcements – The primary function of fibers or reinforcements is to carry load along the length of the fiber to provide strength and stiffness in one direction. Reinforcements can be oriented to provide tailored properties in the direction of the loads imparted on the end product. The largest volume reinforcement is glass fiber.
  • Fillers – Fillers are used to improve performance and reduce the cost of a composite by lowering compound cost of the significantly more expensive resin and imparting benefits as shrinkage control, surface smoothness, and crack resistance.
  • Additives – Additives and modifier ingredients expand the usefulness of polymers, enhance their processability or extend product durability

Each of these constituent materials or ingredients play an important role in the processing and final performance of the end product.

Manufacturing

In this section, those manufacturing processes typically used to make products found the grating market are covered. Unique to the composites industry is the ability to create a product from many different manufacturing processes. There are a wide variety of processes available to the composites manufacturer to produce cost efficient products.

Pultrusion

Pultrusion is a continuous process for manufacturing composites that have a cross-sectional shape. The process consists of pulling a fiber – reinforcing material through a resin impregnation bath and through a shaping die. The dimensions and shape of the die will define the finished part being fabricated. Inside the metal die, heat is transferred initiated by precise temperature control to the reinforcements and liquid resin. The heat energy activates the curing or polymerization of the thermoset resin changing it from a liquid to a solid. The solid laminate emerges from the pultrusion die to the exact shape of the die cavity. The laminate solidifies when cooled and it is continuously pulled through the pultrusion machine and cut to the desired length. The process is driven by a system of caterpillar or tandem pullers located between the die exit and the cut-off mechanism.

Molding Process

Liquid resin and continuous fiberglass roving are systematically laid in the mold, layer after layer manually, to produce the desired thickness and panel dimensions. The finished molds are set aside for a predetermined time to allow the panel to cure. The panel is then ejected from the mold. The molds are cleaned and prepared for the process to begin again. Both of these fabrication processes have characteristics that define the type of products that are produced. This is advantageous because it allows the manufacturer to provide the best solution for the customer.