The Inside Scoop on Composites

March 18, 2015

A composite is formed by combining two different materials where the best properties of each material have a synergistic effect, resulting in a "super" material. We'll discuss the three main types of composites and the benefits of each in this post.

Composites combine two different materials to make one material with a synergistic effect of the material properties. The best properties of each material are exploited to get one “super” material. Composites are different than metal alloys in that each constituent material in the composite maintains its own chemical and physical properties. One of the earliest known man-made composite material dates back thousands of years to ancient Egyptians who combined mud and straw to make a more robust material to construct buildings and structures. Composites have evolved since then and are now used in many sophisticated applications such as in aerospace components, military vehicles, bicycle parts … and pipe supports!


The three main categories of composite materials

There are three main categories of composite materials: sandwich-structured composites, particle reinforced composites, and fiber reinforced composites. Sandwich-structured composites aren’t quite as tasty as a BLT, but can be thought of as having a sandwich-like structure where multiple materials are bonded together. Particle and fiber reinforced composites are slightly different in that there is a primary matrix material with a secondary reinforcing material dispersed into the matrix material. The reinforcing phase can be dispersed into the matrix phase either in the form of particles or fibers (continuous or chopped fibers).  In the mud and straw example, the mud would be the matrix phase and the straw would be the reinforcing phase.

At APP, our CryoTek Pipe Shoes, and ProTek Wear Pads, Pipe Shoes, and Flat Plates utilize fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) composite technology. The APP FRP composite technology is composed of a vinyl ester thermoset resin matrix phase reinforced with fiberglass. The fibers that are distributed into the plastic matrix have high strength and high stiffness, which enhance the properties of the ductile, fatigue-resistant polymer. The matrix and reinforcing phases work together to provide a lightweight, yet incredibly high strength material. FRP has the best of both worlds.

FRP composites are an optimal pipe support material because, as discussed in Corrosion Part 1, plastic materials are not susceptible to corrosion like traditional metallic pipe supports are. Composite pipe supports will prolong the life of your valuable piping system by effectively preventing corrosion. In addition to minimizing long term maintenance costs, composite pipe supports also offer lower upfront installation costs than their metallic counterparts. FRP composites are lightweight so they are less expensive to ship and do not require heavy machinery to transport around a job site. Also, composite pipe supports do not need to be welded to the pipe, so hot work permits or highly trained personnel are not required for installation.

Through exacting standards and rigorous testing, we have perfected the science and engineering of using composite materials to produce the industry’s most effective safeguards against pipe corrosion.

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