It’s no secret that the composites industry faces struggles for acceptance. But it’s another thing entirely to face resistance in the middle of a project. That’s what happened to San Diego-based Infrastructure Composites International (ICI). The company manufactured four longitudinal FRP sandwich panels for a 38-by-34 foot single span bridge to be built in Illinois. The panels are bonded together in the field and placed on standard concrete abutments. It is also part of the FHWA’s Innovative Bridge Research and Construction (IBRC) program, and is designed for AASHTO HS-20 loading.
It seemed like the perfect business situation. However, according to ICI President Geza Nagy, the project had been underway for about a year when it suddenly came to a crossroads. “The DOT doesn’t know how to monitor the performance and progress of composites,” he says. “They want to do a test program, which is great because it would generate even more data and information for the industry, but unfortunately there’s no funding for data and equipment. So the state will need to find the additional funding to perform these tests. Hopefully, that will happen. If not, we’ll have to get some quotes for some equipment to perform the tests ourselves.”
Nagy isn’t exactly sure what caused this sudden delay, but it could relate to simple lack of education. He cites that conventional structures have test coupons for steel, crush samples for concrete, something composites don’t have. “I think it’s a matter of disseminating information to state agencies to detail what goes into production of composites. You have to indicate any possible production difficulties ahead of time” he says.
To prevent these types of confusions, ICI is emphasizing the benefits of composite structures in terms of cost and delivery schedule. “We’re in the process of trying to get investment capital to ramp up operations to build structures. Given a large investment, we could automate our process and build bridges in one month instead of eight,” says Nagy. “240,000 bridges are deficient and the existing substructure could simply be replaced with composite decking. Then, bridges built in the ’50s could now support twice the load with a fraction of the weight.”
As composite technologies prove themselves, Nagy foresees a modular system will exist to provide larger structures built with the same configurations. “We could build a bridge that is 80-feet instead of 34-feet wide. Fifteen to 20-foot expansions could also be made by using composite panels in added pedestrian walkways to bridges,” he says. Nagy also sees a modular system using prefabricated pieces used for domes and curved structures. “Decking systems that use existing girders could have old concrete taken off and replaced with these composites,” he says.