California's Department of Transportation is launching a program to evaluate fiber-reinforced plastics and open the way for wider use of polymer composites in highway applications. Mohsen Sultan, chief of the new technology management branch, sent a June 1 letter to 60 companies with possible interest in the seismic retrofit market in earthquake-prone California.
``Companies which believe they have materials or systems which can be employed to provide viable alternatives to conventional systems are invited to participate,'' Sultan said.
The deadline to notify Sultan's office is June 14.
Once logistics are resolved, perhaps as early as July, technicians at the El Segundo, Calif., laboratories of Aerospace Corp. will look at how companies handle and test fibers and resins and manufacture composite structures, according to Gary Hawkins, associate director for manufacturing.
``I hope we can get vendors qualified [by Caltrans] within a year,'' he said.
For 35 years, the company has performed a similar job reviewing vendors of launch vehicles and satellites for the U.S. Air Force's Space and Missiles Center.
The goal is to overcome a classic culture clash and satisfy the doubts of highway engineers who are more experienced with steel and concrete and construction-based material specifications.
The polymer composites industry uses finished-product performance specifications with aerospace origins.
Plans call for the Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineering in Covina, Calif., to manage corporate funding and hold Caltrans-industry conferences moving the program ahead, according to Charles Hamermesh, SAMPE technical director.
Presently, steel is the only Caltrans-qualified material for seismic column wrapping, but at least three companies are working to qualify polymer composite systems and bid on portions of the statewide, $2.5 billion program now in progress. The companies hope that qualifying in California will lead to work in other states.