The markets: Industrial applications (2019)

A number of manufacturers in the composites industry have relatively quietly carved out a lucrative and growing share in the market for brackets, fixtures, ductwork, pallets, and other often hidden and typically less newsworthy parts that nevertheless require complex shapes, must perform at high levels and are targeted for weight, cost and production-time reductions. 

Although the use of composites in high-performance end markets like aerospace and automotive often receive most of the industry’s attention, the fact is that most of the composite materials consumed are applied to non-high-performance parts. The industrial end market falls into that category, and here material performance often emphasizes corrosion resistance and durability, particularly in applications involving the storage of chemicals and gases. 

Indeed, composite storage tanks are proving increasingly valuable in several geographic regions. In South America, Tecniplas (Sao Paulo, Brazil) has developed a strong reputation for the fabrication of large composite storage tanks that contain everything from water to fertilizers to industrial solvents. In the US, Ershigs (Bellingham, WA, US) has established its own niche as a supplier of composite tanks, piping, ducts and scrubbers. 

Fibrelite (Skipton, North Yorkshire, UK) revealed in 2018 a variety of products for the manhole cover and trench cover market. In 2014, Fibrelite teamed with precast concrete trench manufacturer Trenwa Inc. (Ft. Thomas, KY, US) in a strategic partnership to create a combined product offering: Trenwa’s heavy-duty precast concrete road crossing trenches topped with Fibrelite’s traffic-rated composite trench covers. Together the two products provide long-term protection for underground utilities running across road crossings, while enabling safe and fast manual access for monitoring and maintenance. Since the partnership began, Trenwa has sold more than 100 precast trench systems integrating Fibrelite composite trench covers, for use in electrical substations, wastewater treatment plants, chemical refineries and many other applications across North America.

Also emerging is the increased use of composites in tanks used to store cryogenic liquids. Along these lines, Cimarron Composites (Huntsville, AL, US) announced in 2018 that it had made a leap forward in all-composite cryogenic tank development, achieving 15,000 micro-strain performance with a carbon fiber-reinforced composite tank in a pressurized liquid nitrogen environment. Successful operation at such a high strain level allows the liner-less composite tank structure, made with a mixture of textiles and continuous wound fibers, to be much thinner than what was previously needed in these types of tanks, without the cost and mass of the liner. According to Cimarron, earlier composite tank programs were limited to 3,000 micro-strain due to materials and processing limitations, and this resulted in extra mass. Cimarron’s new tank technology uses a material system that performs well at extremely low temperatures without developing the microcracks that create leak paths for fluids like liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen or liquid methane.

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