COMPOSITES: THE ENGINEERING OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE BY ATHAN OPARAJI!

According to Wikipedia, composite material (also called a composition material or shortened to composite, which is the common name) is a material made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties that, when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components.

IMG Composites Limited says a composite material is a combination of reinforcing fibres, such as fibre glass and a polymer matrix. When cured the composite material can possess a range of properties: glass fibre composite material will have high strength combined with high elasticity, whilst a carbon fibre system can be even stronger with a higher Young’s modulus but the greater stiffness imparted may detract from usefulness in some situations. This definition relates to the recent developments of composites as it follows a trend from ancient times.

GROWTH IN THE COMPOSITES INDUSTRY

The composites industries like Neptune Research Incorporated (NRI), IMG Composites Limited and Solartech International limited are exciting industries to work in because new materials, processes and applications are being developed all the time – using the FRP or GRP composites. The global composites materials market is growing at about 5% per year, with carbon fibre demand growing at 12% per year.

From The 2016 UK Composites Strategy:

With around 1500 British companies involved, the UK composites product market was estimated at £2.3bn in 2015, and could grow to £12bn by 2030.

WHY &WHEN SHOULD YOU USE COMPOSITES?

As with all engineering materials, composites have particular strengths and weaknesses, which should be considered at the specifying stage. Composites are by no means the right material for every job.

However, a major driving force behind the development of composites has been that the combination of the reinforcement and the matrix can be changed to meet the required final properties of a component. For example, if the final component needs to be fire-resistant, a fire-retardant matrix can be used in the development stage so that it has this property.

Weight reduction

The primary reason composites are chosen is improved specific strength / stiffness (strength / stiffness specific per unit weight).

This helps to reduce fuel use, or increase acceleration or range in transport.

It allows for easier, faster installation or faster movement of robot arms and reduces supporting structures or foundations.

It improves topside stability in vessels and offshore structures and buoyancy for deep sea applications.

Durability and maintenance

Composites don’t rust, which is crucial, especially in marine and chemical environments. The need for maintenance and painting is reduced or eliminated.

Composite bearings for marine engines and bridges need no lubrication and don’t corrode.

Combine the excellent fatigue resistance, and composites can increase product lifespan by several times in many applications.

Added functionality

Composites are thermal insulators which is good for fire and blast protection or cryogenic applications.

Electrical insulation is useful for railway line side structures and radar transparency. A conductive mesh or coating can be integrated if needed, e.g. to reflect radar or divert lightning.

Sensors, electronics and cabling can be embedded.

Design freedom

COMPOSITES: THE ENGINEERING OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE BY ATHAN OPARAJI!

Composites design allows for freedom of architectural form.

Many parts can be consolidated into one, and stiffeners, inserts, etc. can be integrated in-mould.

Composites can be tailored to suit the application by choosing the constituent materials and embedding extra functionality.

Regardless of their origin, composites are what have made life as we know it possible.

History of Composites

The times B.C. marked the beginning of types of composites materials used in daily applications.

The first known use of composites is credited to the Mesopotamians. These ancient people glued wood strips at different angles to create plywood in 3400 B.C.

Between 2181 and 2055 B.C., Egyptians used Cartonnage and layers of linen or papyrus soaked in plaster to make death masks.

Around 1500 B.C., Egyptians and Mesopotamians builders and artisans used straw to reinforce mud bricks, pottery and boats.

Around 25 B.C., The Ten Books on Architecture described concrete and distinguished various types of lime and mortars. Interestingly, research demonstrates that the cement described is similar, and in some ways, superior to the Portland cement used today.

From the ancient times, builders, artisans, engineers and manufacturers continued to develop composites of a wider array of materials for more sophisticated applications.

In about 1200 AD, Mongols invented the first composite bows made from a combination of wood, bamboo, bone, cattle tendons, horns, bamboo and silk bonded with natural pine resin. These small, powerful, extremely accurate bows were the most feared weapons on earth until the 14th century invention of effective firearms.

From the 1870’s through the 1890’s, a chemical revolution changed composite development. New synthetic resins were transformed from a liquid to solid state in a cross-linked molecular structure using a process known as polymerization. Early synthetic resins included celluloid, melamine and Bakelite.

In the early 1900’s, chemical advances drove the development of plastics. Materials such as vinyl, polystyrene, phenolic and polyester were created and reinforcement was needed to provide strength and rigidity. Polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, or Bakelite as it’s commonly known, was developed by Belgian-born New York chemist Leo Baekeland in 1907.

