Composite materials for structures are recognized as a promising alternative to conventional construction materials such as concrete and steel. Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites, in particular, have seen a steady increase in adoption as a high-strength, lightweight, and durable construction material.
First envisioned and developed for the aerospace and defense industry in the 1940s, FRP composites have become a mainstay of structural upgrades and repair. Thanks to recent advances in manufacturing, FRP protruded shapes, resembling the size and form of their steel counterparts, have now been utilized as a means of avoiding corrosion in highway bridge slabs, cooling tower basins, and many other structures exposed to aggressive environments. It likely won’t be long before we see FRP composites made on demand using 3D modeling technologies.
Imagine utilizing 3D laser scanning to capture an image of traditional construction materials that are failing prematurely and then designing and fabricating composite retrofit components, much in the way that 3D printing engendered an industry for plastic replacement parts. And while FRP composites are currently dominated by synthetic materials, future composites will be built upon natural fiber components. These fibers show the potential for excellent mechanical properties and many environmental advantages such as reduced dependence on non-renewable energy/material sources, lower pollutant emissions, lower greenhouse gas emissions, enhanced energy recovery, and overall sustainability when compared to glass and carbon fiber composites.