RS Technologies has invited many utility companies into its production facility to audit its manufacturing and quality-related processes. “Utilities are looking to answer the questions: ‘Can you make the product the same way every time, and do you have a quality system that ensures that it will hold up and meet our specifications,’” says Elliott. “They watch us build product and observe our quality systems—we’re ISO 9001 certified and have a very conservative quality program.
“We demonstrate strength by bending a pole 45 or 50 degrees without failing. Utilities are generally surprised and impressed. There aren’t many materials that can handle that type of a deformation and come back to where they started without noticeable fatigue,” adds Elliott.
Also in the Market
Other composites manufacturers produce utility poles, crossarms, polymer insulators and other products that offer a better alternative to traditional materials. Ameron International produces the sand-hardened uPole for distribution applications. Epoxy resin is used in a novel patent-pending process that adds layers of fine sand during the filament-winding of the poles, according to Product Manager Jim Davidson. Sand is also added to the final surface, before the pole goes through clam-shell heaters and is cut off in required lengths. “The sand bulks up the wall thickness and adds structural stiffness,” he explains. Ameron can produce a 40-foot pole in 45 minutes. “Our price is roughly double that of wood and very competitive with steel,” he notes.
Shakespeare Composite Structures is an early pioneer in FRP pole production, having started 20 years ago, and was the first to manufacture large poles (longest today is 130 feet.) The poles are filament-wound using polyester resins and a pigmented polyurethane topcoat for UV protection. “In the longer sizes, we become not only product competitive but price competitive with the other materials, relates Bill Griffin, vice president and general manager. “It’s hard to find trees in transmission lengths and difficult to move them around,” he says. The largest single length produced by Shakespeare is 50 feet. Longer poles are assembled from sections with overlapping joints.
Other leading players in this market include Composite Materials Technology, which produces tapered distribution poles using E-glass and polyester resin in a centrifugal casting process. Each pole starts with layer of polyester veil, on which a knitted fiberglass fabric is laid. Other reinforcements are added, and the pattern is inserted into a spin-casting machine. Resin is introduced as the machine spins, wetting out the reinforcements.