A Toronto-based pultrusion firm has introduced a new polyurethane-based fiberglass window profile - a technology that will revolutionize the window and door industry, company officials said.
Common fiberglass windows today contain about 60 percent glass fibers and about 40 percent polyester resin.
Using Pittsburgh-based Bayer MaterialScience LLC's new PU resin, Baydur PUL 2500, engineers at Inline Fiberglass Ltd. have been able to increase the glass-fiber content to about 80 percent. The end result is a lighter, stronger, less-expensive window that requires no styrene to make, does not conduct hot or cold, and pultrudes faster than polyester, according to the company.
Inline founder and chief engineer Stanley Rokicki said window makers quietly have been working on a PU-based fiberglass formula for the past decade.
``This is the biggest breakthrough,'' he said. ``We have the first windows being made with polyurethane. It's stronger than aluminum. It's the material of the future.''
The market will determine whether Rokicki's right, but in the meantime, at least one industry watcher is intrigued by the potential of the fiberglass-window category.
Of all the emerging materials in the windows market, it is fiberglass that seems to be making the biggest strides, said Nick Limb, managing partner with Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Ducker Research Co. Inc.
``Fiberglass is a very strong material,'' Limb said. ``That's probably the biggest differentiator. But it's an expensive material, a premium product. They're going to have to change the cost structure as the material develops.''
Limb said he sees major players in the window market making significant investments in fiberglass, even more so than in wood-plastic composite or cellular PVC, which he sees as a clue to which materials ultimately will have the most success.
Inline officials are in the midst of converting all of their pultrusion lines to the new urethane blend, eventually eliminating polyester from their product line.
And, as Limb predicted would be necessary, the cost structure is changing.
Because PU is easier to process than polyester, Inline did not have to invest heavily in new tooling.
``People can get the advantages very quickly,'' said John Hayes, senior principal scientist for Bayer MaterialScience, in an Aug. 2 telephone interview. ``There are not a lot of modifications [Inline] has to make to use this material. They're using basically all their existing dies.''
The combination of economic and environmental efficiencies have Inline and Bayer officials excited about the future.
In window applications, the advantages are obvious, the officials said. The products can be made faster and cheaper, they use less material, and are made from an environmentally friendly process. There are zero volatile organic compound emissions during manufacturing, they say.
The end result is a less-expensive product that performs better than competing materials and its fiberglass predecessors, they said.
And the future is more than just well-performing windows, the officials said.
``Because it is so much stronger, we can begin to think about new areas that polyester resins could not go,'' Hayes said. ``I think that's the exciting part. We're not just replacing polyester, but sort of going where no resin has gone before.''