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Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

3rd September 2018, Stuttgart

Opportunities in construction

For visitors with a specific interest in composite applications in the construction industry, a comprehensive programme with guided tours of appropriate exhibitors and relevant lectures will be available during Composites Europe in Stuttgart this November.

The construction industry is one of the most important fields of application for composites in a diverse range of applications, from profiles, pipes, cable ducts and light wells to formwork or bridge parts. Though light in weight, composites have excellent mechanical strength, and they’re resistant to corrosion and fatigue, with low thermal conductivity. As such, they allow for great design freedom and will be extensively discussed at the event’s Composites Forum, as well as at the Lightweight Technologies Forum.

Composites Europe takes place from 6-8 November. © Composites Europe

Around a third of the volume of glass-fibre reinforced plastic (GFRP) produced in Europe last year went to the construction industry, equating to about 380,000 tons from a total of 1,118,000 tons. The figure from 2016 was 373,000 tons, showing growth comparable to GDP.

The use of carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) in construction is much more limited, but with higher growth prospects.

The construction industry purchased about 6,000 tons, or only 5% of the total global 127,000 tons produced in 2017, but experts are cautiously forecasting that demand will double to 12,000 tons by 2022.

New application possibilities for composites in construction frequently fail, as a result of the legal framework within specific countries and in bridge building, for example, a lack of standardisation can prevent their serial use. Intensive efforts to develop GFRP bridges are currently underway in the US, Japan, Switzerland and the Netherlands in particular, where they are now standard.

Using GFRP for bridges and roadways offers numerous benefits, experts say, because the material is immune to both frost damage and de-icing salts. Another benefit is significantly reduced weight. A GFRP bridge has only about 40% of the weight of a steel composite and less than 30% of that of a pre-stressed concrete bridge. In addition, it can be prefabricated in significantly larger dimensions and lifted into position by crane.

Light wells, cable ducts and manhole covers are also manufactured from GFRP using SMC or BMC processes and open processes are used for the production of facade elements. Examples of products made with continuous processes include pultruded GFRP profiles for window structures, reinforcing bars, carriers, cable duct systems, railings and steps. GFRP pipes and tanks produced by spinning or winding are also employed in plant and pipeline construction and for installations in the oil and gas and chemical industries.

The construction industry offers promising application areas for CFRP as well. They are being bonded to concrete surfaces to strengthen buildings, for example, and such corrosion-resistant reinforcements have already been used thousands of times worldwide in restoration and reconstruction projects. Reinforcing buildings via CFRP strips offers significant advantages in terms of economic viability, ease of processing and optical appearance. They increase the tensile, compressive and flexural strength of load-bearing components, with only marginal changes to construction dimensions and weight.

Composites Europe takes place from 6-8 November.

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