John D. Tickle
Chairman, Strongwell Corporation

ACMA and Strongwell Corporation are excited to commemorate Strongwell chairman John Tickle’s 50th year in the composites industry. After graduating from the University of Tennessee in March 1965, John Tickle accepted his first job as an engineer with Owens Corning. In 1972, he accepted the position of President of Morrison Molded Fiber Glass Company (now Strongwell) in Bristol, Va., beginning his career in pultrusion. Under his leadership, Strongwell grew to become the leader in pultrusion that it is today.

Over these past 50 years, Tickle has seen an incredible amount of progress in the composites industry. He detailed some of these developments in a conversation with Composites Manufacturing Interviews, and shared a couple of thoughts on the next 50 years of composites innovation.

Your goal has always been to make composites an important segment of the construction materials industry. How have you seen composites grow in that market over the past 50 years?

We started thinking about how to grow composites in the construction industry many years ago, but it’s been a slow, evolving process.  We had to develop an engineering design guide so engineers would know how to design structures using our pultruded composite products. Over the last several years we’ve gotten involved with ACMA and the American Society of Civil Engineers to develop the Standard for Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) of Pultruded Structures. That standard is the first of its kind in composites and is going to lead to more standards focused on other composite processes. That will allow engineers to design composite structures with confidence. Traditional structural materials like steel and concrete have had these kinds of standards for a very long time and, up until recently, we did not. You have to have standards for composites to grow in construction.

Growth has come as structural products were tried and proved to be a great solution in specific applications. Examples include sheet piling replacing wood, metal, or concrete; cooling tower structures replacing wood; grating for offshore oil platforms replacing metal; and third rail covers for light transit rails replacing metal. Structural fiberglass is now specified for many applications in water/wastewater and chemical processing applications – products like grating, walkways, handrails and ladders.

How do you see this market continuing to grow? What more can we still do?

Moving forward, awareness is key. Potential users must be aware of structural composites problem solving capabilities, and engineers must be aware of composites and know how to design composite structures.  In the past, we’d have engineers coming out of engineering school who did not have an understanding of composites. But now, many of the major universities throughout the U.S. and the world are making their graduates familiar with composites and the advantages the characteristics of composites offer in many structural applications. So I think we are finally poised to see some significant growth. We have less than 1 percent of the total construction market now, so if we can get to 2 percent, that’s a significant increase. Obviously I think we’ll get more than that, but we don’t have to get a big slice of pie to have an impact in our industry.