What convinces them to try something new?
Time, for lack of a better term. You need to do the lab testing, as well as provide a lot of transparency and limit states used to design the technology. That verifies to people that the product is based on sound engineering principles.
In the railroad project, what circumstances led to the embracement of the HCB?
More than anything, it was collectively the result of a few key people in the railroad industry that were willing to keep an open mind. We developed a relationship of trust with them through addressing their concerns. However, it didn’t happen overnight. We had the girders fabricated, tested and validated well before getting approval to put it on the test track. Through that process, I met with key railroad industry individuals every year for 4 to 5 years. In that time, we answered questions they had about the behavior of the material to get them comfortable with the fact that this is a viable technology. We were too stubborn to go away.
How does the HCB beam differ from other composite beams?
The composite people might not like to hear this, but I always emphasize the fact that this is not a plastic structural member—it’s a hybrid member. In regards to bending limit states, 95 percent of the strength and stiffness comes from concrete and steel. Fiberglass still serves as an extremely important function. It is a means of placing the concrete and anchoring the tension reinforcement, but it also transfers the shear loads and provides the corrosion barrier necessary to give the structure longevity.
Can fiberglass be a primary option for beams?
I think you have to think of things a little differently. There’s always a tendency when we’re focused on one aspect of an industry to think there’s only one solution. A lot of the great advances in technology are facilitated by cross-pollination between two industries. For example, concrete was a worthless building material 150 years ago. Then, it was discovered that you could put mild steel in the concrete and control the tension stresses that you could have a versatile material. I view composites in the same way: they have tremendous properties, but not the perfect properties for everything we need to do. Marrying that with conventional materials can compensate for the deficiencies of FRP and exploit its good characteristics.
How does the market look for composites in bridges and infrastructure?