Reeve says one strategy that makes Composite Advantage successful is selling complete solutions – GRFP bridge decks with curbs, railings, drainage troughs and other elements in place. “When I work with designers and contractors, what sells best is a product that comes to the construction site ready to drop in and bolt down,” he says.
In November, Composite Advantage installed a vehicle bridge deck in Ottawa, Canada. The prefabricated FiberSPAN™ sandwich deck replaced a deteriorating concrete deck on a historic steel truss bridge. The company supplied 14 panels, measuring 18.6 x 9.67 feet, that were molded with accompanying crowns and drainage scuppers. It also pre-applied the wear surface. The installation took place during three very cold days, with tight access on the old steel truss bridge. “FRP costs more, but when owners, designers and contractors understand what we can save them in construction costs and installation time, then more of them are willing to consider our products,” says Reeve.
Sometimes, however, even customers’ hands are tied by governmental regulations. For example, Title 23 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) contains rules issued by federal agencies regarding highways. Subsection 635.411 of the CFR states that federal money can’t be used to purchase proprietary items for implementation in a national highway infrastructure. “The very existence of that provision for decades now has created this culture of aversion to patented technology in our nation’s infrastructure,” says Hillman. “And it’s that kind of stigma that creates an enormous disincentive for people to either create innovative technologies, invest in those technologies or specify or deploy them.”
The provision hits home with HCB Inc. because of its patented beam technology. Luckily, there are a few caveats that allow for implementation of the Hillman Composite Beam. Companies can use proprietary items on national highway projects if they are required for synchronization in an existing system, are part of a demonstration project or are cheaper than non-proprietary items.
The last is difficult to do if you’ve got a new technology in a young industry, says Hillman. But HCB is working on modifications to the manufacturing process and materials of its structural beams that Hillman hopes will reduce costs by 15 to 20 percent. “If we can do that, we are rapidly converging on the cost of conventional bridge technology,” says Hillman. “Once it’s less expensive, anyone can use the product. So that’s kind of the Holy Grail for us.”