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What are Reinforced Plastics?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Reinforcement can be defined as the act of making something stronger by adding material that offers additional support or structure. Reinforced plastics are plastics whose characteristics have been enhanced by adding other materials. For example, reinforced plastics are typically sturdier and less affected by heat than normal plastics. Reinforced plastics are used in various industries to produce different types of products. Two common types are glass reinforced plastics (GRP) and carbon reinforced plastics (CRP.)

Plastics are considered versatile materials. In many cases, however, if something is not added, plastics are too weak for the purposes that people would like to use them. These weak materials by themselves are often called a matrix.

Reinforcing plastics generally makes them stronger and more elastic. The degree of strength and elasticity can be affected by factors such as the type of reinforcing material, the concentration of that material, and the positioning of the material. When something is added to a matrix, the resulting product is often called a composite.

Making GRP involves combining a thermoplastic, such as polyester, with fibers of glass. There are several methods of accomplishing this but a popular one involves making a mat from the glass fibers. This can be done by arranging the glass fibers in desired directions, making multiple layers, and binding them with the thermoplastic. The products made with GRP are often produced using molds.

It is believed that the idea was developed in the United Kingdom during World War II, but generally, no specific date or inventor is recognized. There are currently many manufacturers of these reinforced plastics. GRP are often used to make parts for yachts, high performance cars, and airplanes.

A polymer is a structure made up of numerous molecules linked together. Making CRP involves combining a polymer, such as epoxy, with carbon fibers. A carbon fiber is generally produced by heating another type of polymer, such as polyacrylonitrile. When this process is executed properly, the results are carbon threads, also known as carbon fibers.

CRP is often made through a process similar to that used to make GRP. The carbon fibers are made into a cloth by one of several processes. Layers of that cloth are then laid into a mold. Afterward, the epoxy is used to fill the mold, and once it dries, the carbon cloths act as reinforcement without adding much weight. CRP is used to produce items such as bicycle parts, spacecraft parts, and pool sticks.

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Discussion Comments

By ceilingcat — On Jul 12, 2011

@strawCake - Saturn's were indeed made out of plastic when they first came out. I don't think they were as sturdy as they could have been though. A friend of mine used to have one and he got into a small accident that really messed the car up!

And actually, Chevy Corvette's feature a fiber glass reinforced plastic body too! I would never have guessed that one but I read about it in an article a little while ago.

By strawCake — On Jul 11, 2011

I remember hearing awhile ago that cars made by Saturn have a plastic body. I always thought that sounded a little odd but I guess it was probably reinforced plastic that was used to make those cars. It makes much more sense now that I've read this article!

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