Barriers to composites begin to weaken
Despite the many advantages that composites have in comparison to traditional materials such as concrete and steel, barriers still exist to their use in infrastructure and other applications.
It’s a situation that is unfortunate, but not surprising, given that concrete has been in use for 2,000 years and steel for 1,000 years, while reliable reinforced polymer composites have about 70 years of history behind them.
A positive sign that change is coming is the U.S. House Science, Space, and Technology Committee’s approval of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Reauthorization Act of 2018, which greenlights the development of standards for the use of composites materials in infrastructure.
This development follows a workshop sponsored by NIST and the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) to address barriers to increased adoption of composites in infrastructure. The resulting roadmap of solutions to those barriers “could lead to the adoption of composites that are more reliable, durable and cost-effective than current infrastructure material options,” Composites Manufacturing reports.
As founder of UTComp, specializing in the engineering, design and non-destructive evaluation of composite materials, my hope is that this work will lead to:
- Standards that quantify the flaws, defects and damage that objectively affect the structural performance of FRP
- Standards on acceptance testing of micromechanics models compared to destructive testing
- Non-destructive examination standards and qualifications
- Standards for use of Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) when using FRP
Potential impact extends beyond infrastructure
The use of congruent structural standards from this work would also allow fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) composites to be adopted across many other industry sectors, such as corrosion control and industrial process equipment, in order to benefit from their many advantageous properties.
Implications for engineering education
These standards could also play a role in improving the education of undergraduate engineering students regarding FRP composites. Almost all undergraduate engineering students receive instruction about concrete or steel but very few have the awareness or knowledge they need about composites, saving that for the graduate level. All three materials have different damage mechanisms and design requirements, and including all in undergraduate engineering courses would contribute to increasing understanding and adoption of this important group of materials.
– Geoff Clarkson, UTComp CTO
Geoff is the founder of UTComp and the inventor of UltraAnalytix® system for the non-destructive structural evaluation of industrial composite materials.