Saturday, September 15, 2012

Investing In Composite Materials

Investing in composite materials is likely a good idea, it seems that their is a daily news report about a product utilizing composites or carbon fiber. The truth is, more and more products are integrating composite materials because they are higher performing. Additionally, as the composites industry further matures, manufacturing costs should continue to decrease.

The fact of the matter is, the composite material industry is a growth sector.

Annual Global Sales of Composite Materials:

2011 - $16.1 billion
2015 estimated - $28.2 billion
2020 estimated - $48.7 billion
(Source: Materials Technology Publications)

Part of the reasoning behind the success and predicted growth of the composite material industry, is the fast integration into almost every single major industrial sector. Think about all the industries that have adopted composites:
  • Aerospace
  • Defense
  • Space
  • Mass transit
  • Heavy trucking
  • Sports and leisure
  • Oil and gas
  • Marine
All it will take is GM, Ford, or Toyota to adopt composites and suddenly automotive is on this list. So the question is, how can one take part in the potential upside of composites? Well, there are publicly traded companies which are entrenched in composites, here are a few:

Photo Credit: Titanium22 via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Carbon Fiber Technology Center - Oak Ridge National Laboratory

In order for the full utilization of carbon fiber in automotive applications. (Which is necessary to lower weight.) The cost of raw carbon fiber needs to decrease. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is taking on this challenge using $34.7 million in DOE ARPA funding; they are establishing a Carbon Fiber Technology Center. According to their website:
The center will be capable of producing up to 80 tons per year of low-cost carbon fiber for evaluation and use by industry and government partners. Primary equipment will include a thermal (conventional) carbon fiber conversion line and a melt-spun precursor fiber production line. Space and utility provisions are planned to add an advanced technology conversion line.
The overall goal of this technology center is to lower the cost of carbon fiber 50%. This could be a major breakthrough not only to the automotive industry in gaining better fuel efficiency, but many other applications of carbon fiber where high-strength and lightweight is crucial.

Photo Credit: ORNL

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Cutting Kevlar with a Waterjet

Cutting Kevlar or any aramid fiber is no easy task. It's tenacity wears our tools and blades, while cuts are often frayed. Probably the best method for cutting laminated aramid fiber, is using a waterjet (as seen above). Although not cheap, these cuts are CNC controlled, so very accurate, and the cut edges are clean and burr free...

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Monday, May 3, 2010

Strongwell Looking at Green Composite Materials

The demand for environmentally friendly materials is growing and will continue to grow. Strongwell, perhaps the world's largest pultruder, recently announced their Green Initiative. This is a fantastic move in the correct direction. Products made with composite materials are in fact environmentally friendly. Composites are inherently lightweight and non-corrosive, which is why they are used in wind blades, automotive, and aerospace.

The life cycle of composites needs to be closely analysed. For example, although a steel structure can be recycled at the end of life, the life span may be shorter, and thus, the overall environmental impact could be greater over time. This all needs to be measured on a analytical and straight forward level.

This being said, FRP composites must figure out a recycling solution. Yes composites are "recyclable", but no company is doing it on a large practical scale... Yet...

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Friday, April 30, 2010

Defense Armor Funding - 2011 Requests

2010 was a fantastic year for defense appropriations for composite companies, in particular, composite armor received substantial funding. Even though it is only April, Senators are beginning to announce their 2011 requests. Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky announced some of his requests, and looks like 2011 will be another stellar year for composite armor funding. Below are Bunning's related requests:

Project: De-Weighting Military Vehicles through Advanced Composites Manufacturing Technology
Amount Requested: $3,200,000
Recipient: MAG Industrial Automation Systems
Location: Boone County, KY
Description:  This is a research and development project for manufacturing of a machine to produce lighter-weight parts for military vehicles.  The project is a valuable use of taxpayer funds because it advances technology that delivers light-weight materials that improve fuel efficiency, cost savings, and enhanced combat readiness.

Project: Enabling Optimization of Reactive Armor 
Amount Requested: $5,000,000
Recipient: Ensign-Bickford Aerospace and Dynamics
Location: Muhlenberg County, KY
Description: These funds will be used to develop a replacement for current reactive armor used by the Army which will be reduced in weight, meet new threats, and increase overall safety. 

Project:  New Specialty Resins for Advanced Composite Armor
Amount Requested: $2,000,000
Recipient: Hexion Specialty Chemicals, Inc.
Location: Jefferson County, KY
Description: Funds will help develop a new range of matrix resins that address shortcomings in existing composite ballistic armor systems.  Achieving a better balance of properties will advance composite toughness, enhance fire, smoke, and toxicity performance to help our servicemen and women. 

Project: Tactical Mobility Consortium (TMC)
Amount Requested: $8,000,000
Recipient: University of Kentucky Research Foundation and M2 Technologies
Location: Fayette County, KY
Description:  The requested funding will advance years of aggressive research and development with the Marine Corps to deliver a critical force protection capability to the warfighter, allowing our military to provide the technical expertise required to assess the intended and unintended impacts of emerging technologies within the context of expeditionary warfare.  

Hopefully the military is actually requesting this research...

Source and Photo Credit: Senator Jim Bunning

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