Expanding the Market
Companies can’t simply sit back and wait for the infrastructure market to explode. They need to actively make it happen. Here are a few tips on ways to penetrate and expand the niche market:
- Educate end users. In addition to meeting one-on-one with customers, Hillman hosts webinars and gives presentations. He led a workshop entitled “Emerging Technologies” at the 2015 National Accelerated Bridge Construction Conference in December in Miami.
- Talk about price early. “The discussion of price has to come up in either the first or second conversation,” says Reeve. “Having lots of conversations on the wonderful technical merits of our products is very nice, but price is going to be a major factor.” He would rather not spend lots of time on prospective projects that aren’t going to pan out because of cost concerns.
- Fit the system. “We try to make our technology interchangeable with conventional bridges so you don’t need any special equipment or knowledge to install it,” says Hillman. FRP products also have to work with other materials and components in the structure. “Just because you can make an FRP panel and it tests well in the lab doesn’t mean that’s the right thing to put on a bridge deck,” says Reeve. “There are a number of considerations around the connections [to other parts], wear surface and temperature fluctuations.”
- Consider common applications. While big vehicle bridges and eye-catching pedestrian bridges get all the attention, there are other composite applications where companies can make an impact. “Structural strengthening is a growing field because there’s a bigger installed base of bridges and things that need remediation to keep going,” says Gremel. “FRP plays a really important role there.” Other applications include GFRP dowel bars for load transfer between joints in concrete slabs and GFRP pile repairs to support piers, roadways, buildings and bridges.
- Take a hybrid approach. “The first bridge decks we did were just FRP composites,” admits Reeve. “Now all of our bridge decks make some use of steel to handle those concentrated loads and impact points.”
Most importantly, says Hillman, it will take a concerted effort by the entire industry – manufacturers, suppliers and ACMA – to gain significant penetration in the transportation segment of the infrastructure market. “There needs to be a very high level of commitment to assisting companies in developing and deploying these technologies,” he says. “When you add up all the other barriers to increasing market share of composites, it’s easy for people to give up. It takes a certain level of support to gain critical mass, where composites can be as ubiquitous as conventional technology.”