In 1935, Owens Corning introduced the first glass fibre and launched the fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) industry. By 1947, a fully composite body automobile was prototyped and tested, leading to the development of the 1953 Corvette.

Between 1950-1980, formed the basis for large-scale rocket motors that propelled exploration of space in the 1960’s and beyond. In 1961, the first carbon fibre was patented and several years later, became commercially available. In 1970, Mar-Bal began to make custom-molded breakers for several applications including:

Electrical breakers

Motor assemblies

Small appliances

From this humble beginning, Mar-Bal grew into the most integrated thermoset composites solution provider today.

By the mid 1990’s, composite materials became more common in mainstream manufacturing and construction. As a cost-effective replacement to traditional materials like metal and engineered thermoplastics, thermoset composites were common components within the appliance, construction, electrical and transportation industries

In the mid-2000s, the development of the 787 Dreamliner validated composites for high-strength and rigid applications and the continued development of finish technology, like PVD and THERMTIAL™, expanded the number of applications in the automotive, appliance and consumer products industries.

MODERN COMPOSITE MATERIALS

COMPOSITES: THE ENGINEERING OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE BY ATHAN OPARAJI!

Today, the use of composites has evolved to commonly incorporate a structural fibre and a plastic, this is known as Fibre Reinforced Plastics or FRP for short. Like straw, the fibre provides the structure and strength of the composite, while a plastic polymer holds the fibre together. Common types of fibres used in FRP composites include:

Fibre glass

Carbon fibre

Aramid fibre

Boron fibre

Basalt fibre

Natural fibre (wood, flax, hemp, etc.)

In the case of fiberglass, hundreds of thousands of tiny glass fibres are compiled together and held rigidly in place by a plastic polymer resin. Common plastic resins used in composites include:

Epoxy

Vinyl Ester

Polyester

Polyurethane

Polypropylene

The composite material most commonly associated with the term “composite” is Fibre Reinforced Plastics.

This type of composite is used extensively throughout our daily lives. Common everyday uses of fibre reinforced plastic composites include:

Aircraft

Boats ,FPSO, Marine vessels

Sporting equipment (golf shafts, tennis rackets, surfboards, hockey sticks, etc.)

Automotive components

Wind turbine blades

Body armor

Building materials

Oil, Gas and Water piping and pipelines

Bridges

Tool handles

Ladder rails

Modern composite materials have a number of advantages over other materials such as steel. Perhaps most importantly, composites are much lighter in weight. They also resist corrosion, are flexible and dent-resistant. This, in turn, means they require less maintenance and have a longer lifespan than traditional materials. Composite materials make cars lighter and therefore more fuel efficient, make body armor more resistant to bullets and make turbine blades that can withstand the stress of high wind speeds.

Some companies advancing in the modern day research and applications of these composites solutions/repairs in oil and gas industries, aerospace, Nuclear Power sectors etc are Neptune Research Incorporated (NRI),IMG Composites Limited and Solartech International Limited.

ADVANTAGES OF COMPOSITE REPAIR COMPARED TO EQUIVALENT STEEL REPAIR!

COMPOSITES: THE ENGINEERING OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT AND THE FUTURE BY ATHAN OPARAJI!

Flexibility: composites like the IMG composites are flexible and much more capable of conforming to complex shapes and geometries on site without the need for fabrication, thus reducing cost and lead-in-times.

Corrosion: composites materials do not corrode, giving it a higher potential lifespan.

Light Weight: Composite repairs are lighter than equivalent steel repair.

Cold Work: Repairs can be applied without a hot permit to work.

No Joints/welds:Joints/welds are not required in composites repair which avoids inherent weakness of joints as in steel repairs enabling composites cover larger areas without weak points.

Impact Strength: Under impact loading, repairs are much less susceptible to damage due to the high elasticity of the composite material.

Environmental: Manufacturing steel generates 4 tons of CO2 per ton of sheet produced (Transportation R&D Centre, Argon National Library, Oct 1995). This is compared to 0.75 tons of CO2 per ton of epoxy resin produced.

CASE STUDY OF COMPOSITE REPAIRS:

According to Neptune Research Incorporated (NRI),q

One company in Thailand recently used the composite repair system Syntho-Glass XT, which is manufactured by NRI. The application came at a critical time for this offshore company, since the wall loss on this 32-in. riser was such that the only other option available was a full cut and replacement of the pipe section needing repair. The damaged pipeline was on an offshore oil rig which supplies the nation’s power plants with fuel. A shutdown would have cost the country roughly $125,000 per hour in lost production, or more than $3 million a day. Replacing the pipeline would have been a major undertaking that would have lasted months and cost millions. Heavy equipment would have needed to be shipped to the oil rig to make the repairs. Since taking the pipeline out of operation would have been financially crippling, the operator decided instead to use a composite repair solution.

