The wonder of Australian composites manufacturing takes centre-stage at Rio Olympics
Few people realise the gleaming cauldron that was centre stage at the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and Paralympics was made in Murray Bridge, South Australia, not from steel, but from FRP (Fibre Reinforced Polymer).
Such is the secrecy around International Olympic Committee projects that it was only when their TV honed in on the cauldron as it was lit by Brazilian marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima, that Robert August, his son Tyson and their team at Newell Composites, realised they had made the cauldron that was being watched by more than 340 million people around the world.
“I had done some research and gained an idea of what we were actually manufacturing, but we were all extremely surprised and excited to see our work was the actual cauldron and being viewed by millions of people worldwide,” says Robert August, Managing Director of Newell Composites.
Adelaide-based FCT Flames has been the leading supplier of cauldrons and flames features to the elite sporting events of the world since the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The company uses Adelaide and regional South Australian suppliers where possible to assist in the manufacture of their unique flame features.
FCT Flames first contacted Newell Composites in early December 2015 with the request to quote on a “carrot shaped” object that was to look like stainless steel with internal steel work and an attachment for a gas burner. In early February 2016, FCT Flames went back to Newell Composites to discuss a spherical shape between 710mm and 1500mm diameter. “At this point, I advised FCT Flames we could do the sphere from a fire retardant resin with excellent properties to allow for any heat effect,” says Robert.
Beating the heat
The company’s main stream products are industrial chemical storage tanks, pressure vessels and custom built projects such the fire retardant 12,800lt water cartage tanks made for a South Australian department for firefighting. The cauldron was the first of its type for the team and presented a series of hurdles to be overcome within a tight and firm schedule.
“The main hurdle was the heat generated from the gas burner and the 1200mm diameter sphere was required to support its own weight and the weight of the burners while fixed on top of a six metre long 150mm diameter steel support post,” says Robert.
“We used a fire retardant resin from Nuplex Composites. The two halves of the sphere were hand laminated using CSM and Woven Rovings with
high glass content. All laminates were fully post cured at elevated temperatures for a minimum of six hours to ensure a full cure was achieved,”
says Robert. “All chemical storage, aquaculture, rainwater tanks and pressure vessels are cured in the same manner.”
Newell Composites’ 2016 Rio Olympic cauldron ready for the final coat
FRP that looks like stainless steel
Another hurdle was the requirement to look like stainless steel. After trialing and investigating a series of options, Robert and local Murray Bridge painter Brenton Burgess (Burgess Paint N Panel) decided on a chrome paint system that had a high heat resistance and an effect very close to stainless steel.
“Dimensional accuracy was critical to allow the assembly of mechanical equipment inside the sphere and the neat fit of a decorative external stainless steel rim, one of the client’s artistic requirements,” says David Retallack, CEO of FCT Flames.
“Cast in two halves, the finishing of the sphere to ensure joint lines weren’t visible was an important quality measure,” Mr Retallack said. “The finishing and painting of the sphere was completed to a very high standard that exceeded FCT’s and the client’s expectations. This was all achieved under a very tight timeframe, on time and on budget ensuring the cauldron was delivered in time for the opening ceremony on 5 August 2016.”
The excitement of the opening ceremony culminated in Mr de Lima climbing the stairs to the waiting cauldron. With the flame burning brilliantly, the cauldron was raised high into the Rio sky to reflect against a huge kinetic sculpture by the artist Anthony Howe, the combination symbolising the power of the sun. It burned throughout the 17 days of the Rio Summer Olympics and 12 days of the Paralympics.