Once completed, the panels were sent to Dimensional Communications, where GFRP end pieces were attached. Afterward, the panels were painted with an automotive quality finish. The finished panels, which debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2014 “look like solid bars of aluminum, just as the originals did,” says Myers. However, they are much lighter than the aluminum originals: For example, an aluminum 20-inch demonstration panel weighs 13.8 pounds, while a 20-inch GFRP one weighs 8 pounds.
“We’re looking at 58 percent of the weight of the aluminum,” Myers notes. “This was very important to reduce the cost of transport, to ease erection of the display and to hang the panels from various structures at the auto shows. The weight savings was a really, really big deal.” The GFRP panels can also be patched and repainted if they get damaged.
The display is a unique application for both pultrusion and Strongwell. “Most of the time, when you think of pultrusions you think of industrial applications,” says Myers. “It’s the first time that we’re aware of that pultruded FRP has been used to create a large sculpture or something of that nature. I think that speaks to the diversity of FRP in general and pultrusion in particular.” The striking panels have grabbed the attention of industry professionals, too, winning the Most Creative Application category in the Awards for Composites Excellence (ACE) competition at CAMX 2016.
“There is a great range of capability in the composites space,” concludes Myers. “The manufacturing method doesn’t need to put you in a particular box.”