(Composite Advantage, LLC)
Government engineers teamed with academia and an innovative manufacturer to produce a novel composite materials product proven as a successful replacement for standard chanoine-type wicket gates made of white oak. Innovation was required in three areas: (1) development of glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) composite material configuration, (2) development of a new gate manufacturing process, and (3) optimization of structural design. This innovation is the first navigational structure made of composite materials to be used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which maintains navigation on the nation’s valuable waterways. Wicket gates create an adjustable dam by controlling pool levels and allowing river traffic to flow without locking through the lock chamber. The new product works the same way, but exceeds existing gate performance in cost, durability, maintenance, and safety. The innovative GFRP composite wicket gate costs 40% less on a first-cost basis, provides an environmentally conscious alternative to old-growth hardwood, and increases a gate’s lifespan from 15 years to 50 years. A longer lifespan saves repeated installation costs, increases diver safety by avoidance, and projects virtually no maintenance costs. The product has been proven successful through research, design, testing, and validation in actual river use. A 2018 budget request was submitted by USACE’s Rock Island District to replace all existing timber wickets with composite wickets at two Illinois River sites. At those two sites alone, replacement with GFRP wicket gates will save $18.6 million in materials and labor over 50 years, providing a return on investment of 28.6:1 on development expenditures of $650,000. This product’s innovation paves the way for the use of GFRP composites nationwide by USACE and other governmental agencies on a multitude of additional navigation and water-control structures with even more demanding performance requirements, such as large culvert valves and radial gates.