CW Blog

It’s long overdue. After nearly 20 years of CW coverage about composites for infrastructure — in bridges, concrete formwork, piping, electrical transmission towers, and more — our government has taken notice of composites for streamlining and ultimately saving money on all aspects of infrastructure projects, thanks in large part to the persistent efforts of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA). On August 2, ACMA announced that both chambers of Congress have introduced new legislation to encourage research and deployment of innovative construction techniques and materials in transportation and water infrastructure projects nationwide. According to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s (D-RI) web page, investing in these new techniques and materials would help to extend the life of critical public works that draw increasingly poor ratings for condition and performance.

The legislative bill, known as the Innovative Materials for America's Growth and Infrastructure Newly Expanded (or IMAGINE), was introduced in the Senate by Whitehouse, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.), and David Cicilline (D-R.I.). It is designed to promote the increased use of innovative materials like FRP composites, as well as new manufacturing methods to speed up the deployment and extend the life of infrastructure projects.

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My vision for these “Connecting the Dots” blogs is to show connections that I see during my continuous research. To me, these are visual images that light up like a runway, pointing to a trend forming or a technology moving toward a tipping point. Sometimes it’s just a landscape coming into focus. I make no claims of futurecasting accuracy, only relationships that I see and find intriguing. My hope is that this type of blog will inspire you and stimulate new ideas for composites applications and technology developments.

The first of these blogs is about how generative design is being used to develop lightweight, bionic structures and how composites may take this one step further, to integrate sensing and other functions.

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What’s a great way to learn about new technology? See it in action. At trade shows, live demos on the show floor and presentations in the conferences give you an exclusive look at current and emerging technology and how it’s being used.

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CW continues to cover the Airlander 10 hybrid aircraft by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV, Shortstown, Bedford, UK), a helium-filled airship. Originally known as the HAV-304, developed as part of program involving Northrop Grumman (Falls Church, VA, US), the airship was considered by the US Army for the US Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) project, intended to support ground troops, conduct surveillance and carry military cargo. The LEMV program was cancelled in 2013, and HAV brought the concept back home, rebuilt the craft as the Airlander, and has since made a splash by announcing a focus on luxury tourist travel.  

First, some background. Unlike a rigid airship like the legendary Zeppelin, the Airlander 10 has no internal structure; pressurized helium inside the vast skin allows the skin to maintain its shape and support the payload modules attached to it (more on those below). It’s called a hybrid air vehicle, says the company, because it flies thanks to a combination of both buoyant lift (due to the lighter-than-air helium) and aerodynamic lift (from air flow over the lobed, elliptical envelope shape). The buoyant lift contributes about 60% of the lift, and the aerodynamics, about 40%. Four diesel engines driving ducted propellers contribute thrust, primarily for takeoff and landings. According to the company, the Airlander 10 can stay aloft for 3 to 4 days with passengers aboard and has a cruise speed of 105 knots (or 120 mph).

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