COMPOSITES GAINING GROUND IN HIGHWAYS

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Martin Marietta Materials Inc. has acquired polymer-matrix-composite technology from Lockheed Martin Co.'s Missiles and Space unit for use in transportation and infrastructure applications.

The thrust represents a departure from mining construction aggregates and manufacturing magnesium-based products, but Martin Marietta's extensive ties with contractors and highway agencies may help expand market acceptance of the composite materials.

By spring, Bethesda, Md.-based Martin Marietta plans to fabricate and install a short-span composite bridge in Butler County in southeastern Ohio, and to relocate an existing prototype bridge to the Department of Energy's National Engineering Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

``We will monitor both bridges with mechanical and fiber optics,'' Grant Godwin, Martin Marietta vice president of marketing, said in a telephone interview.

Potential customers will have access to the sites and data.

Highway officials rely on construction-based material specifications and deal mostly with steel and concrete. These composite bridges are assembled using finished-product performance specifications with aerospace origins.

The now-independent company acquired the composite technology from the Lockheed Martin unit Sept. 20 and announced the deal Nov. 8. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The Lockheed Martin unit's advanced technology center in Palo Alto, Calif., developed the superstructure prototype with internal funding, under a Defense Department technology reinvestment project that began in 1993 and provided $400,000 from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

``Martin Marietta's expertise in construction materials and its market sectors provides special understanding of the deficiencies of conventional materials,'' Godwin said, ``and the potential for polymer composites to address the problems.''

Martin Marietta has a technical agreement for Lockheed Martin to provide engineering services, product development and fabrication at the Palo Alto facility for seven years. Management and marketing will be in Raleigh, N.C., and, long term, will pursue research and development of structural components and products for transportation, infrastructure and general construction markets.

The prototype 30-foot-by-18-foot bridge, completed in August 1995, includes sandwich panel deck plates of E-glass and polyester resin, underlying pultruded 4-inch-square tubes of E-glass roving and mat reinforcing polyester resin, and hand lay-up, U-shaped support beams of stitched nonwoven E-glass and a formulation of isophthalic polyester and vinyl ester resin.

The 33-foot-by-24-foot Butler County bridge will carry two lanes of traffic ``using the next generation of internal tubes in the deck,'' Godwin said.

``We have a new design for higher strength and a lower ratio of material.''

Martin Marietta Materials Inc. split off Oct. 18 from Lockheed Martin. An offering allowed Lockheed Martin shareholders to exchange some or all of their Lockheed Martin common stock for Martin Marietta Materials common stock. Lockheed Martin had owned 81 percent of Martin Marietta Materials, a firm traded on the New York Stock Exchange since an initial public offering in February 1994.

Martin Marietta Materials had 1995 sales of $664 million, about 80 percent from aggregates for the construction and chemical sectors, and 20 percent from high-purity, magnesium-based products for the steel, chemical and environmental sectors. The company employs 3,400.

Lockheed Martin employs 160,000 and had 1995 profit of $682 million on sales of $22.9 billion.