Civil Engineers are known to test the limits of building structures, by going higher, longer or lighter. On the other hand Civil Engineers are by definition very conservative. These two professional characteristics come together when Civil Engineers are exploring the exciting opportunities offered by the high-tech Engineering materials available to them today. The challenges to reduce weight, increase spans, build higher or slender constructions; automatically mean they must look at new engineering materials in their daring designs. This essay gives a background in how this is done.
What is a Composite?A Composite is a multiphase material formed from a combination of two or more materials that differ in composition or form, which are bonded together, but retaining their identities and properties. The outcome of this “composition” is that the newly formed material has superior properties over the individual components.A good example of such a material is FRP or Fibreglass Reinforced Polymer, a very common composite, used for a multitude of applications, ranging from space and aeronautics to boating and cars.
Composite Engineering, which basically consists of the use of Composite materials in Engineering, is slowly but surely making inroads into the Civil Engineering field. Despite the fact that Composites are generally more expensive in comparison to traditional construction materials, and therefore not as widely used in many constructive and building activities, they have the advantage of being lightweight, more corrosion resistant and stronger. The fibre reinforcements provide good damping characteristics and high resistance to fatigue.
The Civil Engineering worldThe Civil Engineering profession is said to be the oldest Engineering profession in the world. Civil engineers have been involved over many centuries to build and maintain the basic infrastructure, from pyramids in Egypt to modern transportation systems. Today Civil Engineering involves analysis, planning, design, construction, and maintenance of many types of facilities for government, commerce, industry, and public domain. Civil Engineers design and supervise the construction of roads, airports, tunnels, bridges, water supply, sewage systems, and buildings. It is therefore a sector that provides an essential service to society. Civil engineers are concerned with the impact of their projects on the public and the environment, and they co-ordinate the needs of society with technical and economic feasibility.Composites can benefit Civil Engineering.The two aforementioned disciplines are more and more getting acquainted. If the advantages that Composites offer are combined with the physical limits of Civil Engineering an interesting development can occur. Composites are more often a part of the material forming and basis for Civil Engineering projects. Over the last thirty years Composite materials, plastics, and ceramics have been the dominant emerging materials. The volume and number of applications of Composite materials has grown steadily, penetrating and conquering new markets relentlessly. Modern Composite materials constitute a significant proportion of the engineered materials market. As the years go by, Civil engineers have realised the benefits of using Composite materials in construction. Composite Engineering is therefore taking a turn in the manner in which it is being applied today. There has been a substantial increase in the amount of structures in building and construction that use Composite materials. In addition, with increased demand on strength, safety and reliability it has become imperative for many industries to use Composite Engineering.
Composite Technology Development benefits Civil EngineeringDue to this, there have been significant developments in Composite materials. With the technological know-how available today, Composite materials are constantly being adapted to the way that they are used. As a result, there are a wide variety of Composites to choose from, thanks to the ever-changing technological advances that make it possible to apply Composite Engineering. As a result, each type of Composite brings its own performance characteristics that are typically suited for specific applications.
In addition, Civil Engineering today faces challenges that require building reinforced structures that can overcome natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. This requires the creative use of Composite materials in existing structures and structural systems. Composites are now successfully applied in making concrete structures more earthquake resistant around the world.It is expected that Composite Engineering will make more and successful inroads into Civil Engineering and will play a more and vital role in pushing the future of the building and construction process to the limits.