However, overall use of FRP in infrastructure applications is only about 1 percent of total structural materials by volume. In April 2018, academic experts, ACMA representatives and government personnel testified to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology (Subcommittee on Research and Technology) of the U.S. House of Representatives. The testimony included several key areas that must be addressed for composites to gain additional market share, including the following:
- Developing new composite materials and systems with a focus on initial costs, durability, fire resistance, ease of erection and retrofitting in-service structures.
- Developing smart manufacturing of composites to retrofit existing infrastructure and mass produce new modular systems, resulting in high labor productivity and high-quality finished products.
- Initiating development of uniform codes, standards for manufacturing, retrofitting, construction, evaluation and maintenance, including stringent enforcement of standards.
- Bundling federal and state government-directed infrastructure projects to be considered with composites as alternative designs.
- Appropriating nationwide funding for preventive maintenance and repair using FRP composites to help save in-service infrastructure systems instead of replacing them.
- Offering hands-on training using composites and other training tools for 3.2 million construction workers in the U.S.
The United States is home to two out of five glass production factories and produces about a third of the world’s carbon fibers, including those spun from coal pitch. The export market of U.S. composites is expected to grow to about 4.9 percent annually by 2022, particularly with higher grade composite products. Thus, the composites industry in the U.S. is well positioned to expand into the infrastructure market.
However, the infrastructure market depends primarily on bidding of materials and associated systems, including design, which are developed by relying on codes and specifications. Broad expansion into infrastructure requires cooperation with ASTM International to develop testing standards, as well as the development of standards and codes with ACMA, USACE, ASCE, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, state Department of Transportations and others. It is imperative for manufacturers, contractors and end users to work together to ensure high-volume use of composites in infrastructure markets.
The Automotive Market
By Marc Benevento, Managing Director
Industrial Market Insight
Nearly 4.5 billion pounds of composite materials are sold into automotive applications on an annual basis. The vast majority of this volume are thermoplastic composites, which generally have lower material and processing costs than thermoset materials. Drivers for composite consumption in the automotive industry are, in the most basic form, vehicle production and the ability to win applications from materials such as steel and aluminum.