Chin added that in addition to increased durability testing and standards, the designers and engineers need a “clearinghouse” of curated design guides and data tables from completed projects can help engineers and designers use composite materials, and provide confidence in the materials’ performance and lifespan. Chin specifically referenced NIST’s Materials Genome Initiative, which has helped the composites industry capture and share information about material properties.
David Lange, a civil engineering professor and FRP expert at the University of Illinois, elaborated on another barrier outlined in the NIST report – increased training and education at the university level. In his testimony, Lange noted that across the 220 civil engineering undergraduate programs in the US, structural steel and reinforced concrete are emphasized because of their common use in industry. In contrast, FRP is rarely covered in the civil engineer’s education, especially in a four-year undergraduate program.
“Courses dedicated to FRP and structural repair and rehabilitation are practically nonexistent,” Lange said. “This effectively cuts off the opportunity to motivate industry change with new generations. Furthermore, young practitioners are mentored by senior, professionally licensed structural engineers, and so there is little opportunity to challenge the dominant design paradigms.”
The Subcommittee on Research and Technology also heard from Dr. Hota GangaRao, Wadsworth Distinguished Professor at the Statler College of Engineering at ACMA member West Virginia University. Dr. GangaRao, who testified alongside Weyant in 2017, believes that instead of having every DOT develop standards independently, national standards would increase the efficiency of the industry and save costs by reducing redundant standards development.
Dr. GangaRao also called on Congress to initiate stringent enforcement of standards through NIST, and to require future government projects to consider composites as alternative designs, including listing composites as approved materials.
“Congress can appropriate nationwide funding for preventative maintenance and repair using FRP composites, which would help save many in-service structures instead of replacing them,” Dr. GangaRao said. “With a dedicated funding stream for repairs only, DOTs and other infrastructure owners can use FRP composites to repair a structure during early stages of deterioration before small cracks become large delaminations.”
For more information, click here to for the hearing page, which includes a video recording and transcripts of each testimony.