Kansas Structural Composites Inc. is hoping to make a name for itself with work that spans the No-Name Creek. The Russell, Kan., company is gearing up to install the first practical demonstration of a bridge made of fiber-reinforced polymer composite.
On Sept. 12, KSCI and Kansas State University field-tested the center section of the composite structure for up to 62,200 pounds axle weight under three-eighths-inch deflection, John Kunz, vice president and production manager for KSCI, said in a Sept. 18 telephone interview.
Kunz said test results showed the bridge performed as well as any steel or concrete bridge.
The 23-foot-long by 27-foot-wide bridge will be installed over the Russell County creek by late October, he said.
The bridge is composed of three 9-foot-wide sections, each 22 inches thick.
KSCI, a 5-year-old manufacturer and research and development firm, will market the bridge as a rapid-replacement, short-span structure for secondary roads, Kunz said.
``The real problem for most of these bridges [on secondary roads] is they are orphaned bridges. They're either neglected or installed haphazardly,'' he said.
The five-employee company plans to commercialize the technology and expand with a second plant.
``Interest in composites for bridges has grown in the past five to six years, because people started getting serious about bridge repair,'' said Kunz, who helped his father, Ben, develop the technology in 1961. ``Cost was a big part for the delay, but better solutions have arrived.''
In January, the KSCI project received a $95,000 grant from the New Idea Program of the National Academy of Sciences. About $30,000 of that grant went to Russell County for prep work, such as construction of frames used in testing, said Jerry Plunkett, chief executive and president of KSCI. The project also is being supported by federal, state and county transportation departments.
Alpha/Owens Corning of Collierville, Tenn., is donating materials technology and three thermoset polyester resins to the project. The main composite material used is a terephthalate/ isophthalate recycled-content polyester resin. Along with glass-fiber fabrics and mat, the materials form two flat panels. A composite honeycomb core is placed between the panels and bonded with a vinyl ester resin. The ``sandwich'' structure is topped with a polymer concrete.
``The composite structure is strong enough for vehicular traffic yet lightweight enough to have major sections factory-built and easily shipped to the site,'' said Reagan Stephens, AOC business manager for closed mold resins. ``A weakened bridge or washed-out culvert can be replaced with a composite span overnight.''
Using KSCI technology, a bridge can be ready to drive on in eight to 16 hours, Kunz said. Other benefits of the fiber-reinforced polymer honeycomb technology: cost-competitive processing (compared with vacuum assisted resin transfer molding); much-improved life cycle (100 years compared with 30-40 years); and a 15 percent weight reduction compared with concrete or steel structures, he added.
``We don't think you need to spend a lot of time designing bridges. Just design it, test it, manufacture it, then get it on the market,'' Plunkett said.