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SABIC FRP piping in Bergan Op Zoom, Netherlands

SABIC FRP piping in Bergen Op Zoom, Netherlands. Photo Credit: SABIC

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, weather resistance and durability. 

Durability was one of SABIC’s (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) goals for its manufacturing facility in Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands. The plant began operations in 1987 and processes chlorine gas, strong acids and alkalis at elevated temperatures, which are highly corrosive environments where steel pipes could fail in only a matter of months. To ensure maximum corrosion resistance and reliability, SABIC selected glass fiber-reinforced plastic (GFRP) for critical pipes and equipment from the start, and materials and manufacturing improvements implemented over the years have increased the design life of the composite components to 20 years, so that they need to be replaced less frequently.

GFRP pipes, vessels and assemblies manufactured by Versteden BV (Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands) using resins supplied by DSM Composite Resins (now part of AOC, Collierville, Tenn., U.S., and Schaffhausen, Switzerland), have been employed from the beginning. A total of 40-50 kilometers of composite piping, consisting of approximately 3,600 pipe segments of various diameters, is installed in the plant.

The composite components are produced using filament winding or hand layup, depending on the design, size and complexity of the part. A typical pipe structure consists of an interior corrosion barrier layer, 1.0-12.5 millimeters thick, for optimal chemical resistance; a 5-25-millimeter structural layer to provide mechanical strength; and an external coating about 0.5 millimeter thick to provide protection from the plant environment. The inner liner provides chemical resistance and acts as a diffusion barrier. This resin-rich layer is manufactured with C-glass veil and E-glass mat and has a standard nominal thickness between 1.0 and 12.5 millimeters and a maximum glass/resin ratio of 30% (based on weight). This corrosion barrier is sometimes replaced by a thermoplastic liner to prove greater resistance to specific materials. Liner materials can include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) and ethylene chlorotrifluoroethylene (ECTFE). Read more about this project here: “Corrosion-resistant piping over the long haul.”

CompoTech T-boom for Bilsing Automation

CompoTech T-boom for Bilsing Automation. Photo Credit: Bilsing Automation

Composites on the manufacturing floor

The strength, stiffness and light weight of composites are becoming increasingly beneficial in the manufacturing world itself. Forexample,  CompoTech (Sušice, Czech Republic), a full-service composites design and manufacturing firm focused on advanced and hybrid filament winding applications, developed for Bilsing Automation (Attendorn, Germany) a carbon fiber robot arm to move a 500-kilogram payload. This payload and the existing steel/aluminum tool together weighed 1,000 kilograms, but the biggest robot, from KUKA Robotics Corp. (Augsburg, Germany), can handle a maximum of only 650 kilograms. An all-aluminum replacement was still too heavy, creating a payload/tool mass of 700 kilograms. The CFRP tooling reduced the total mass to 640 kilograms, making the robot application feasible.

One CFRP component that CompoTech supplies to Bilsing is the T-boom, a T-shaped beam with a square profile. The T-boom is a common component of automation equipment historically made from steel and/or aluminum. It is used to transfer components from one manufacturing step to another (for example, from a press to a punch cutter). The T-boom connects to machinery at the stem of the T and uses the arms to move materials or unfinished parts. Recent manufacturing and design advancements have improved the performance of CFRP T-booms in terms of critical functional characteristics — vibration, deflection and distortion being chief among them.

The design reduces vibration, deflection and distortion in industrial machinery and contributes to improved performance both of the component itself and of the machinery with which it is working. Read more about the CompoTech boom here: “Composite T-boom accelerates industrial automation.”

Imagine Fiberglass COVID-19 testing booth

Imagine Fiberglass Products COVID-19 testing booth. Photo Credit: Imagine Fiberglass Products

COVID-19 creativity

The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired some interesting composites-based solutions designed to address challenges posed by the disease. Inspired by a polycarbonate and aluminum COVID-19 testing booth designed and built by Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, Mass., U.S.) earlier this year, Imagine Fiberglass Products Inc. (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) has developed its own lighter, sturdier version using fiberglass-reinforced composites.

The company’s IsoBooth, which is based on a design originally developed by Harvard Medical School researchers, allows a clinician to stand inside, apart from the patient, and administer a swab test from gloved external hand ports. A shelf or customized tray on the front of the booth holds test kits, supplies and a canister of sanitizing wipes used to clean the gloves and the shield between patients.

Imagine Fiberglass’ design incorporates three clear polycarbonate viewing panels attached to three tinted fiberglass gun roving/polyester panels reinforced with polypropylene honeycomb core in places that require additional stiffness. The composite panels are open molded and coated with a white gel coat exterior. The polycarbonate panels and arm ports are machined on Imagine Fiberglass’ CNC router; the only parts not made in-house are the gloves. The booth weighs about 90 pounds, can be easily carried by two people and at 33 inches deep, is designed to fit through most standard commercial doors. For more on this application, visit: “Fiberglass composites enable lighter, sturdier COVID-19 testing booth design.”