Yoakum sees this push toward composites use coming from the rapid deterioration of cement products and concrete’s inability to resist freeze/thaw environments. “Prior to composites being better known, the choices were concrete in a coastal area or steel,” says Holmes. “Concrete will work, but in a coastal environment eventually you’re going to have breakdown and corrosion to deal with.”

Breakdowns can no longer be afforded by problem-plagued utilities. “Composites are competing by providing solutions that are extremely reliable and long-lasting. System hardening is a priority for many of those switching to fiberglass crossarms,” Casad says. And, he adds, these competitive products virtually sell themselves. “Much of our promotion is in the form of satisfied users talking to their colleagues. Electric utilities are big on sharing best practices.”

Gaining Legitimacy in the Marketplace

Of course, as Holmes points out, “You always have to sell.” And so rather than waiting for the electric utilities to arrive at the conclusion that composite components can help solve reliability challenges, manufacturers are also actively promoting the legitimacy of their products as a strong option. In just over a year, ASTM International committee D20.18 on Reinforced Thermosetting Plastics drafted and published ASTM D8019, Standard Test Methods for Determining the Full Section Flexural Modulus and Bending Strength of Fiber Reinforced Polymer Crossarms Assembled with Center Mount Brackets.

“A standard does two things: first it legitimatizes your materials. It takes the hearsay out of it,” says Troutman, who chaired the standard-writing committee. “Second, everyone speaks the same language when you have a standard. The person using the product knows exactly how it’s being tested, and the person manufacturing the product knows how to test it. So it reduces any type of miscommunication. That protects both the end user and the manufacturer.” The standard, now available through ACMA at acmaeducationhub.org, formalizes the product test procedures and how to report findings. (ACMA’s Utility & Communications Structures Council is now working with ASTM on a standard for utility poles.)

Creating a standard is a significant first step, one with great support from composites manufacturers and end users, says Troutman, who spearheaded the effort to draft and complete the standard on crossarms. Ensuring this standard is used is the next step in moving composites further in this market segment. “The industry could benefit from additional standardization efforts and inclusion of these products in such places as building codes, electrical codes and other application standards,” Yoakum says.