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INNOFIBER fiber glass pushes the boundaries of performance

Giant wind turbine blades, circuit boards and industrial pipelines might seem to have little in common, but a new family of PPG glass composition fibers can benefit all of them – and much more.

Driven by customer demand for fiber glass products that provide enhanced strength, durability and efficiency, PPG’s fiber glass business developed INNOFIBER® fiber glass to push the boundaries of fiber glass performance.

“Reinforcements for fiber glass composites represent a 12-billion pound global industry that is growing faster than the GDP (gross domestic product),” according to Cheryl Richards, PPG’s global market development manager for energy and infrastructure markets.

“But to keep that growth going, our customers are facing a variety of challenges as they compete with specialty metals, drive for larger parts, and design structures to last a lifetime.”

Kevin Hill, engineering specialist at Harmar, Pa., uses a high-temperature furnace to test processing temperatures for Innofiber fiber glass.

Beyond E-glass

As leaders in PPG’s fiber glass business assessed these challenges, they decided to make a bold move. They needed to develop glass fibers that would resolve customers’ technical issues that couldn’t be addressed by traditional E-glass, the predominant glass used by the industry.

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but outstanding teamwork made it a reality,” said Tom Kerr, vice president, fiber glass. “It required every aspect of our business unit, from research and engineering through manufacturing and marketing to achieve the goal.”

Like many PPG innovations, the effort began in the lab. A team led by Hong Li, senior scientist at PPG’s Glass Business and Discovery Center in Harmar, Pa., set out to develop new PPG chemical compositions for glass fibers with the properties that customers required.

Working closely with PPG’s Shelby, N.C., fiber glass research and development facility, Li and his team searched for three innovative fibers – one in each of the traditional E-glass markets that generally emphasize either stiffness and strength, corrosion resistance, or lower dielectric constant.

“Our research capabilities and collaborative teamwork are excellent,” said Paul Westbrook, director of science and technology, fiber glass. “As we zeroed in on target formulations, we understood the need to ensure these new glass compositions are produced cost effectively and batch changes executed efficiently.”

The Shelby and Harmar researchers collaborated with engineering and manufacturing personnel at PPG’s fiber glass plants at Shelby and Lexington, N.C. John Connors, staff engineer, enterprise excellence, created the melting technology required for the new product line, and also the strategy for transitioning a furnace to accommodate the new technology.

Innovative solution
The team created a solution that allows the new types of fiber glass to be fired in a single furnace – “a process innovation that was essential to the success of the initiative,” according to Kerr.

Meanwhile, the marketing team worked closely with a major wind turbine blade producer whose commitment to the new fiber with improved mechanical performance warranted the investment in the technology, Richards said.

Tests of the fiber, being marketed as Innofiber XM fiber glass, demonstrated a potential for wind turbine operators to increase energy output by up to 8 percent by building longer or lighter-weight blades.

Similarly, the formulation that increases corrosion resistance, designated Innofiber CR fiber glass, specifically addresses a need by coal-fired power plants for material that can withstand the highly corrosive gases processed by pollution control systems. The fiber is also highly attractive for use in pipes and tanks at chemical and mining manufacturing plants.

Innofiber is a registered trademark of PPG Industries Ohio, Inc.