Composite Support & Solutions (CSSI) won a prestigious Tibbett’s award from the Small Business Administration for a 118-foot communications tower installed by the Air Force at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts. The prototype tower created by CSSI was made completely with composite materials. The tower incorporates fastener-less joining technology where individual components, such as the lattice cross members, “snap” together during the assembly process without the need for metallic bolts. Dr. Clement Hiel, CSSI’s founder and president, received the award at a ceremony at the White House on January 10th.

“This has opened the Air Force’s eyes to the fact that composites are an outstanding solution for the management of corrosion in a wide variety of applications traditionally serviced with metal,” said Thom Johnson, Market Manager, Specialty Resins at Ashland. “Dr Hiel’s achievement may well spawn a broad opening of opportunity at the Department of Defense for composite technology.”

The tower was fabricated by CSSI using Ashland’s Derakane™ 640-900 vinyl ester resin, which is designed for high-speed pultrusion. According to Ashland, CSSI selected Derakane because of its mechanical properties and its outstanding corrosion resistance. Joe Fox, Director of Emerging & External Technologies at Ashland, first became aware of CSSI during the Tech Connect trade show in 2015. A representative from Oldcastle informed Fox that CSSI was using Derakane, and that started a dialogue in early 2016.

“CSSI’s snap-join approach is an enabling technology for the fabrication of modular composites. There is great interest these days in lightweight, easy-to-assemble, [and easy-to-disassemble] materials, and as such, this award-winning technology should spur widespread interest in the automotive, aerospace, and building and construction industries.” said Fox.

According to Ashland, corrosion is a “major cost driver” in the maintenance of communication towers throughout the Air Force inventory. Because of this issue, the Air Force saw the need to address corrosion-related issues with innovative corrosion-resistant materials. Fox said that in addition to corrosion, Derakane provided important elastic properties.

“When you bend a rod of pultruded, fiber-reinforced Derakane, it snaps back to its original shape,” said Fox. “ A steel piece does not bend back the same way. Dr. Hiel uses this as a very simple but clever demonstration of how the elastic properties of composites enable this application.”

CSSI’s tower is “being touted as the first of a new generation of tall composite towers that have the distinct advantage of being free from corrosion, significantly reducing long-term maintenance costs, while offering dramatically shortened construction times.”