How Can Your Structures Benefit from Fiberglass Structural Shapes?

Thanks to its astounding number of advantages in an assorted array of applications, fiberglass-reinforced plastic, or FRP, has evolved into one of the most trusted materials for general construction. It’s also quickly breaking into countless other markets that previously relied upon traditional building materials such as steel, aluminum and wood. And it’s becoming the material of choice for customers looking to overcome the issues that those typical materials pose. 

FRP’s growing popularity is no surprise since it is one of the most versatile and functional building materials available today. With an unbeatable strength-to-weight ratio, fiberglass structural shapes are lightweight yet durable and long lasting, offering substantial weight reduction for enhanced structural performance. FRP’s brute strength helps it withstand significant loads without cracking, bending or breaking. It is highly resilient and won’t corrode, rot, attract insects or conduct electricity. And years down the road when those other materials begin to fail and need to be replaced, FRP will still be standing strong.

How Is FRP Made?

Bedford makes FRP shapes and profiles using a pultrusion process that pulls raw materials through a series of steps, creating an end result that’s as strong as steel minus the weight, rust and corrosion. 

What Is Pultrusion?

The word pultrusion comes from the words “pull” and “extrusion.” Pultrusion is a manufacturing process for transforming reinforced fibers and liquid resin into continuous lengths of fiber-reinforced plastic with a consistent cross section, also known as fiberglass-reinforced polymer.  

In essence, the pultrusion process allows the continuous production of FRP structural shapes in an automated process by pulling fiberglass rovings through a resin bath that permeates the reinforcements. The resin hardens from the heated steel pultrusion die, resulting in a lightweight yet very strong end product that follows the shape of the die.

While pultrusion machines vary in design, the process is basically the same — but it continues to grow, develop and improve over the years. 

Breaking it Down: 5 Steps of the Pultrusion Process

The pultrusion process is accomplished through a series of steps geared toward creating a high-quality FRP product. Bedford aims to provide durable products by following a detailed and rigorous process that guarantees a valuable and dependable final result. 

  1. Continuous fiberglass reinforcement: Rolls of unidirectional roving provide longitudinal tensile strength, or the strength along the length of the profile. Rolls of continuous filament mat, woven roving or stitch fabric provide the profile with its transverse properties, or its strength across the width of the profile. This is what will be the starting base of the pultrusion. The material is fed into the pultrusion line to begin the process. 
  1. Preforming guides: To start the process, all material spools and reinforcements are first fed through preforming guides, or tension rollers, that will begin to shape the raw glass fibers into the finished profile. 
  1. Impregnation and resin bath: The glass is then pulled into a resin bath, often referred to as “wet-out,” that soaks and permeates the unfinished product. This impregnation stage and resin bath may contain different types of resin such as vinylester and polyester resin, pigments to add color and enhance the product’s appearance and catalysts to aid in curing or to turn it from a liquid to a solid. Surfacing veil is added to give the profile a resin-rich surface and enhance the appearance of the final product. This step is important in protecting the final product from UV rays, corrosion and other impact issues. 
  1. Exposure to heat: Now it’s time to turn up the heat. The wet-out reinforcements now enter the heated pultrusion die. This hot dye is pivotal to the pultrusion process because the heat begins the thermosetting reaction process that cures the finished profile and creates the hard shape of the material.
  1. Caterpillar pull mechanism and cutting saw: The cured profile is now advanced by a caterpillar-style pull mechanism to a cutting saw where it will be cut to its final appropriate lengths. This completes the pultrusion process and a finished fiberglass-reinforced polymer is the final result. The finished product is then put into inventory at one of Bedford’s warehouses, sent to a state-of-the-art fabrication center for secondary processing or crated for shipment to the customer. 

Bedford’s PROForms® Solutions

Bedford meets a myriad of challenges faced by many industries with an extensive range of PROForms solutions. PROForms fiberglass structural shapes are a strong, lightweight, long-lasting option for companies needing to replace wood, aluminum or steel structural shapes. Bedford stocks one of the industry’s most comprehensive lines of FRP profiles. Fiberglass angle, square tubes, round tubes, channel, beams, rod, baffle panels and other fiberglass structural shapes are in stock. 

Why Choose PROForms?

Bedford’s PROForms fiberglass-reinforced plastic structural shapes are just as strong as typical building materials but last longer and are backed by a 25-year warranty — and offer a wide variety of benefits built around you:

  • Corrosion resistant: Won’t rot, rust or corrode.
  • Strong yet lightweight: Helps save on transportation.
  • Virtually maintenance-free: Durable and weather-resistant for a longer life cycle.
  • Fire-retardant and nonconductive/low thermal conductivity: Helps create a safer environment. (All fire-retardant FRP products have a tested flame spread rating of 25 or less per ASTM E-84 Tunnel Test.)
  • Dimensionally stable: Won’t shrink, swell, warp or bow.
  • Highly consistent: Strength, appearance and quality are the same from piece to piece.
  • Easy to fabricate and install: Can be cut, drilled and assembled with standard tools. 
  • Multiple color options: To suit your unique needs.  

In addition, according to Bedford's PROForms specs, all fiberglass structural shapes are to be manufactured by the pultrusion process with a glass content minimum of 45%, maximum of 55% by weight. The structural shapes will be composed of fiberglass reinforcement and resin in qualities, quantities, properties, arrangements and dimensions as necessary to meet the design requirements and dimensions as specified by customers. 

Ideal Configurations Are Ready 

Bedford makes it simple to get exactly what is needed quickly and affordably. That’s why PROForms structural shapes are used in Bedford’s ReadySeries FRP modular solutions, including ReadyPlatform, ReadyRail, ReadyLadder, ReadyStair and ReadySpan bridges. These structural products are perfect for those who are looking for pre-engineered solutions in a range of components and sizes that can meet any need fast. Plus, they can be installed easily with common tools. 

Eager to Get Started? If you’re looking into fiberglass structural shapes or are ready to try PROForms or ReadySeries for your next project, reach out to our experienced team with questions, request a quote or call 814-623-8125 to discuss the details of your project.