Looking for new business opportunities? Many CAMX educational sessions presented prime areas for composite penetration. Three areas that garnered attention were infrastructure, advanced composites and architecture.
Scott Reeve, president of Composite Advantage, discussed “FRP Composites in Infrastructure.” There are currently 190 vehicle bridge installations using FRP, with more than half of them being deck superstructures or deck panel systems. Considering there are nearly 600,000 bridges in the U.S., that’s a drop in the bucket. But there are opportunities for composites fabricators.
One area to pursue is lightweight decking for bridges with dead load restrictions. “Composites offer corrosion resistance and low maintenance,” said Reeve. “But our ‘now benefit’ to customers is our light weight.” Key applications include movable bridges, historic steel truss bridges and steel grate replacement.
Another area to consider is pedestrian bridges and decks. “There’s a lot of activity here,” says Reeve. “Everyone accepts the structural capability of FRP in these applications, and on the pedestrian side we have customers buying for the life cycle benefits and low maintenance.” Pedestrian bridge applications include FRP desks on steel truss bridges, “rail-to-trail” bridges (old railroad bridges converted to bike paths) and full-product applications, where bridge decks are integrated with functional features such as curbs, railing attachments and drainage scuppers.
In September, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) introduced the Tailorable Feedstock and Forming (TFF) program, which aims to revolutionize the Department of Defense’s (DoD) composites manufacturing processes. Mick Maher, program manager in the
Defense Sciences Office at DARPA, explained the project to CAMX attendees during the session “Aerospace Performance at Automotive Efficiency.”
Maher, who spent three decades in the composites industry before joining DARPA, said the agency’s manufacturing system is overly complex and reliant on metal for small parts. “We do well with big [composite] skins, and that has a lot to do with the automation that we put into those systems,” he said. “However, as you go down [in part size] all of sudden automation isn’t as efficient anymore. There’s an inflection point at around 20 pounds where we start making things in metal.”
However, these metal parts result in heavier platforms that require things like anti-corrosion systems. “It really knocks down the performance of our platform,” Maher said. So he began to envision a way to make carbon fiber cost competitive with metal. “It is the ultimate material, we just have to figure out how to take advantage of it,” he said. He proposed that the DoD develop a universal composite material that can be used across platforms in a common process – and TFF was born.