Composites get serious consideration for Missouri infrastructure

Construction engineers and architects in Missouri were briefed recently on the use of fiber-reinforced polymers as a structural support for bridges at an event hosted by Iron Workers Local #396 and the Erectors and Riggers Association — St. Louis Chapter.

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Construction engineers and architects in Missouri were briefed recently on the use of fiber-reinforced polymers (FRP) as a structural support for bridges at an event hosted by Iron Workers Local #396 and the Erectors and Riggers Association — St. Louis Chapter (St. Louis, Mo., USA). It was the first-ever symposium of its kind in Missouri and detailed FRP advancements as the first major new construction material since the introduction of reinforced concrete more than 100 years ago.

"Steel will remain a part of structural support for years to come, but the construction industry is on the threshold of advancing a new technology that is every bit as significant as when steel replaced wood and stone as the primary load-bearing material in the late 1800s," said Charles Perkins, past president of the Erectors and Riggers Association — St. Louis Chapter. "Now, as then, the iron workers union will lead the way in the fabrication and installation of FRP as the future of structure support."

The symposium follows a summer of traffic closures on Blanchette Bridge to repair cracks found in its aging steel frame. Missouri has identified more than 800 bridges in the state in need of repair.

"FRP is made of glass fibers that are pultruded or 'pulled' through a die, like a rope, to give it shape," said Ed Balaban of Bristol, Va.-based Strongwell Corp., a pultruder of fiber reinforced structural composites. "The roving, which is a bundle of fine glass fibers, gives it high tensile strength. The finished product has a very strong longitudinal and transverse strength essential for structural support."

Iron Workers Local # 396 has added a FRP curriculum to its four-year apprenticeship program that combines on-the-job training with 160 hours of classroom training annually. Training includes layout, setup, assembly of structural members using an epoxy and fabrication. More than 120 apprentices and journey workers train or upgrade skills through the training program annually. 

Attendees at the Aug. 25, 2009, FRP symposium at the St. Louis Construction Training School included civil and structural engineers, project managers, architects, and buyers of construction services. Firms represented included: Covidien; Perfection Steel Erection; Midwest Diversified Technologies, Inc.; Tarlton Corp.; Sigma Aldrich; DDK Scientific Corp.; CASCO; Acme Erectors; Metropolitan Engineering; SSE, Inc. Structural Engineers; Mid-West Iron, Inc.; and Helitech.