A new California-based consortium of contractors, material suppliers, military and government agency officials and university researchers seeks to increase polymer-composite use across a broad base of civil engineering applications. ``We have to go to civil engineers as a unified force,'' said Fred Isley, marketing manager with Hexcel Corp. in Pleasanton, Calif. ``By forming a consortium, we should be able to cross various fiber and resin lines equally instead of focusing on one system to the exclusion of others.''
The consortium - called Comstruct - would seek federal funds for research on ways to reduce the cost of turning polymer composites into marketable products. Requests for legal-service proposals were distributed in late September, and organizers were asking about a dozen potential members for $5,000 commitments each.
``We hope to have incorporation completed by January,'' said Kent Rasmussen, vice president of operations for Wilson Composite Group Inc., a Folsom, Calif., consulting company that is expected to administer the consortium and already manages a materials-related cooperative organization.
Comstruct would look at transportation and marine applications, except for the hot area of highway-bridge-column seismic retrofitting. Possibilities include bridge decks, sign posts, guardrails, light standards and fiber reinforcement of concrete. Participants would share costs as permitted under the Cooperative Research Act of 1984.
Ray Williams, marketing manager for ICI Fiberite in Escondido, Calif., a consortium backer, sees research improving prospects to sell polymer composites for guardrail posts. Pressure-treated fir or pine can present disposal problems, and old-growth heart redwood has become too expensive, Williams said.
Williams said highway designers want to locate light-standardfoundations farther off roadways and use materials that will break on impact. The composites industry can meet those criteria, Williams said.
Composite bridge decks exist in the United Kingdom and Germany, and composite sign posts and light poles are on sale.
Hwycom Inc., for example, pultrudes fiberglass-reinforced breakaway sign posts that can be recognized from their bright safety yellow color.
``Currently, we have tests in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana,'' said John Freeman, president of the Big Spring, Texas, firm. Hwycom also is developing fiberglass guardrails and guardrail posts.
Shakespeare Co. filament-winds fiberglass-reinforced breakaway light poles up to 47 feet high. The Federal Highway Administration approved the technology in 1988, and Shakespeare, based in Newberry, S.C., can bid for light pole contracts in 45 states, said Lynn Derrick, vice president of sales and marketing. Also, Shakespeare makes two-piece transmission poles measuring 90 feet.
Federally funded research on polymer-composite guardrails is under way at a Washington-based Catholic University of America laboratory. Martin Hargrave, FHA research program manager, said static tests of various shapes may lead to dynamic pendulum tests of promising guardrails within a year.
``Once we show feasibility, we hope an industry partner will want to carry it to completion,'' he said.