As Dura Composites celebrate 25 years of success, Quadrant Transport sits down with Jonathan Howard, sales manager, to discuss the role of Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) in the rail industry, company longevity and wider future sustainability projects.
As experts in the design, manufacture and supply of GRP, Dura Composites has several patented and patent-pending engineered solutions that fall into three main categories. The first is open mesh grating, predominantly used for walkways where an open drainage anti-slip surface is needed.
Next is solid structural and non-structural flooring surfaces that are used in areas of pedestrian traffic such as station platforms and footbridges. The third is GRP profiles which are a high strength but lightweight and non-conductive alternative to steel.
Thanks to its suitability for electrified environments such as OHLE and third rail, GRP is fast becoming a primary infrastructure material for flooring and walkways in the rail industry. However, there is still much to be done to allow for its wider adoption in all the scenarios in which it can be applied.
Having started in the marine industry, Dura Composites used its material expertise knowledge to develop bespoke solutions for the UK rail sector back in 2012. The company has continued to evolve and innovate its product portfolio over the past 9 years, recently winning the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for its Dura Platform train station solution.
SPOTLIGHT’s event with Dura Composites discussed this in greater detail. The on-demand link is available here.
Wider industry knowledge helped Dura hit the ground running
Jonathan Howard told Quadrant Transport: “Through close collaboration with Network Rail key stakeholders and tier one contractors, it was clear that a dedicated rail team was required to improve understanding of the application of British standards, fire ratings, and new applications for GRP in the rail sector. There were also new products that needed to be developed to provide solutions where none existed previously.”
This new focused team led to the development of the GRP Ballast Retention System which was first deployed in the western region. Jonathan explained how this ballast retention system was used in a real-life situation.
Quadrant Transport was told: “Through a scoping project it was identified that previous ballast retention systems did not allow for easy inspection of the bridge structure and a new solution was required that both improved safety and efficiency and reduced labour costs.
Continuing, Jonathan said: “We came up with a novel system using our various GRP Dura Profile and Dura Grating components which were tested in situ, and from that, we then created a full GRP ballast retention system.”
We came up with a novel system using our various GRP Dura Profile and Dura Grating components which were tested in situ, and from that, we then created a full GRP ballast retention system.
In doing so, Dura developed a new patented component that forms the core support element of the full system and reduces the time taken to build a whole ballast retention system from weeks to just a couple of days. It was hailed that it was Dura Composites’ “collaborative approach and knowledge of the sector” that enabled them to “make things better, stronger, quicker and safer.”
The rail industry is facing revolutionary changes and there is a huge push for decarbonisation and electrification. Dura Composites are ahead of the curve as all their composite materials are non-conductive and have a long design life.
“There is a critical focus on safety, and when it comes to electrification, having lightweight materials which are non-sparking and non-conductive aids safety and productivity. Equally choosing materials that have a design life of up to 60 years is a sustainable choice when it comes to improving today’s ageing rail infrastructure” added Jonathan.
Sustainability at the heart of Dura
Determined to improve the way the industry works, Dura Composites has also invested heavily in the upcycle/downcycle aspects of their products.
Jonathan informed Quadrant Transport: “Dura Composites has created a company called Dura Upcycling Ltd. Where a product has come to the end of its usable life, we can re-purpose it in other scenarios where perhaps it can take on a new life as a non-structural component.
Working in collaboration with industry trade bodies such as Composites UK and other organisations, Dura Composites is also looking at how they can take strands of waste material and extract the resins and fibres to be able to create new products. “We can upcycle and downcycle really well and now we are focusing on how we can effectively recycle for the long term,” he said.
Network Rail and TFL are both committed to ensuring that innovative materials such as GRP are used to enhance their assets and improve customer experience.
Dual industry role is a vital composite asset
Having a dual role with both Dura Composites and as a member of the board of directors for Composites UK enables Jonathan to be an influencer for the better understanding and adoption of GRP composites within the rail sector and other core industries.
Alongside the Rail Industry Association (RIA), Jonathan also established UPCRII, a steering group that looks at the various barriers and blockers to wider industry adoption and how to address them through education.
Through UPCRII initial meetings, the team identified 159 reasons why GRP composites were not being widely used. These barriers were then grouped together to form two main themes – primarily lack education around the products and confusion around the application of standards.
Our 25 years of experience have shown us time and time again how composites can accelerate project delivery, enhance safety and save costs
To address these issues Dura Composites is planning to create a series of datasheets to help increase understanding and confidence in using GRP for infrastructure projects, as the potential benefits to the industry from proper usage are huge. Jonathan said: “Our 25 years of experience have shown us time and time again how composites can accelerate project delivery, enhance safety and save costs.”
Although they may not be suitable for absolutely every application, there is a vast range of scenarios where they can deliver improved performance versus steel, concrete, aluminium, and timber. Recent pandemic supply issues that have affected the availability of these materials have made composites more attractive than ever.
Project SPEED is all about swift, pragmatic, and efficient enhancement delivery, and that is an ethos that is right at the heart of everything we do at Dura Composites, Jonathan added.
“Our new materials data analysis online tool for examples was launched earlier this year and is now available to all rail personnel to enable them to make safe, accurate choices about GRP material specification for their individual rail project. It is the result of years of academic research and live and simulated product testing and the reaction from the rail industry has been really encouraging.”
Rounding up the interview, Jonathan stated, “There has never been a better opportunity for composites to be an enabler for Network Rail when focusing on Project Speed. We’re not just a supplier of materials, we’re materials experts, developing real-world solutions to genuine daily rail obstacles and we are relishing in the challenge!”