What Is Composite Construction?

Larry Ray Palmer

Composite construction is a method of construction that is used in a variety of engineering and building applications. Employing dissimilar components, such as concrete and steel or fiberglass and foam, for a single use or structure is called composite construction. The goal is the unification of the individual component properties to create a composite material that possesses the desired properties of all component pieces. Aircraft, watercraft and building construction are the three most common examples of industries that rely on these construction techniques.

Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.
Concrete can be reinforced with metal bars to withstand tension.

When this form of construction is employed in the engineering and manufacturing process, it serves a few basic functions. Using composite materials, engineers and builders can create products that are stronger, more durable, lighter and lower in costs than traditional materials. Composite materials have made it possible for structural engineers and manufacturers to create products that would have been physically impossible with traditional construction materials.

Pairing concrete and rebar for added strength is an example of composite construction.
Pairing concrete and rebar for added strength is an example of composite construction.

Composite construction can enhance the strength of a single component, such as reinforced concrete that uses steel rebar to enhance the strength of the concrete. By pairing the concrete with the steel rebar, the original strength of the concrete is improved. This is because the rebar helps spread any impact or load exerted on the concrete evenly over a larger area.

The process of composite construction is also used to create composite materials that weigh less or are more durable than the individual components. This type of composite material is often used in the construction of aircraft and watercraft in which a lightweight foam is paired with a durable aluminum or hard plastic shell. A solid aluminum aircraft would be too heavy for sustained flight, and a foam aircraft would not be durable enough for continued use, but by pairing a thin aluminum skin with the foam, engineers can create a composite material that is both lightweight and durable.

In the process of making homes or other buildings, composite construction also comes into play. Composite materials used in homes and other buildings are often used for increased strength, durability, insulation or other factors. When paired with structural engineering techniques, composite materials and this type of construction can yield many advantages in the construction of homes and other buildings. Using composite construction to join individual components of a structure together, such as the floor panels to the joists, both component structures act together as one and have more strength than the individual components would have.

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