Three industries explore how mixed-material solutions can maximize composites’ benefits.

While a growing number of industries are coming to recognize the vast benefits that composites present, in many instances it’s still a traditional material’s world. Whether it’s a focus on initial costs over long-term return on investment, a lack of production technology in place to handle the integration of composites into established manufacturing processes or plain old misconceptions, some industries still need to be convinced that composites have a place in their plant.

Mixing composites with traditional materials, such as steel and aluminum, doesn’t necessarily address these drawbacks. But mixed-material applications can produce such benefits that many industries are rethinking their approach to include composites in new ways. By combining lightweight, highly durable composites with other materials through a variety of processes, manufacturers are able to add needed rigidity, engineering predictability and other advantages.

Here’s a closer look at how companies in three industries – infrastructure, automotive and marine – are making the most of mixed-material solutions.

Extending the Life of Infrastructure

Composite Rebar Technologies LLC (CRT) in Madison, Wis., has designed a hollow GFRP rebar – capable of fitting a metal rod when increased shear strength is needed – that Tom Hershberger, CRT’s vice president of marketing and sales, says could replace the poor-performing epoxy-coated steel concrete reinforcements being used in highways across the country. He says the CRT Long Life™ dowel provides significantly better performance at the same or less cost.

“What I’m hearing from places like Virginia, which has essentially outlawed epoxy-coated steel for their bridge decks, is that they don’t want to use FRP rebar because it costs too much. But they’re wrong,” Hershberger says. “Like a lot of Department of Transportation officials, when they hear ‘composites’ they’re thinking of exotic applications where composites are phenomenal but very expensive.”

While this hollow rebar product is in the pilot stage, CRT has evidence that a blend of composite and metal can boost the benefits of composites alone: The company’s GFRP sleeved-steel dowel bars are being used today to provide load transfer in jointed concrete pavement.