As a result, Advantic is seeing growing demand in industrial markets for access structures, pipe racks, stair towers and related products. “Due to the light weight of composites, we’re able to compete head to head with structural steel,” Stamper says.

The Next Opportunity

Building these structural systems may serve as an effective gateway to what Alexander Thibodeau sees as another big opportunity for composites that provide corrosion resistance – the infrastructure market.

“That’s really the next major frontier for composites, both in materials in original construction and offering repair solutions for degradation and corrosion,” says Thibodeau, director of engineering and business development for Kenway Composites in Augusta, Maine. “A story about our crumbling infrastructure is on the 6 o’clock news at least once a week.” He says composites can be used to repair corroded structures and in that process can be rerated to accept a higher capacity load than the structure originally was designed for.

Kenway has been testing these waters by providing structural support systems for the U.S. Navy, including several sets of FRP deep draft camels for Navy submarines. “They’re essentially giant bumpers that the submarines rest against when they’re in port,” explains Thibodeau. “Historically, those were made of steel, so every five years they had to be hauled out of the water, sandblasted, repaired, repainted and put back in the water. These new ones are all composites, inside and out. The first time they get hauled is in 25 years.”

Experience developing these water bumpers has in turn led to opportunities replacing wood piers and piling with corrosion-resistant FRP. From here, Thibodeau has his eyes set on moving from water to land-based infrastructure and demonstrating the value of corrosion resistance in structural applications. Like many of his peers, Thibodeau is striving to move his company – and the corrosion-resistant niche within the composites industry – far beyond pipes and tanks.