Can FRP Be Used In Construction?

A: Absolutely, it can be used in commercial and industrial construction as well. There’s a variety of uses for structural fiberglass, it’s not just tied into offshore applications or chemical plants and refineries.

The materials chosen for any construction project are critical to its success, durability, and structural integrity. To choose the proper materials for your project you must analyze your project specifications. There are factors to consider such as environment, use of structure, and of course, financial constraints. 20 or 30 years ago material selection was simplistic— your main structural materials were wood and metal. However, as materials have advanced, architects and building engineers, in response to these factors, have turned to newer, more advanced materials. One of the material types that have been trending the most over the last couple of decades is composites.

Composites, also commonly known as fiber-reinforced plastic, or FRP, have grown rapidly in popularity. This is mainly since they offer the stability and strength of traditional materials with some notably superior qualities. For example, FRP possesses the strength of steel with a fraction of the weight and is corrosion-resistant, and has a low long-term cost.

FRP consists of a protective resin that’s fortified with high-strength glass fibers that give FRP its durability. This combination results in a composite that is useful in a wide variety of construction applications. When compared to wood, FRP blows it out of the water as it’s impervious to water both fresh and salt. This makes it an optimal choice for bridges, pedestrian walkways, and just about any structure. It holds up to a high level of wear and tear without compromising safety and structural integrity.

The FRP Manufacturing Process

FRP is not necessarily one single type of material. It’s actually a term that covers a broad spectrum of composites that are a combination of polymer resin and fiberglass. There’s a few methods by which FRP can be produced. At DEFI we focus mainly on one method as it’s the one best suited for the market we serve and our products. That method is pultrusion and it’s perfect for structural fiberglass component production. However, we’ll cover some other common methods of production so you can compare the differences.

Pultrusion

Pultrusion is one of the most common methods for creating FRP, especially for structural profiles used in commercial and residential construction. This process begins with strands of fiberglass that are either woven or braided. The fibers are pulled through a resin bath to impregnate the fiberglass with the polymer resin. It’s then pulled through a die that is heated to cure the resin surrounding the fibers causing it to harden.

This results in an FRP material that has a consistent cross-section, allowing clean cuts to any specified length. This process allows a continual manufacturing run that is not only consistent but quick and energy-efficient. Because the process results in hardly any waste it’s both environmentally friendly and affordable.

Vacuum Infusion

This method is often used to create large FRP panels for use on walls in many commercial buildings such as gas stations and hotels. The process uses dry fiber materials that are placed into a vacuum mold and all the air is removed.

Once a total vacuum has been established, polymer resin in liquid form is brought into the mix using tubes that are positioned precisely. This gives a large uniform coverage, which is why it’s often used to create large wall panels and other parts.

Vacuum infusion takes a lot longer than pultrusion and the results aren’t any better, just different and tailored for specific applications.

Hand Layup

The hand layup process has its roots in the early age of FRP manufacturing but is still useful in certain applications. Specifically, it is best for one-off or limited production runs for things such as prototypes, proof of work concepts, and highly custom work.

In this process, it is created exactly as it sounds—by hand. An FRP technician applies the fiber reinforcements into an open mold. Then they manually pour the resin and once the material is impregnated with the resin, it cures by simple exposure to the air.

The primary draw of hand layup has always been its relatively low cost and that is still the main draw today. Open mold production is far less expensive than other FRP tools. However, it is extremely labor-intensive and does not work well with tight deadlines or mass production. This is why hand layup has very limited uses compared to more cost-effective methods like pultrusion.

The Problem With Traditional Structural Materials

FRP is decisively versatile in the realm of construction materials and structural components. It can easily substitute for wood, concrete, metal, and plastic in a wide variety of applications related to construction. Not only can it substitute for these materials, but it can also replace them. Each of the materials FRP can replace have limitations and weaknesses that FRP does not.

One example is wood. Often used in construction, it is easily susceptible to rotting or warping under wet, even damp conditions. FRP is not affected by damp conditions or a full-on storm for that matter—it stays strong. Even steel that has to have special coatings to make it somewhat corrosion-resistant can’t match up. FRP can handle any corrosive with no harm at all. In fact, FRP is superior across the board compared to traditional materials often used in construction.

Advantages Of FRP In Construction

FRP possesses so many advantages over traditional materials that it’s hard to cover them all in one article. But here are some of the most critical properties that should make you consider FRP for use in your projects.

  • Resistance To Corrosives— Acids and other corrosives eat right through metals, which we know are susceptible to rust as well. However, FRP not only holds up to all corrosives but is also completely unscathed. This allows it to last decades, even in environments such as chemical plants or marine applications.
  • Cost-Effective— FRP has a low overall cost due to its long service life that is incomparable. However, FRP also provides amazing value due to its low cost of installation and maintenance. Installation of steel, for example, requires heavy equipment and more manpower. Not to mention, steel requires constant upkeep and maintenance. FRP on the other hand needs just simple hand tools for installation and is virtually maintenance-free.
  • Strength-To-Weight Ratio— FRP has an extreme strength-to-weight ratio as seen best when compared to steel. Even though it’s only one-seventh the weight of steel—it’s the same strength. That’s right, the strength of steel without weighing nearly as much or being prone to rust.
  • Safety— When it comes to structures meant for pedestrian traffic or workers’ foot traffic, FRP is beyond superior for safety. Our non-slip surface available on any FRP structure is safer than metal or wood because it is still non-slip even when wet. Additionally, it’s non-conductive so electrical shock hazard is eliminated when using FRP.

Let DEFI Improve Your Construction Projects

Although these aren’t even all of the advantages of FRP, even these alone make it the superior material for construction projects. Whether it’s commercial construction, municipal projects, or residential construction, FRP from DEFI can benefit you.

Contact us today and let’s build smarter together!

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