What do planes, trains, automobiles, rotted teeth and broken sewer pipes have in common? Well today they’re all being made or repaired faster, cheaper and better thanks to significant advances in composite resin technologies.
First, it was filling cavities
If there are photos of you running around in the 60s wearing fluoro bell-bottoms and flowers in your hair, then chances are there was amalgam glistening away in your teeth! Despite the poor aesthetics and the glaringly obvious statement the shiny silver gap filler made about our dental flaws it was strong, safe and sturdy and they told us it was the bee’s knees for bogging up those nasty little cavities the all-day suckers gave us.
But in recent years concerns over the look and possible health implications of the amalgam have prompted many to head back to the dentist and get them replaced with much more flattering composite resin (white) fillings.
Then it was streamlining planes
In fact, composite resin technologies are now being used to improve almost everything from cars to hockey sticks, and bridges to train-track sleepers.
As BBC News stated back in 2014 ‘When it comes to airliners, weight is money. The heavier a plane is, the more fuel it takes to drive it through the air. The more fuel it takes, the more it costs.’
Today more than half the materials used in the frame of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are composites, and makers of Airbus's A350 are working with Britain’s National Composites Centre into Research and Modelling to develop the technologies even further.
And just as innovative composite materials are revolutionising air travel, they’ve brought a whole swag of incredible new solutions when it comes to the age-old question of how to fix a broken pipe.
And now it’s fixing broken pipes
Thirty years ago, the only real option for home owners, businesses or facility managers with blocked or broken drains or sewer pipes was to dig everything up and lay new ones. But today, innovative pipe rehabilitation strategies like CIPP relining, mean fibreglass or felt liners impregnated with composite resins can be pulled into place through existing pipe access points and cured inside the damaged pipe, basically creating an incredibly strong new inner lining over the damaged sections of pipe.
And the most incredible part is that it can all be done without the need to dig.
Dr David Rogers, PhD., who heads the research and development team at Nuflow Technologies at Ashmore, is a chemical polymer engineer and believes these materials are the way of the future.
“We’ve already had great success with this technology in terms of pipe rehabilitation and repair and we’ve got even bigger plans for the future,” he said.
“Composite manufacturing is a well-established field now and CIPP relining is quickly alleviating the need for people to dig up roads and buildings every time there’s a cracked or leaking pipe.
“Everyone’s realising that to get to the next stage you’ve got to have more structural materials, smarter materials and smarter manufacturing techniques.”
He says the shift in thinking that occurred in aircraft manufacturing is similar to the changes sweeping the pipe repair industry today.
“There are just no negatives with this relining product,” he said.
“I mean if you think about all the aircraft out there built with composite frames; they’re so lightweight yet every bit as strong as the aluminium or steel frames used in the past.”
Rogers said leading aircraft designers began moving away from aluminium frames and toward lightweight fibre composites – woven mats of carbon embedded in plastic – because of the incredible strength they had in proportion to their weight. The scientific term for the process is polymerisation, which in very basic terms means two different types of chemical composites (an activator and an initiator) are mixed together and heated, so that the matting hardens (cures).
“Back in the 1980s there was only about five per cent composite in those frames,” he said, “but now it’s more like 50 to 60 per cent because the materials have been rigorously tested to perfection and people have become increasingly and completely convinced that they work.”
Greater flexibility for every pipe repair situation
And just like the freedom that the flexibility of carbon fibre technology has given aircraft designers to juggle the conflicting demands of aerodynamic efficiency, fuel savings, passenger comfort and reduced engine noise, the materials designed and manufactured by Nuflow can be modified and manipulated to suit the unique conditions each pipe relining job presents.
“I’ve worked with polymers and resins for 20 years and I know the formulations we’ve designed here work extremely well for repairing damaged pipes, even in incredibly challenging situations,” he said.
“Because we design and make the products ourselves, we can lengthen and shorten cure times to suit environmental conditions like extreme heat or cold or increase load-bearing capabilities if the repair is beneath roads or driveways.
“We also get every new product independently tested and the results consistently confirm we’re performing well above the minimum international standards for CIPP relining (ASTM F1216-99).
“Those results and the very close relationship we have with the products; taking them all the way from concept to manufacture and installation, makes us very invested in what we do and gives us the confidence to back ourselves with warranties that guarantee performance over the long term.”
If you need a design solution for your pipe issue call 1800 870 207 (Australia), 09 887 1201 (New Zealand) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bowler, T. (2014) Carbon fibre planes: Lighter and stronger by design, BBC News.
Griffiths, M., & Collier, P. (2016) Hexion Inc. helps Lotus make its fastest production road car ever, Reinforced plastics, Vol. 60, pp. 164-166.