Switching from aluminium to GRP

Glass-fibre reinforced plastic – the quickly available, future-proof and individually usable material alternative to aluminium.

Reading time: ca. 09:00 min.

Preventing aluminium bottlenecks by switching to GRP

The silver-white industrial metal aluminium and its alloys have become increasingly important in recent decades. Together with plastic and steel, aluminium has become one of the most commonly used materials in some industrial sectors. However, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, the aluminium price on the commodity exchange reached a new record high. This was due to the poor availability and supply bottlenecks of important raw materials such as magnesium, which is essential for the production of aluminium alloys. Most aluminium sheets contain around 3% magnesium. 95% of the magnesium required comes from China. Even though the current situation has improved again due to the improved availability of magnesium – the political tensions and export bans to Russia, one of the largest aluminium producers, still allow prices to rise further. 

These developments are hitting the automotive industry particularly hard, but the aircraft, construction and packaging industries as well as mechanical engineering are also feeling the effect. But the difficult situation surrounding aluminium is anything but hopeless – as already mentioned, the raw materials market also offers alternative materials. Glass-fibre reinforced plastic, for example, or GRP for short, is not yet as well-known as aluminium, but upon closer inspection, has effective advantages over other materials. We would like to present these to you in the following article and explain how the problem-free switch from aluminium to GRP. 

aluminium rollers in a warehouse | insights by LAMILUX
Different GRP sheets from LAMILUX | insights by LAMILUX

The 3 most important facts for an immediate switch from aluminium to GRP

Switching from one day to the next to a new material for processes that have used the same material for years  – this sounds like an elaborate process. However, this is not the case, due to the following three factors:

1. Fast and reliable availability of GRP

First things first: In these currently difficult times, amidst constantly fluctuating developments in global events, even the GRP industry is not spared from irregular price rises. However, these price rises are not nearly comparable to those of aluminium. One of the three most important facts in favour of an immediate switch from aluminium to GRP is reliably ensured – availability.

GRP rollers in a warehouse | insights by LAMILUX

Unlike aluminium, glass-fibre reinforced plastic is available quickly and securely for standard products. In addition, primary materials such as resins or woven roving are readily available and therefore no production or delivery difficulties are to be expected. Ideally, you can rely on GRP manufacturers with several independent production systems, such as LAMILUX Composites. The specialist for fibre composite materials has several independent, fully automated production facilities in Germany and manages a production capacity of over 20 million square metres annually with these high-tech systems. In addition, redundant sources of supply of the primary materials secure the supply chains of the global innovation and quality leader. This ensures fast availability of standard GRP products and prevents delays in your production.

2. Easy conversion from aluminium to GRP

Glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GRP) is a composite material made of a plastic matrix and glass fibres. This material is fundamentally different from aluminium and also from raw materials such as wood. Companies that were previously specialised in the processing of metals and wood may fear that their existing machines are not suitable for processing this material when switching to GRP. We can allay these fears for you. 

Existing machines can remain

Due to the nature of the GRP composite material, it is also possible to process it with the existing machines without them breaking or having to purchase new equipment. These include the glue and pressing machines. With these devices, it is possible that minor adjustments may be made to the pretreatment, glue, pressing times or temperature control. GRP also offers a number of advantageous properties compared to aluminium when processing – for example, low weight with high mechanical strength. This stability means that you don't have to worry about the material bending or denting when processing GRP. Hardly any sharp edges are created when cutting GRP sheets, which reduces the risk of cutting injuries to production employees. 

Larger formats can be processed faster and more easily

Glass-fibre reinforced plastic is a very versatile material that can be used in a wide range of applications. The fibre composite materials can be manufactured in different production processes. LAMILUX Composites produces the glass-fibre reinforced plastic on state-of-the-art flat sheet systems in a continuous laminating process. This manufacturing process results in larger formats that can be processed faster and more easily. In the following article, we will investigate the composite GRP and manufacturing in more detail. 

On-site support from our LAMILUX Composites employees | insights by LAMILUX

Guaranteed on-site support 

As a specialist in glass-fibre reinforced plastics, LAMILUX Composites also guarantees on-site support from trained application technology engineers, who will accompany you throughout the entire conversion process and beyond and are available to answer any questions you may have.

3. GRP for individual applications

In summary: Unlike aluminium, GRP is available quickly and securely  for standard products and conversion is possible without any problems and even offers a great many advantages. In the following article, we will take a closer look at the characteristics of GRP material and show why the material is an alternative to aluminium.

