Speaker insights from Dura Composites, STRUCTeam LTD and Scaled

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About Composites in Rail 

Ahead of the Composites in Rail conference we took the opportunity to gather industry insights from our expert speakers. 

In our latest combined interview we caught up with speakers Jonathan Howard, Julien Sellier and Dr Bob Bradley from our 'Improving rail infrastructure through the use of composites' session. We asked them about their current focus areas, how to remove barriers to using composites in the rail sector and what they will be speaking about at Composites in Rail. 

8-9 October, 2020 | Berlin, Germany

Jonathan Howard
GRP Business Development Manager, Industrial & Rail Sectors, 
Dura Composites

Julien Sellier
Managing Director, STRUCTeam LTD

Dr Bob Bradley
Technical Director,

Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

Jonathan Howard: My key responsibility is to develop a growth strategy that identifies and advances new and existing market segments for current GRP products and establish where innovation can be applied to engineer new GRP solutions and products. This will be built upon the creation of long-term value for existing customers, markets, and relationships and continues product education by providing CPD training, working with trade bodies and continues market updates via social media.

Julien SellierAs the Managing Director of STRUCTeam, I define and drive the strategic direction of the company. Business development in emerging sectors is a significant part of my role alongside supporting critical engineering projects as a technical expert on a case by case basis. Our mission is to identify the optimal engineering solution for our customers composites challenges whilst delivering value and superior performance. This objective remains at the core of our business, the services we offer and everything we do. This year helping our clients achieve sustainable practices to prepare them for the CO2 legislations will also be major focus.

Dr Bob BradleyI am the Technical Director here at Scaled. As we are a start-up company my responsibilities cover a wide range of areas. My favourite activity is the development of new approaches for novel applications of our 3D printing technology – particularly with respect to optimising designs for printing. I am also particularly fascinated by new combinations of materials (e.g. the merging of printed materials with composites to create novel hybrid structures and components) and new and exciting topologies.

How do you see the composites industry developing and growing in the next three-to-five years?

Jonathan HowardAs GRP becomes more widely known and trusted, the market will see considerable growth in both standard products and bespoke applications. As the market unites with the support of trade bodies such as Composites UK, this will help with the skills and knowledge gap in the use of GRP internationally.

Julien Sellier: The composites market is dynamic and constantly evolving and I predict growth in all sectors. The wind, marine, mass transportation markets will see a steady rise in single figures. However, it will be the automotive and construction sectors where the most significant development and investments will be seen. This is driven by the growing commitment from vehicle manufacturers across the globe to reduce overall vehicle weight. Composites offer the solution and that’s not about to change any time soon.

Dr Bob Bradley: I would expect that certain trends that can be seen across other high-value manufacturing methods will be present in this industry also. Among these are concepts such as digital twin, more sophisticated modelling and simulation, interconnectivity of equipment and devices, ubiquitous sensing and computing architecture, and more blurring of the lines between previously disparate manufacturing techniques. A greater degree of automation of previously manual processes coupled with huge potential deriving from numerical modelling and planning will lead to extremely exciting deployment of materials.

What are the barriers to growth and uptake of composites products in the rail industry and how do you think these barriers could be removed?

Jonathan Howard: Education in design, construction and maintenance, and standards are key barriers and blockers. Work via UPCRII has raised these barriers. Only from data sheets easily available to all, upskilling courses and pre-graduate courses will progress be made to overcome this lack of knowledge. Standards require challenging to accept the use of composites as well as the test methods applied.

Julien Sellier: It is a well-established fact the rail industry must adopt new and advanced technologies to improve reliability and reduce cost. However, there is a hesitancy to integrate composites into structural applications due to inadequate standards, end of life considerations and a lack of experience and education around the use of advanced materials. Regulations around procurement are also restrictive coupled with concerns over who will support the introduction of this new technology? Essentially a complete mind shift towards composites must take place within the rail sector. As experts with decades of experience using these materials, STRUCTeam is well placed to help the sector make this vital transition.

Dr Bob Bradley: I imagine that many of the barriers seen in other sectors are equally prevalent in the rail industry. Issues such as the high costs deriving in part from the manual labour rates associated with composites, as well as issues around cycle times for high volumes of structures and brackets may well be evident. A review of the regulatory requirements for the different types of structures and components required by the industry in the coming years, as well as a more practical approach to specifying lifetimes for various structures could well lead to more elegant and sensible deployment of new materials and designs in the sector.

What has been the most exciting development in the world of composites in the last couple of years?

Jonathan Howard: There have been many great developments, but in our world, it’s the combination of utilising the best of all materials to create a hybrid solution. This can be seen in station platform and footbridges on the rail projects we have worked on, which are improving efficiency, safety and improved whole life costs.

Julien Sellier: Witnessing growth in every market sector of the global composites industry is tremendously exciting. A new world is shaping, and we all have a responsibility to ensure the technologies and manufacturing processes we are advocating are part of a self-sustaining system. Serious investment into recycling programmes, end-of-life solutions and reducing emissions are gaining traction and that provides hope that in 10 years we will no longer be the polluters.

Dr Bob Bradley: It may be a somewhat biased view, but I believe that one of the most exciting developments in the world of composites is the emergence of techniques that use additive manufacturing to produce rapid mould tooling in order to produce first article and prototype composite structures extremely quickly and cost-effectively. This gives engineering teams more time to evaluate designs and test new components and systems, whereas there used to be a huge rush to finalise part designs due to the long lead-times and costs associated with conventional tooling. In the future, more complex systems based on printed cores with composite skins and inserts will start to be realised as new simulation and modelling techniques required to validate new designs and topologies come online.

You will be speaking at the Composites in Rail conference, could you give us a little preview on what you will be talking about? 

Jonathan Howard: I will be discussing how Dura Composites engaged with Network Rail and TfL, and how we are working to Unlock the Power of Composites.

Julien Sellier: Essentially, I will be approaching most of the subjects mentioned above. The barriers to the uptake of advanced materials in the rail sector will be examined in more detail as well as the efforts required to overcome these. For composites to be beneficial to the rail sector, they must be engineered as part of a multi-materials design approach. This forward-thinking methodology will be presented with an accent on the embodied carbon of structures. Case studies will illustrate the how the use of advanced materials will be essential to achieve a net carbon neutral industry by 2050.

Dr Bob Bradley: I’ll be describing a project that we undertook along with global engineering firm AECOM. The project centred around the delivery of a 3D printed 5 metre arch prototype for rail applications. Currently being tested on an outdoor track at Network Rail’s workforce development centre in Bristol, the arch design and specific printing approach was developed by Scaled in order to meet highly exigent requirements in terms of materials and quality. Scaled redesigned their own in-house 3D printing equipment to meet production requirements for the arch sections, breaking their own record of the time and printing over 200 kgs of large-scale componentry in under 2 weeks. 

I’ll cover some of the milestones passed during the project as well as present a glimpse of future applications of large-scale 3D printing to composites and composite structures in civil engineering applications.

The Composites in Rail conference returns to Berlin. This technical conference will bring together expert speakers from across the supply chain to evaluate and discuss the challenges and opportunities for composite materials in the rail sector. The high-level conference programme will address lightweighting, advances in fire, smoke and toxicity performance, material sustainability and recycling. OEMs and suppliers will share case studies and projects, and we have a dedicated session on overcoming the barriers of use of composites. 

In addition to the busy programme of presentations from leading stakeholders in the market, the conference will offer extensive networking opportunities in a focused exhibition area featuring displays from a range of suppliers.

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