When I graduated from Virginia Polytechnic Institute, most of my chemical engineering classmates went to work for major chemical or oil companies. Based on my Co-op experiences in a fertilizer pilot plant, I knew that I didn’t want a career doing what ChE’s are typically trained and expected to do. As fortune would have it, Owens Corning Fiberglas was interviewing engineers who were looking for something new, different and challenging. I jumped at the opportunity.
Shortly after I started at the OCF Tech Center Reinforced Plastics Laboratory in June 1963, I was assigned to a group that was developing underground gasoline and aboveground chemical tanks. I quickly found a niche. To its credit, OCF had a history of developing new FRP products and markets, and then turning the technology over to companies with fabricating interest in exchange for the reinforcement business. Having found a home in FRP tanks but not wanting to be part of a turnover, I left in late 1966 to join Justin Enterprises, which was, like the FRP corrosion market, small and still very young. Other principal tank fabricators, many still active leaders today, were mostly family businesses with backgrounds in other materials: An-Cor, Beetle, Bittner, Ceilcote, Ershig’s, Fibercast, Fibergrate, Heil Process, RL Industries and Smith. Dominant suppliers of corrosion-resistant resins were old names, including Atlas, American Cyanamid, Diamond Shamrock, Durez and Glidden. Use of FRP in aggressive chemical service was pioneered by major chemical and paper companies. DuPont, Proctor & Gamble, Monsanto, and a handful of others actively worked with fabricators and material suppliers to forge new applications and develop the first true consensus standards for this equipment under the umbrella of the Corrosion Resistant Structures Committee of the Composites Institute of SPI (Society of the Plastics Industry). Beginning about 1964, this group wrote and finally published, through the U.S. Department of Commerce National Bureau of Standards, NBS PS15-69 “Custom Contact Molded Reinforced Polyester Chemical-Resistant Process Equipment.” Although this specification was replaced by a number of consensus standards developed within the American Society of Testing & Materials (now ASTM International, W. Conshohocken, Pa.), it is likely the most frequently referenced specification in municipal water and waste treatment projects to this day.
Under the Nixon administration, the Commerce Department abandoned publication of consensus standards. This delayed publication of a companion document for filament-wound tanks until the SPI committee moved its standards activity into ASTM Committee D20 on Plastics’ Subcommittee D23 for Reinforced Plastic Piping and Chemical Equipment. The standard was subsequently published as ASTM D3299-74. ASTM standards now exist for most, if not all, of this industry’s products.
Many more standards followed. In 1978, the material suppliers, fabricators and users involved in the initial SPI group formed a joint committee to develop quality assurance practices and procedures for FRP corrosion-resistant equipment. This effort was prompted by user members of the MTI (Materials Technology Institute of the Chemical Process Industries) and, again, was conducted under the SPI umbrella. SPI published its comprehensive Quality Assurance Report in 1981. The report’s authors formed a new committee within the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and, in 1989, published ASME RTP-1 “Reinforced Thermoset Plastic Corrosion Resistant Equipment.” This set standards not only for certified design basis laminates and for FRP and dual-laminate tanks and pressure vessels to ±15 psig (including provisions for a code stamp), but also for accreditation of manufacturing shops and certification of their employees and laminates. This group was instrumental in modifying the ASME Section X Pressure Vessel Code to accommodate one-of-a-kind FRP vessels for pressures above 15 psig as well as small, mass-produced vessels, such as pool filter casings and fire extinguishers originally covered by this code.
These committees remain active today within ASTM and ASME. Many participants have been involved since the beginning. This cooperative effort on the part of competing fabricators, material suppliers and users within the FRP corrosion-resistant equipment industry made our products reliable. Some are still in service after nearly 40 years — something we couldn’t have said of our earliest products. Further, they lent the industry the credibility it needed to win out over the real competition in the anticorrosion market — other materials.
The industry has made great progress, but there is much more to do as we continue to proactively pursue increased penetration in existing markets and open new ones. New processes and applications demand new, refined or more demanding standards. RTP-1, for example, is updated annually and now covers large, field-fabricated filament wound vessels. We’re fortunate that the groups that have promulgated our standards for more than 40 years will continue to be productive because younger personnel are joining and then replacing their mentors in this work.