Fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites are gaining popularity in many industries, including automotive and aerospace, for their light weight, corrosion resistance, and improved strength. FRPs are made by combining tough plastics with strong fibers such as fiberglass or carbon to produce new materials.
A recent post on Polymersolutions.com describes a new application for FRPs- elevator cables. Elevator cables are made from steel, but the weight of this material limits how high skyscrapers can be built. This is because beyond a certain length, steel elevator cable becomes too heavy to move the elevator, and the cable will snap at about 3,200 feet. Now an elevator manufacturer has solved this problem by replacing steel elevator cable with UltraRope, a cable made with carbon fiber and a polyurethane coating. UltraRope will make its debut in the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, which will become the world’s tallest building upon completion in 2018. According to the article, Ultrarope’s secret is its shape (it’s wider than it is thick with V-shaped longitudinal grooves) and the combination of epoxy, polyester, phenoic and vinyl ester resins. The result is a material an estimated 90% lighter than steel cables, leaving architects free to design taller buildings without the physical limitations of very long, heavy steel elevator cables.
FRPs have many other applications in construction. Compositesuk explains that FRPs have been successfully used in construction since the 1960s in load bearing and infill panels, pressure pipes, tank liners, and roofs. FRP systems are being developed to form entire composite structures including foot, road and rail bridge systems. (Read Paving with Plastic: Could FTIR Help Make It a Reality?)
FRPs have been used in construction for decades because they are lightweight yet strong and durable, low maintenance, and can be tailored for specific performance or aesthetic characteristics. FRPs can be used to create architectural features such as the newly unveiled fiber-reinforced-polymer panels on the facade of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, which was designed to simulate the water in San Francisco Bay. (Read Modern Art with Fiber-reinforced Polymer Composites.)
Many types of fibers are use to make FRPs, and these may be chemically modified to enhance their properties. Multi-layered polymer composites are specifically engineered for particular performance characteristics. Confirming the composition and integrity of these materials is important both for the industries that manufacture these products as well as for industries that utilize these materials in their own products. The diversity of the materials used and the microscopic construction of these materials requires analytical techniques with unique capabilities. Raman and FT-IR micro-spectroscopy are both uniquely suited for the analysis of polymer composites. FT-IR and Raman mapping and imaging used together provide a complementary approach that can readily identify unknown materials as well as providing information on molecular structure and chemical environment.