Complementary Applications

As composites continue to prove suitable for new applications, a key challenge remains educating end users about possibilities beyond corrosion-resistant tanks and pipes. “There are other products we can make that are corrosion-resistant that are now being made from titanium or Hastelloy® [a high-performance alloy],” says Naugle.

One logical add-on solution may be support structures adjacent to pipes and tanks. Structures including catwalks and stairs towers can also be exposed to corrosive elements in the manufacturing environment. This was the situation that led Advantic to discussions about building a support structure to help workers at a chemical processing company better use an existing FRP salt brining tank that creates salt byproducts, such as hydrochloric acid.

When the company began balancing the high cost of maintenance for the existing steel platform that sits over the open FRP tank with the need to replace that structure, decision-makers considered creating a platform with a stair tower made from a material that could better withstand the highly corrosive nature of the tank’s aqueous salts. Advantic was brought on board to develop a 43-foot-high FRP stair tower adjacent to the tank.

“It’s a pretty tall and substantial structure in an environment that is exposed to wind and seismic loads in addition to your dead and live load requirements,” Doudican explains. From the concrete pad to the tank’s top, Advantic is building a pultruded FRP structure to include columns, beams, girders, grating, stringers and handrail. “We’re also going to place a long span structure across the top of the tank so they can get out and do sampling at the center of the open top tank,” Doudican adds.

Brian Stamper, vice president of business development with Advantic, points out that industrial facilities are beginning to recognize that corrosive environments extend beyond the tanks and pipes that touch chemicals directly, and FRP products can meet a much broader range of needs. “In a corrosive environment you don’t just need to use FRP grating and handrail,” Stamper says. “FRP structures are innovating the way towers and platforms are being constructed.”

There’s another piece to the story, though, and that comes with composites’ highly touted benefit – their light weight. “Given the weight savings, we’re going to be able to prefabricate that structure in a couple different pieces so the company’s [installation] downtime is significantly reduced,” Doudican says. For many industrial companies, that reduced downtime is a significant selling point.