Lightweight construction potential for markets of the future

Glass-fibre reinforced plastics are lightweight materials. These are particularly important in the commercial vehicle, bus and caravan industries, but also in last-mile logistics. Particularly in these industries, improvements to important key criteria such as pay load and power-to-weight ratio, consumption, emissions or wear can be achieved through lightweight construction.

Specifically, this means: Most of the vehicles mentioned above have a permissible total weight. If lightweight construction materials such as GRP are incorporated into the vehicles, the vehicle becomes lighter, greater payloads are possible and compliance with the respective driving licence class, especially in the commercial vehicle and caravan sector, can be guaranteed. But that’s not all. The extremely light GRP sheets, which are often installed in side walls or roofs, also reduce fuel consumption. This means that greater distances can be covered with lower CO2 emissions, which can actively contribute to climate protection, as GRP has a significantly better environmental balance compared to many other materials. The bus in particular is one of the most climate-friendly means of transport. We have summarised all the important information about buses as commercial vehicles for you in this article.

Commercial vehicle on the road | insights by LAMILUX

Highest damage tolerance for strong influences

Buses, caravans and commercial vehicles are frequently exposed to external influences, especially in the vehicle industry. Aluminium is UV-resistant and has a shiny surface that is not faded by sunlight as quickly and does not yellow as a result of weather conditions, which can occur with GRP. However, if the GRP surface is sealed with a gelcoat, it is also extremely UV and weatherproof, which ensures a representative appearance over many years and a high resale value of the vehicle. The world first LAMILUX SUNSATION®, which was first introduced in August 2022, also guarantees 20 times greater UV stability compared to standard gelcoat systems.

GRP’s material surface is also more resistant to hail or stone damage. The outer shell of the vehicles is also armed with impact resistance and high resistance to frontal impact loads of glass-fibre reinforced plastics. Unlike metal sheets, in this case it is impossible for the paint to flake off or flake off, as GRP and the gelcoat layer can be produced in full colour. Corrosion and mould are also not an issue due to the 100% moisture resistance.

Caravan on the road | insights by LAMILUX

Design variety for visual highlights

If you take a closer look, aluminium can have an impressive high-gloss surface, which can be painted differently depending on your requirements. However, even when using GRP, there is no need to sacrifice high-gloss surface quality under any circumstances. Our premium quality LAMILUX HG 4000 combines the advantages of glass-fibre reinforced composites with the look of painted aluminium. Thanks to the aforementioned gelcoat sealing, this surface is extremely weatherproof. Both the GRP sheet and gelcoat layer can be produced in all colours, and can also be completely through-coloured on request. In this case, additional painting, as with aluminium, is not required. 

If you want to make use of the properties of GRP and still retain an appearance with design options, we recommend the product 2-in-1 LAMILUX LAMIGraph. A woodgrain foil is bonded directly to the GRP substrate during the manufacturing process. This means that several functions are combined in one product – the mechanical qualities of GRP with a decorative surface selected by the customer. We have summarised more about functional integration in the GRP sector and how you can benefit from it in this article

Due to the extreme width of the GRP panels, unsightly joints are also avoided, which is not the case with aluminium panels that are not produced in this size. Easy cleaning and repair of the plastic round off the visual highlights of glass-fibre reinforced plastics. We have summarised a thorough comparison of the respective advantages and disadvantages of aluminium and GRP for you in the following article. 

Advantages of switching from aluminium to GRP

Glass-fibre reinforced plastic is not only custom-made, it can be used in a wide range of applications, it is also quickly and always available. This is different for aluminium, which is heavily dependent on China and Russia and is therefore exposed to major price and availability fluctuations. Switching from aluminium to GRP is therefore not only advisable because there is little change in the production facilities, as existing machines can be retained. Additional advantages are that GRP is a climate-friendly lightweight construction material that is highly tolerant to damage from external influences and also offers a wide range of design options for visual highlights. Of course, you will not be left to your own devices when switching from aluminium to GRP. LAMILUX Composites, as a specialist in glass-fibre reinforced plastics, provides ideal on-site support from the start to the end of the conversion and beyond. Specially trained application technology engineers are always available to answer any questions you may have.

GRP as a material alternative to aluminium
This white paper shows you the most important facts about a switch from aluminium to GRP and also will show you the advantages of that switch.

  • Material comparison
  • Current market situation
  • Simplicity of conversion