One of the industries that makes heavy use of fiberglass parts is in the RV and specialty vehicle market. Mostly centered around Elkhart, Indiana, the manufacturers use Fiberglass in many form and function areas of their vehicles and trailers. These RVs, trailers, and specialty vehicles range from small, single axle campers to trailers pulled by semis, and from vans to tandem axle buses. Specialty vehicles include ambulances, firetrucks, handicapped vans, and commuter vans.
The advantages of fiberglass composites mesh very well with their use in various applications in this industry. The strength-to-weight ratio is very important, along with the good adhesion of automotive paint. The low tooling cost of fiberglass relative to sheetmetal is a huge advantage, allowing for inexpensive low-volume production. The long service life and resistance to corrosion is another advantage over competing materials.
There are a few disadvantages for composites. Cracking can develop over time with improperly supported structures. Depending on processing, the smoothness of the surface (surface profile) can be subpar to that of sheetmetal, and is subject to worsen over the first year of its life. Paint adhesion can be a problem for all materials, and fiberglass composites have their own unique issues.
With proper processing, all of the disadvantages can be overcome. A properly designed and supported structure with good workmanship will never crack and will last forever. Surface profiling can be eliminated with a good print blocking material, good skin coat, and good resin. Paint adhesion can be optimized with the correct gelcoat and paint preparation methods and materials.
Fiberglass composites are well utilized in the RV and specialty vehicle market and will remain there forever. They are the best solution for the many challenges faced by the folks that build these great RVs.