Questioning Composites

by Lawrence C. Bank, (M.ASCE), Assoc. Prof.; Civil Engrg. Dept., Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1993, Vol. 63, Issue 1, Pg. 64-65

Document Type: Feature article


Steel, concrete and timber are, of course, the most commonly used construction materials. Composites, or fiber reinforced plastics, have been used in specialty applications in construction (e.g., as ladders or walkways), but they have yet to gain widespread acceptance as a load-bearing, structural material. Part of the problem is that the construction industry has mimicked other industries, such as aerospace and automotive, by following a product-type philosophy. But those familiar with the way civil engineering structures are usually designed will recognize that a process whereby a product is designed and mass-produced is not the mode of operation in the construction industry. Instead, most structures are one of a kind, designed according to building codes and specifications using somewhat standard components. As a result, a framework is needed that will allow architects and structural engineers to specify composite materials for civil engineering structures in a similar fashion to how they now specify conventional materials. Ultimately, the proliferation of composites in construction will depend on the response to four basic questions: why, how, when, and where. The answers lie in costs, performance, acceptance of specifications and building codes, and industry education.

Subject Headings: Construction materials | Construction industry | Composite materials | Steel construction | Building codes | Composite construction | Concrete | Wood

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