The Future Outlook

While opportunities abound in architecture, composites companies admit they’ve only just begun to dip their toes into the market. “The construction market is enormous,” says Andy Bridge, vice president industrial markets and director of research and development for Janicki Industries in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. “Composites only need to penetrate one quarter of one percent and that would dwarf all the other markets we work in.”

Bridge sees future opportunities in combining 3-D printing technology with structural elements. “I compare it to what they’re doing in automotive – a multimaterial approach,” he says. “They are not wedded to any one material.” He cites the BMW 7 Series with its mix of CFRP, high-strength steel, aluminum and other materials as an example. “Combining materials and using them where they make the most sense – that’s an exciting area where we’re going to see more growth in the architectural and construction space,” says Bridge.

Zabel at Kreysler & Associates is thinking big, too. “We’re very focused on getting past decorative applications,” he says. “We’ve certainly done structural applications with FRP, but they have been small projects – a house with a structural monocoque FRP shell. But a tall building where the structural façade or some part of it is made from composites, that’s part of the future in my mind.”

Advice for Penetrating the Architecture Market

“There’s tremendous opportunity for future growth in the architecture market, but I think it’s longer term,” says Andy Bridge, vice president of industrial markets and director of research and development for Janicki Industries. If you plan to stick around, try the following:
• Understand everyone’s role. “Working in the architecture industry is different from making boats or wind turbine blades,” says Josh Zabel, vice president of business development at Kreysler & Associates. “The people who work on a project – and how they interact – tends to evolve as the project moves from schematic design to construction. The influence in decision-making often shifts.” That’s why it’s important to get familiar with what architects, contractors and building owners are responsible for at various stages of the project.
• Get involved in projects early on. “The most successful projects we’ve had are the ones where we’ve been involved early enough to offer our expertise about fabrication and influence decisions on materials and design,” says Zabel.
• Expect changes. “You have to be prepared for a lot of field changes,” says Guy Kenny, president of Glassline. “You can’t get too far ahead of the game until you’ve installed one or two components because there are always changes – even in the same walls or areas.”
• Lobby to change building codes. To be broadly utilized across the architecture market, composites must be included in building codes. Several years ago, ACMA’s Architectural Division spearheaded activity that led to the creation of section 2612 of the International Building Code for non-structural applications for interior and exterior cladding. Now the group is planning a strategy to develop sections on FRP composites for structural applications. The initiative requires involvement from composites professionals in the areas of testing, standards development and education of building officials. For more information, contact John Busel, vice president of ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiative, at jbusel@acmanet.org.
• Think locally. “The best thing to do is focus in your geographic area,” says Bridge. “Get to know contractors, developers and architects, find out what their challenges are and see if you can offer solutions.” New construction in Seattle must adhere to recently-enacted strict energy building codes, so Bridge is selling prospective clients on the thermal energy management benefits of composites.
• Educate architects. “You have to make architects aware that composites are a viable material good for applications other than restoration,” says Kenny. “We have some new buildings in Detroit that are considering fiberglass skins, but it’s a challenge to get someone building a new $400 million building to go out on a limb with a new material.” Sika Corporation’s project sales representatives frequently hold box lunch educational seminars for engineers and architects.