Wood-Plastic Composites?

I was watching a show on TV and they were replacing an old wooden deck with one made out of a wood-plastic composite. So that got me thinking. What do you guys think about using these materials as an alternative to traditional wood for building coasters?
Interesting idea, is it possible?
I'm no structural engineer, but I think if somebody could pull off something that has not only the look of wood, but also the flexability, it COULD work. Wood coasters a designed to flex, so if you don't factor that in, the stuff could break.

Coaster Junkie from NH
I drive in & out of Boston, so I ride coasters to relax!

Technically it would be possible to replace wood by composite materials in most cases but costs would be far too high. Composite materials are usually more expensive and more difficult to machine than wood.

There are many criterions when it comes to material selection, so you've to make optimal choices, or rather good compromises as usually there's no ideal material, especially if costs are considered.

I have worked with some of these wood composite materials in construction applications and it may be possible. A couple things; yes it is more expensive, actually a lot more but it does stand up to the elements much better and for longer. As for an actual structural application i am not sure. Everything i have seen has not been structural or load bearing . Being synthetic though i am sure changes to the composition could be made to make it stronger.

The biggest thing i noticed and that needed to be carefully considerd was the expansion the synthetic material undergoes. Yes well all know wood expands and contracts with the temperature, hense the good days and bad days on many woodies. But, this composite material expands on average almost an inch/10ft/10 degrees F. Which is a lot considering the cold winters and hot summers of the midwest and N.E.

All in all, some different things that need to be addressed, but that is the great thing about synthetic, changes can always be made.

While it most certainly is possible, I wouldn't expect any major usage in coasters any time soon. Composite is definately more expensive than natural wood. As GG / CCI has already shown, steel can easily be used for a wooden coaster support structure leaving the track and station areas. Composites might / maybe already have made some form of an inroads into the station structure at parks. But as for the track, given the many different forces it encounters, a composite would be difficult to make. Also, since roller coaster track is a very, very small industry relative to the overall wood composite industry, I wouldn't expect any specialized wood being made for coasters unless it is made for another industry that needs the same properties.
rollergator's avatar
I wouldn't be TOO surprised to see someone come along and use these *in place of running rails*. Intamin is using laminated beams in place of stacked 2x6s, makes sense that someone would try these instead. Might even be durable enough to make up the cost difference.

As far as using this stuff in place of structural lumber, no chance. Cost-prohibitive, and without *value*, perceived or otherwise. ;)

'Gator, tracks ARE structural lumber, as they carry most of the load of the running train.

I've got a back porch with a decking made out of Trex™ and a railing made out of some weird composite made out of sawdust and glue and covered with PVC. My experience is that the composite is denser than pine, but much more flexible and in some ways is downright flimsy. I think the only place we're going to see composites of this kind used on coasters is in the platform decking, possibly also on walkboards and handrails. It just doesn't have the properties of the real thing. That said, if you're talking about composites which are mostly wood, such as pressure laminated beams and products such as OSB, I can see that being used for special circumstances. There was originally some talk of using a laminated wood structure for the loop on Son of Beast, but ultimately they opted for steel instead.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

rollergator's avatar
^ Good point Dave, I was referring more to the structural SUPPORTS...there's just no reason to spend extra on those, steel or wood supports have all the strength needed at about half the cost.

Quoting John F. from the Turns thread "Obelisk say not to spend too much money on barrel-faced contraption." I think the same could be said for these composites...unless you're getting something out of them that you can't get from regular lumber, cost should be the deciding factor.

You still have Zoidberg.... You ALL have Zoidberg! (V) (;,,;) (V)

I used this wood composite to replace my front porch a few years ago. It’s an excellent product, but I think it’s mainly for cosmetic use. It never has to be painted or stained and comes in many colors. It’s easy to clean compare to wood decking which gets that moldy dirty grime. Plus no splinters!

The biggest factor would be cost, as the composite stuff was priced about 2x as much as treated pine. Spending extra $500 on porch or deck material and not having to worry about painting/staining/ replacement for 50 years is a good investment. Spending an extra few million though to upgrade to wood composite on a coaster might not be an attractive option.

As someone mentioned the composite stuff expands and contracts like crazy. It may actually be harder to do daily maintenance because of all the shifting. It was harder to work with as well, as pilot holes and special screws are needed.

It’s an interesting concept; maybe as the technology improves and the price comes down it can be feasible

My father looked into replacing his wooden deck with Trex (the composite that RideMan mentioned) and the cost was 3 times the cost of conventional wood. Considering that and the fact that it's likely not rated for actual structure, I don't see it becoming a major factor in wood coaster construction.
When we were building a deck a few years ago, we looked at the composite materials as an option. The brochures explicitly stated that they were not for structural members. That is for a deck that you might have a dozen people on. You're talking about trying to run a several ton train loading with 24 people racing over that structure. Even if it wasn't cost prohibitive, the composites just are not strong enough at this time to support the forces that a rollercoaster would exert on them.

I'm not saying though that they couldn't develop something in the future that would be strong enough, just that they are not strong enough today.

For structures and tracks composite materials are not attractive. Technically there would be various options as there are many possibilities to optimize materials but overall it would be far too expensive. Some synthetic materials can also withstand ageing well but again it's a question of costs.

I don't expect anything new: Either wood or steel. Reinforced concrete would be possible for support structures but for various reasons it is not much an option.

Most woodies are based on a quite "primitive" wood assembly system, technically it would be possible to manufacture very smooth prefabricated track elements but do we really want woodies to become like steel coasters?

Mixed wood/steel structures are probably the least expensive ones in some cases but I find them ugly.

Edited: It's wrong to state that composite materials are not strong enough as such, in many cases it could be done but would just be too expensive, for example, steel parts are usually far less expensive than carbon fiber reinforced parts; of course many parts cannot be manufactured in composite materials.
*** Edited 4/24/2007 3:56:17 AM UTC by Vallean*** *** Edited 4/24/2007 3:57:17 AM UTC by Vallean***

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