A: Pound for pound, structural FRP is as strong as its steel counterpart. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to change an 8-inch steel beam with an exact 8-inch fiberglass beam. With a fiberglass structural beam, you may have to go a little bit thicker or deeper in the structural members.
If you recognize this question you’re not imagining things. In fact, this question as well as many different variations of it have been asked multitudes of times. We’ve even covered it several times in our blogs, so we apologize if it seems repetitive. However, there is a reason behind why it’s the most often asked question though:
People simply can’t believe that something with the word plastic in it can be as strong as steel.
You see, steel has enjoyed the benefit of a near century-long head start before the invention of FRP. That’s a huge amount of time to build up industry and secure a foothold in the American industrial revolution. However, steel is also no obsolete material either—It’s extreme tensile strength has made it the king of structural materials since the 1920s.
Steel still has its place in construction and structural design but also has some shortcomings. FRP, on the other hand, offers the same qualities as steel but without some of its weaknesses. Due to FRP’s capabilities, many industrial warehouses, oil rigs, waterparks, and other harsh conditions workplaces are choosing FRP over steel. It all boils down to getting the same performance without the weaknesses of steel and more durability.
Steel’s Key Weaknesses Compared to FRP
Honestly, there are many detailed weaknesses that steel has in certain workplace environments. Rather than highlight every scenario let’s just take a look at the most common issues.
Corrosives Wreak Havoc On Steel
Steel is great for structures such as skyscrapers and general construction but it doesn’t perform well in all environments. Take for example chemical plants and oil rigs—two environments whose biggest safety hazard is corrosives. Any plant manager from these two industries will tell you that while steel is strong, it simply can’t withstand corrosives without consequence.
Consider oil rigs, the saltwater, and petroleum products are both highly corrosive to steel and that leads to rust. Naturally, rust is not good for steel as it eats away the very layers of carbon and causes the steel to become weak. Weak steel is a liability and can cause serious accidents in the workplace. Corrosives such as sulfuric acid and chlorides are brutal to even stainless steel.
While some special coatings can be added to steel that only slows the corrosion—it does not prevent it.
FRP on the other hand does not react with any corrosives and is unphased by harsh chemicals or salt water. FRP is so resilient in these types of environments that it has become the preferred material for structures in such workplaces. Not to mention, FRP will last much longer since it doesn’t corrode, it also doesn’t weaken over time. Corroded steel suffers over time with reduced load capacity, and fractures which can lead to serious if not fatal accidents.
Steel Is Costlier Than FRP
Steel is quite expensive, even with the steel prices normalizing a bit following the 2018 tariffs on foreign steel. Nevertheless, it is still the most expensive building material overall and always has been. If you have a large chemical plant or waterpark and need floor grating—it gets pricey.
The problem isn’t just the expense of the material but also the expense to ship and install steel structures. Steel is extremely heavy and the installation of structures requires very expensive equipment that can move that much weight. Keep in mind, all of these extra expenses are for a material that could corrode on you and needs repair often.
Now, let’s look at FRP. We don’t hide the fact that FRP can be a larger upfront cost than steel—but that’s not the end of the story. You see while the material cost of FRP is more, the installation cost is a mere fraction of steel. Most FRP structures can be shipped by traditional transport channels and installed with hand tools.
How is this possible? Because while FRP is strong as steel it weighs only 1/4th of what steel does—that means freight savings. That means installation savings—no huge cranes, no reinforced foundations, none of that. When you factor in that the FRP will not corrode, and is virtually maintenance-free—its overall cost is indeed less than steel.
Also, when you look at indirect savings such as lower insurance costs due to better safety, the savings stack even higher. You also mitigate your risk of employees getting injured on the job and litigation from accidents. It really does offer so many savings when you analyze its long-term effects.
Steel Is Heavy & Rigid—But Not Flexible
Steel by its molecular structure is quite rigid and very heavy—that’s part of its appeal though. However, it also presents quite a compelling problem. While rigidity is great for durability under pressure, that rigidity offers no flex. What that means in the workplace is that steel is susceptible to denting from acute impact.
Additionally, the weight often requires many accommodations for installation in your workplace. Often, you end up spending a lot of extra money to reinforce concrete to handle the load. The extra weight of steel can make it a cost-prohibitive choice for grating and platforms.
FRP by comparison is rigid and just as durable, but also offers significant flex making it impervious to acute impact. It will not dent and also because it has some flex, it’s easier on workers’ feet and backs.
Installation of FRP requires no special accommodations, no reinforcements, and it can be installed with regular manpower—no machinery needed. This makes FRP a very smart choice for railing, platforms, and catwalks in factories and warehouse facilities.
Steel Is Very Conductive—FRP Simply Isn’t
Everyone knows metal is a very efficient conductor of electricity, but that is a serious hazard in the workplace. In environments that already pose a shock hazard potential, do you want to increase it with a bunch of metal grating? Places like electrical plants, waterparks, or where there is a lot of electrical work conducted need FRP. Since FRP does not conduct electricity at all—it’s a no-brainer as to the material of choice in these environments.
Reduce Risk, Reduce Overhead, And Increase Value With FRP
FRP products are quickly becoming the preferred material option for everything from park playgrounds to wellhead platforms. At DEFI, when you invest in our FRP grating and other structural shapes, you’re getting a better ROI. Why? Because our products are far more durable, pose no safety risks, and are easier to install. What industry is your business in? Chances are we can save you money and mitigate risks in industries such as:
- Waterparks—Waterpark structures have constant exposure to moisture and higher injury risk due to increased foot traffic. FRP can easily handle anything you throw at it
- Municipal Parks—Structures such as a playground, pedestrian bridges, and pavilions get constant exposure to the elements. FRP has the durability and safety to protect and serve residents with no maintenance. Imagine the impact on your city’s budget.
- Oil Rigs—Wellhead platforms and off-shore rigs endure some of the most grueling abuse. Steel platforms have to be repaired, reinforced or replaced constantly. Those costs add up whereas FRP you build it, and it just works for at least 20-30 years without needing replacement.
We could go on and on with the list of industries FRP can help. The simple fact is—everyone can benefit from our FRP products, including your company. Contact us today and let us show you how FRP can help your business!