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Bellingham rampThe materials used in construction are key to any structure's success and longevity. With so many innovative options on the market, optimal material selection is not always straightforward. Choosing the right materials requires careful analysis of the project parameters, environmental considerations, and budgetary constraints. More and more, combined consideration of these factors leads architects and builders to newer innovative materials, such as composites.

Composite materials have grown in popularity because they offer both the performance of conventional building materials with additional key benefits. For instance, fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites, in particular, offer an optimal strength-to-weight ratio alongside superior durability, corrosion resistance, and affordability.

FRP is composed of a protective polymer reinforced with high-strength fiberglass. Together, these materials create a premium composite with many potential construction applications. FRP outperforms wood and concrete for bridges, pedestrian pathways, and other structures, while holding up to decades of wear and tear.

Creative Composites Group FRP products are available in easy-to-install, maintenance-free panels, making them ideal for simplifying construction projects.

How FRP is Made

FRP is not a single material type, but rather a broader category of performance composites that combine a polymer with fiberglass reinforcement. There are multiple methods for producing fiber-reinforced polymers. The manufacturing technique depends on factors such as desired function, size, aesthetic concerns, and order quantity.

Pultrusion

Pultrusion is a common technique used to create FRP that begins with braided or woven strands of fiber. A series of rollers pulls the fibers into a resin bath to impregnate the fiberglass with the desired polymer, after which the material enters a die. Heating the die cures the resin around the fibers into a length of FRP material with a consistent cross-section, which can then be cut to the desired length. 

Pultrusion allows for continuous manufacturing, and thus lends itself useful for rapid production. Also an energy-efficient process, pultrusion produces minimal material waste, making it both affordable and eco-friendly.

Vacuum Infusion

Vacuum infusion is used to create large, high strength FRP parts with a maximum fiber-to-resin ratio. This process begins with dryfiber reinforcement materials which are laid into a vacuum mold. Once the fibers are under complete vacuum conditions, the liquefied polymer resin is introduced into the mold through precisely positioned tubes. 

Although more time-intensive than pultrusion, vacuum infusion is highly customizable and has low molding tool costs. This works well for large parts and varying shapes. Vacuum infusion is often the most cost-effective option for many projects. Composite Advantage uses vacuum infusion to create most of our FRP panels.

Hand Layup

The hand layup process dates to the beginning of composite material manufacturing, but is still used in certain settings. Applications are largely limited to prototypes, samples, or low-volume production runs. During hand layup FRP production, a skilled technician lays fiber reinforcement into an open mold before manually introducing the resin. Once impregnated with polymer, the material cures naturally under exposure to the open air (as opposed to applying heat or vacuum).

Low cost is the primary benefit of hand layup manufacturing, and the primary reason that it is still used. Open molds are less expensive than other specialty FRP tooling, so composite manufacturers often choose hand layup as the more affordable option for limited-volume runs. Compared to continuous pultrusion, however, hand layup is extremely time-consuming, and thus impractical for orders above a certain volume.

How FRP Compares to Conventional Materials

Extremely versatile by nature, FRP can replace wood, metal, concrete, or plastic in a variety of building applications. Each of these conventional materials has significant drawbacks that FRP manages to overcome.

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For instance, wood is prone to rotting under damp conditions, while FRP is not. Even the most corrosion-resistant steel will eventually rust under prolonged exposure to moisture or other corrosive conditions, while FRP doesn’t corrode. FRP is the smart choice when building in harsh or demanding environments. Its long service life often lends FRP as the ideal choice for standard building projects as well.

Advantages of FRP in Construction

FRP features numerous unique properties to consider during the material selection process.

  • Corrosion resistance. The corrosion-resistant polymers in FRP hold up to salt and chemical exposure. This allows FRP to last for decades in settings ranging from sea-side walkways to rail platforms.
  • Cost-efficiency. Renowned for its affordable installation, FRP also provides incredible value thanks to its unmatched longevity. An FRP structure can go up to 75 years with little or no maintenance, drastically reducing the overall cost of a construction project and generating more long-term economies of scale.
  • Strength-to-weight ratio. At just 10–20% the weight of reinforced concrete decking, FRP panels are lightweight yet strong enough to withstand high foot traffic, motor traffic, and high static loads.
  • Ease of installation.The lightweight nature of FRP also facilitates construction. Combined with Composite Advantage's prefabricated options, FRP's weight makes it one of the easiest and cheapest materials to install on-site.
  • Safety. FRP is an excellent choice for structures that will experience pedestrian traffic. The non-slip surface is safer than metal or concrete, which can become slick when wet.
  • Design flexibility. FRP can be engineered to meet almost any construction parameters, including custom dimensions and specific load-bearing capabilities.

Together, these advantages make FRP the smartest choice for projects ranging from bridge paneling to industrial flooring.

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Creative Composites Group FRP Products for Construction

Due to its range of beneficial properties, contractors use FRP in a variety of settings. Creative Composites Group's FiberSPAN product line of FRP panels commonly find use within:

  • Access and safety structures. FRP's non-slip, durable surface makes it an ideal material for building safer access platforms, catwalks, stairs, and railings.
  • Pedestrian bridge decking. FRP's non-slip texture also makes it well-suited for pedestrian bridge paneling. FiberSPAN is lightweight yet sturdy, with a slight give that makes it a more comfortable walking surface than concrete.
  • Vehicular bridge decking. Even at a fraction of the weight of concrete, sturdy FiberSPAN-V panels will withstand heavy dynamic loads from motor traffic.
  • Rail platforms. FiberSPAN-R rail platforms are highly corrosion-resistant and better withstand frequent exposure to adverse weather and corrosive deicing chemicals than comparable construction materials.
  • Tanks and piping. Low weight and high corrosion resistance make FRP composites an ideal material for many industrial applications, including processing tanks and pipes.
  • Balconies. Pre-fabricated FiberSPAN balconies are affordable and easy to install, yet they promise decades of slip-free performance under even heavy foot traffic.
  • Architectural details.FRP is easily color matched to existing facades, making it a great candidate for exterior building design features. FRP may be especially useful on exposed detailing, doubling as a protective, weather-resistant element.

These examples represent only a fraction of relevant use cases for FRP and FiberSPAN. For applications not listed, Creative Composites Group will work with you to identify a material that matches your specifications and budget.

Contact Creative Composites Group for Premium Construction Materials

Architects and builders need innovative materials that can reduce installation time and cost without sacrificing performance. Creative Composites Group's FiberSPAN line leverages the light weight and durability of FRP materials to yield panels that perform for 75 years or more. To see how fiber-reinforced panels can improve your design or structure, contact us or request a quote today.