MONTREAL - Next spring, electric power giant Hydro-Quebec will begin replacing old ceramic bushings and insulators in its power grid with thermoset composite versions. Projects like this are becoming commonplace in Quebec, where thermoset composites are a big and innovative business. ``Composites allow Quebec-ers to act on their inventiveness,'' said Ber-trand Legrand, vice president of business development for ACM Composites Inc., the firm in Drummondville, Quebec, that is molding the composite parts for Hydro-Quebec. ``They give engineers freedom to find ways of making it work.''
ACM spent about C$1.8 million (US$1.33 million) during 21/2 years to develop the thermoset bushings and insulators, Legrand said in an interview at ACM's Expoplast '96 booth in Montreal. The products can take more than 100,000 volts and cost about half as much as traditional ceramic products. ACM's Electro Composites Inc. subsidiary in St. Jerome injection molds them using a mineral-filled cycloaliphatic epoxy resin in cycle times of about 30 minutes. They contain a copper rod insert.
ACM's high-voltage parts were among several innovative composite products displayed at Expoplast. The largest was a 2-ton highway snowplow produced by Fibrex Fibre de Verre Inc. of Terrebonne, Que- bec. Highway departments will continue a three-year test of three plows this winter in Quebec.
The plows weigh about a third less than steel versions, which should make vehicle handling easier. They resist corrosion and their construction should help dampen vibration on uneven road surfaces. Fibrex, which makes them by hand layup of fiber-reinforced plastic laminates on a wood core, is gearing up for commercial production.
Quebec's concentration of composites firms relates to the presence of Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., a giant producer of personal watercraft, snowmobiles and other transportation products. Bombardier's products account for about 25 percent of Canada's market for glass-fiber-reinforced plastics, said Pat Burns, regional sales manager for Collierville, Tenn.-based Alpha/ Owens Corning.
Bombardier, with its Sea Doo, has a third or more of North America's personal watercraft market, Burns said at AOC's booth at Expoplast, held Oct. 8-9. This market is growing about 25 percent a year. The craft rely heavily on FRP for the body and other parts.
Bombardier and its suppliers in Quebec are a hotbed of composites innovation. Many spinoff companies have popped up, too, and they do a variety of research.
``Quebec is one of the most innovative composites markets in North America,'' Burns said.
Aerospace firms in the Montreal area also spur composites development.
The Composite Material Center in St. Jerome is another driver of innovation, Burns said. CMC is a nonprofit technology application center with 30 employees. It is associated with Cegep St. Jerome, a nearby community college that trains students in composites. Burns cited Winona State University in Minnesota as an example of a U.S. school with composite programs that help local industry.
CMC marketing director Alain Gauthier said the center helps companies innovate in composites technology. One project under way is work on lower-cost resin technology for impregnating aramid fibers. CMC's various development projects have included a composite aircraft tow bar, military helmets, new lightweight military vehicles and new construction products. The center even had a role in ACM's power bushings and insulators, Gauthier said at Expoplast.
Another recent project was compression molded wall panels used to clad crumbling concrete walls at Montreal's Concordia University. More than 80 tons of the cladding protect the university's exterior walls. Gauthier could not reveal most of CMC's current projects because of confidentiality agreements.
Some of Quebec's leading composites producers recently merged into ADS Associates Ltd. ADS owns Beauce Composites Inc. of Thetford Mines, Quebec. Beauce acquired several Thetford Mines-area composites firms and bought Fibrex in Terrebonne. The deals boosted ADS' annual sales, including geotextiles, to C$115 million (US$85.1 million) annually. ADS exhibited at Expoplast and showed several products, including the snowplow, that its subsidiaries make.
Burns said other large composites producers in Quebec include Rene Composite Materials Ltd. in St. Ephrem-de-Beauce and Camoplast Inc. of Roxton Falls.