As FRPs become better and better able to withstand various stresses, including fire, their usefulness is growing, not least offshore. Keywords here are better corrosion resistance, greater strength, lower weight and a feasible price, particularly by product lifetime. One of the reasons for this increased applicability is in the higher reliability that comes from more trustworthy calculations. Designers know more about what plastic can tolerate than they used to, while the manufacturers of the structures are becoming better at maintaining a consistent high quality. That classification societies like Det norske Veritas are now actively involved in developing better construction and testing criteria is also helping to lift the materials into a higher class.
“Many thousand different qualities of fibre and polymer matrix materials are now available,” says Dr. Jon Taby, general manager of FiReCo i Fredikstad. “The matrix systems can be tailored so that they precisely meet specified standards, whether chemical, mechanical or fire safety. At the same time, these materials’ great freedom of design demands a good deal of more designers and builders. We mustn’t guess or take short-cuts. We have to know exactly what stresses act where in the structure, and preferably be so familiar with the material that we know exactly where it’s going to be used in the various areas from the very beginning.
Taby emphasises that for its part, FiReCo has invested in extensive databases and its own laboratory at a little test factory. Having such a good overview of available solutions, while being able to walk down the stairs to build and test them, reduces the danger of misses quite considerably.
When asked whether anything in particular has happened in the last twenty years to areas like matrix plastic and fibre, Taby replies that no, perhaps it hasn’t. “After the big breakthroughs such as the new E fibreglass, aramid fibres of the Kevlar family, the carbon-fibre variants and certain special matrix plastics like epoxy and so forth, the manufacturers have wisely decided to take one step at a time. The glass fibres have been further improved, not least the cloth variants, even more types of aramid fibres have appeared, improved matrix plastics of the type epoxy, vinyl and polyester have seen the light of day, more carbon-fibre variants have been developed. The most important development has probably been on the carbon fibre side, in that the price has fallen by several dozen percent over the last few years. Soon carbon fibre will be so cheap that we can consider using carbon-fibre reinforced plastics where we used to have no alternative but steel,” concludes Taby, himself trained in steel at NTNU.
Long list of distinctions
“And you are experts in all of these?”
“Those are your words. But I am conceited enough to admit that we have learnt a thing or two in the years we’ve been going, together with customers like the Royal Norwegian Navy, ABB Offshore, Baro Mek. Verksted, UMOE Mandal, Ulstein Eikefjord, Sweden Yachts, Kronos Titan and others. Our offshore solutions have been developed in collaboration with Conoco and UMOE, we have worked with Finnyards and also Westamarin. For much of what we have done is marine designs with a hefty element of innovative work. I could mention the Norwegian minesweepers, the MTB studies, composite inlet pipes for Troll, R & D work for the Defence Research Establishment, Ciba and others – and the partnership with Det Norske Veritas I mentioned as regards a drastically improved regulatory framework for building future structures in fibre-reinforced polymers.