“Just because you’ve produced a higher crosslink material that can deal with high temperature doesn’t mean it’s going to last at that high temperature for a long period of time,” Lambrych says. It’s critical for industry growth that fabricators get it right. As Lambrych points out, “Once you have an upset condition that destroys the FRP, the end user later will say ‘I’m never going to use FRP again.’”
Achieving the desired combination of properties is possible by researching the right resin and reinforcement combinations, but it’s also about craftsmanship and working closely with the end user to understand engineering details.
Ultimately, Lambrych adds, “We’re very focused on partnering with the end user to make sure that the empirical evaluation and ASTM C-581 corrosion testing has been done to show the product is going to work – so that composites do not get a black eye.”
UTComp is pushing industrial clients to consider non-invasive inspection technology that can reduce costs associated with both downtime and replacement. “We’ve just done some work with Swerea KIMAB (formerly the Swedish Corrosion Institute), which has said that what everyone thought was the way to deal with fitness for service of composites appears to be wrong,” Clarkson says.
In a conventional inspection of composite structures in corrosion service, technicians go inside the tank that has contained noxious, toxic materials and look at the surface of the polymer to inspect for potential failure. The suggestion to replace corroded materials is generally based on soft skill training. “It’s kind of like looking at the paint job on your car and saying, ‘I don’t like the paint job on my car; time to get a new car,’” Clarkson says. “That’s pretty expensive.”
Instead, Clarkson says, the Swedish institute is offering support for non-intrusive testing such as the UltraAnalytix™ system UTComp created. “We developed a technology where we can do an inspection of the same equipment from outside, usually while it’s in operation, and tell customers the condition of the material and whether they need to do any repairs at all,” he says.
UTComp uses ultrasonic testing, similar to that used for steel and other metal pipes and tanks but processes the resulting information differently to detect changes within the FRP and account for FRP’s much wider variation in sonic velocity (the speed at which the ultrasonic sound travels) and other responses than steel. The analytics software can calculate the condition of in-use FRP products as a range with approximately 95 percent confidence. Clarkson points out that this technology provides a more objective, data-based approach to service life decisions, which ultimately can save industrial end users downtime and replacement costs.