Also, diving teams have completed composite repairs for Petrobras with the Syntho-Glass XT repair system in waters down to 100 meters (328 ft). The ability to perform these repairs safely with composite repair systems avoids the costs and dangers of underwater welding or suspending production. It also means safer application techniques for the diver and a more economical solution for the operator.

A research from Jay Thomas, VP of strengthening solutions at Structural, says more than1.85 million m2 of carbon fibre composites already have been installed in reinforced concrete buildings in the U.S. alone.

One example, applied to steel structures, is the composite repair designed by Comptek Structural Composites Inc. (Boulder, CO, US) and its Boulder-based subsidiary Aero Solutions LLC for the 54m tall KHON television broadcasting tower, mounted atop a 42-story building in downtown Honolulu, HI, US. The badly corroded steel monopole had been condemned and revised building codes prevented construction of a replacement on the building. Composite repair provided the only practical solution. The repair featured unidirectional carbon fibre, aligned parallel to the tower axis and carefully bonded to the entire outer surface, followed by outer hoop wraps of uni carbon over 40% of its surface, to ensure structural integrity. A cement-based grout injection followed, to provide additional stiffness to the monopole. Once stabilized, the tower was wrapped with Comptek’s water-activated polyurethane prepreg as an outer weather-tight layer.

Composites also can be used to repair product pipelines, such as natural gas and petroleum pipes at oil refineries and offshore platforms. One example is Henkel’s (Düsseldorf, Germany) Loctite Composite Repair System for steel pipes and pipelines, which has been certified by DNV GL to the global quality standard ISO/TS 24817. Thus, the system is qualified for repairing oil and gas pipelines and pipework that carry petrochemicals.

RISE IN SUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS

As composite repair usage continues to rise, we will continue to see advances in technologies, new innovations, and new regulations and guidelines for the industry as a whole. There are numerous standards organizations that now recognize composite repair systems as acceptable and suitable repair options. This opens the door wider for operators to continue to use composites in their maintenance programs, and to be comfortable that it is an approved alternative with sound industry backing.

Composite systems present new, available options for maintenance or repair for offshore structures. As material, design and capabilities advance, the possibilities increase. Regulatory acceptance and development of specific composite repair standards continue to change the mindset of operators, and open doors to a wider audience for the use of these repairs. Composites are beginning to move from a “Plan C” option through ‘’Plan B’’ to ‘’Plan A’’ to become a more recognized worldwide solution for repairs and maintenance programs.

To prove my assertion, on February 2018, Neptune Research Incorporation(NRI) and IMG Composites Limited, industry leaders in advanced composite repair solutions for the restoration, protection and reinforcement of pipe, pipelines and civil structures, have combined to become the largest composite repair corporation in the world. The merger will revolutionize the composite repair industry, uniting two powerful, innovation-driven companies with the expertise and resources to deliver superior repair solutions and services to its clients worldwide.

“We are extremely excited to be able to bring IMG Composites into the NRI family,” said Chris Lazzara, CEO of NRI. “Whilst the business has achieved good growth over the past few years, NRI’s significant resources and footprint will help accelerate and realise our growth plans in the UK and our key overseas markets,” said Brian Whytock, Director, IMG Composites Limited. Both companies and the rest of other Composites Technology Companies have implied to engineer the future of composites technology in the world.

Here in Nigeria, as an ASME PCC-2 & ISO/TS 24817 certified composite applicator from IMG Composites Limited Aberdeen UK, I have had the privilege to demonstrate the importance of IMG composites solutions under the platform of Liquid Energy Global Services limited with Navin Shanmuganandam,former Regional Business Development Manager Cape Plc Middle East and North Africa,and Mick Flaherty,the current Business Development Director, Wescott Industrial Services Limited, United Kingdom with the rest of the other experts. I am advocating the use of composite repair solutions. Nigeria and the rest of the entire Africa should embrace these amazing recent composite technology solutions in our refinery plants, LNG plants, onshore and offshore facilities and civil structures etc.

From my analysis, there is no doubt that composite materials/repairs are the engineering of the past, the present and the future.

Athan Oparaji is an Asset Integrity Engineer at Liquid Energy Global Services Limited. He can be reached at ikeathans4success@yahoo.com

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