As the seventh largest city in the world, São Paulo needed to upgrade its public transportation with the addition of a new monorail. The lightweight, high-tech system of 300 railcars incorporates Parabeam® 3D glass fiber fabrics.

This innovative fabric technology from Parabeam B.V. hit the composite material market in the late 1980s when a team of engineers devised a unique way to transform the technology behind velvet weaving into industrial goods – specifically fiberglass. Rather than use traditional mohair materials, the Dutch-based company used E-glass yarn to create 3D woven fabrics for high-end composite processing industries.

“The industry immediately accepted this fabric as an ideal solution to create thicker composite sandwich structures, which are significantly less in weight than conventional materials,” says Jaap Jan Kleef, business development manager of Parabeam B.V., owned by the Canadian ZCL Composites Inc.

Parabeam’s 3D wovens are a great fit for the São Paulo monorail. Twenty-four kilometers of elevated commuter rail lines will transport the city’s 20 million residents. The Eastern Express Monorail Consortium, led by Bombardier, oversees the $1.44 billion project. A leader in the rail manufacturing industry, Bombardier frequently uses Parabeam® for projects worldwide.

In 2011, a sub-contractor to Bombardier approached Parabeam about using the fiberglass fabrics for the São Paulo monorail. According to Kleef, after the prototype, design and negotiation phase, production began in the Middle East in June 2012 and will continue in Brazil this January. It is expected to open in 2014.

Using 3D glass fabric for the monorail’s interior decreases weight, thereby reducing energy expenditures, according to Kleef. Fiberglass also provides stability, fire-resistance and lower kerosene consumption. The 3D wovens will be used in various parts of the monorail, including door frames, side panels and ceiling panels

Modern trains focus on aerodynamics to reduce air drag and, as a result, energy consumption. It can be difficult to make aerodynamic railcars due to their complex shapes. “Parabeam® glass fabrics are an ideal solution because they are flexible during the processing and can take on all kinds of shapes,” says Kleef.

The company’s 3D glass fabric sandwich structures are manufactured in one step: They are fabricated by attaching two thin, stiff skins (resin reinforcement layers) to a lightweight, thick fiberglass core. The core material has a low strength, but its increased thickness provides the sandwich composite with high bending stiffness and a lower mass overall. The fabrics can be used with any thermoset resin such as polyester, vinylester and epoxy. Most rapid transit systems use phenolic resins for their fiber reinforcement characteristics.