Purcell says that millions of meters of carbon fiber pultruded products are being used in the wind energy market every year. Zoltek’s biggest customer is Vestas, which makes all of its wind blades using CFRP, he adds. “The rest of the wind industry has taken notice of the advantages of using carbon fiber, especially carbon fiber pultrusion,” says Purcell.
One of the biggest benefits is ease of storage and handling of pultruded profiles. “You can store it outside in a tent because it’s a fully-cured composite,” says Purcell. “You can cut it up and grind it – whatever you need to do, just like handling 2 x 4s.” Pultrusion also improves cycle times, especially in spar cap manufacturing, he says.
“There is a general recognition that pultrusion is the lowest cost way to continuously produce composites with very little scrap, running 24/7,” says Purcell. “That’s very attractive for end users looking for a specific price point.” In addition to wind energy, Zoltek has seen interest from the automotive industry for pultruded products for bumper beams, roof support structures, door intrusion beams and more. Because these applications are more complex than standard unidirectional pultruded profiles, Zoltek has a strategy.
“While we forward integrate where it makes sense with our more basic pultruded profiles, we also recognize that we cannot be the experts in everything,” says Purcell. “When end users require more complex shapes, we work closely with pultrusion partners. That’s where they add the most value.”
Market Segment: Infrastructure
Creative Pultrusions Inc. has been manufacturing FRP pultrusion products since 1973. One of its niche markets is waterfront applications, including foundation piles, bulkheads and fendering systems. The company supplies pipe piles, sheet piles and some composite accessories.
“Wood has been the primary material of construction, however wood has issues because it leaches chemicals into the environment and it doesn’t last long,” says Dustin Troutman, director of marketing and product development for Creative Pultrusions. Concrete and steel have also been traditionally used in waterfront applications, but they corrode in salt water.
Composites are ideal for many of the often-heard reasons: They are strong and corrosion resistant. They have another advantage for waterfront applications. “Composites are ideal for fendering systems because they have the ability to absorb a lot of energy,” says Troutman. “So we take that perceived disadvantage – lack of stiffness – and use it in combination with the high strength of composites to act as an energy-absorbing member.”