Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dyneema in Composite Armor

Dyneema is an ultra high molecular weight polyethylene fiber manufactured by Dutch company DSM Dyneema. The properties of Dyneema, which include high tensile strength, allow it to be one of the best performing reinforcements used in composite armor. Composite armor manufactured with Dyneema is often lighter-weight then other material options; which is why Dyneema is used on military vehicles across the globe.

Here is an interesting interview with Ivo Oerlemans, Marketing Manager Vehicle Protection at DSM Dyneema from It worth the read if you are following the composite armor industry.

Photo Credit ob1left via flicker

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Carbon Fiber Roller Skates

Prototype trials in China, Australia & Singapore from Chariot Skates on Vimeo.

On this blog I like to point out new an interesting uses of composite materials. Well, here is a new type of roller skate using carbon fiber. Very interesting, the larger wheels allow it to go over rougher terrain that standard inline skates would have problems with.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Composite Material vs Metal

Perhaps the first driving factor for replacing metal components with composite materials was the resistance fiber reinforced polymers have to corrosion. The marine industry began to embrace composite materials shortly after WWII, manufacturing boats impervious to the corrosive salt environment.

Today, modern metal alloys such as aluminum, titanium, and even stainless steel are used in industries, such as aerospace, where corrosion in unacceptable. Although these metals are not "prone" to corrosion, there is still the risk of galvanic corrosion, which occurs when two dissimilar metals are in contact with one another.

In fact, due to the conductive properties of carbon fiber reinforced composites, there is a growing concern in cases where metal components are interacting with carbon fiber components. This is perhaps a major issue on designing the new generation of Boeing and Airbus airframes.

Corrosion will continue to be an issue for metal products, and corrosion will continue to be a driving factor for the integration of composite materials. For a good illustration of this, here is an interesting blog post discussing how the household cleaner Simple Green can corrode aluminum.

Photo Credit: Nomads: will create via flicker

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Advanced Thermal Composite Materials

Here is an interesting technical presentation on advanced thermal materials.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Composite Waste water Pipes

Photo Credit: Roantrum via flicker

Composite waste water pipes are becoming increasingly popular as traditional steel and concrete pipes are due for replacement around the world. Concrete, being a porous material allows moisture to penetrate and corrode the steel reinforcement. This can damage the structural integrity of the pipes, and ultimately will require retrofitting.

Here is an article from WaterWorld on the increasing use of FRP composites in waste water pump stations, the article states:
"Many companies in the wastewater treatment industry make their products out of steel and concrete. But steel is highly susceptible to corrosion caused by various chemicals in the wastewater stream. This tendency for corrosion is often accelerated by chloride-rich environments, such as areas with natural salt water concentrations – ultimately shortening the life spans of these lift stations Concrete stations tend to crack as they settle, resulting in leakage and typically higher maintenance costs. Both steel and concrete stations also are extremely heavy, making them difficult to transport and install."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Competition for Better Composites

Throughout time, competitions have led way to some of the greatest innovations. Like the recent x-prize and now the automotive x-prize, there comes a new UK based competition.

In search for better processing of composite materials, a competition is being held where the winner will receive 5 million British pounds. More info: Reinforced Plastics

Photo Credit: Eric Charlton via flicker

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Composite Shipping Container

Since the advent of composite materials, and in particular, strong lightweight composite sandwich panels, engineers have been trying to replace the commonly used steel sea-land ISO shipping containers with composite materials.

It seems logical, steel shipping containers are extremely heavy, they spend a good deal of their life in a highly corrosive environment, and they don't last very long. However, the main barrier to entry is the fact that steel cargo containers are dirt cheap, especially as the majority of these containers are manufactured in low labor Asian markets.

As the raw material costs of steel rise, composite materials will have more of a realistic chance. In particular, niche composite containers such as refrigerated containers will likely be the first to be introduced.

Here is an article discussing a development program through the Department of Homeland Security for the design of composite tamper-proof containers. Besides the need for containers to be tamper proof for homeland security reasons, containers that are x-ray transparent will be easier to inspect at ports. Composite material is the viable long-term solution.

It is likely the use of composite shipping containers is inevitable. One aspect that must be kept in the forefront during the design process, is the containers' end of life. Current steel containers are easily recyclable, and the same will need to be true of composite replacements. Perhaps reinforced thermoplastic composites will be the design winner...

Photo Credit: Marc oh! via flicker

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What are Composite Materials?

Here is an interesting introduction to composite materials from a more technical point of view.
Introduction To Composite Materials C Zweben
View more documents from chzweben.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aptera and Composite Materials

Any start-up composite material company is likely having a hard time finding funding right now. As the federal government seems to be the best source for early seed money, electric car companies such as Fisker, Tesla, and Aptera are all waiting and hoping for loans from the Department of Energy.

Meanwhile, a company like Aptera, who's production is on hold until additional funding rolls through, is in a tough situation as they need to remain ready for production, but need to conserve cash. In a recent Wired Article, two of the original Aptera founders have been let go in addition to other Aptera employees.

The article also states that they are redesigning some of the features. Currently, the windows do not roll down, and if you want to go through a drive through or talk to a friend outside, you must open the door. So to correct this, they are changing the design. Like most molded composite products, Apteria likely will have to redesign the door structure, build new molds, and manufacture/test new composite panels.

Let us all hope success for Aptera, automotive companies utilizing composites, and all other start-ups who work with composite materials.

Photo Credit: Kevin Marks via flicker

Friday, November 13, 2009

More Biomimicry and Composite Materials

Here are some more great examples of materials in development derived from nature.

Photo Credit: Ryan Somma via flicker

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Critical National Need: Advanced Composites Manufacturing

The Technology Innovation Program (TIP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) was set up to "support, promote, and accelerate innovation in the U.S. through high-risk, high-reward research in areas of critical national need." The institute helps fund (through 50% cost sharing grants) R&D projects that may be too risky for the traditional investment community.

The 2010 NIST TIP program has identified 4 areas of "critical national need," they are:
  • Civil Infrastructure
  • Healthcare
  • Energy
  • Manufacturing
Manufacturing was identified as a highly important aspect of our economy because as of 2007, manufacturing represented 11.7% of the total GDP and 14 million US jobs. (This number has likely dropped in the last two years.) In order for the US to maintain global leadership in manufacturing technology, new and revolutionary innovations are required. In this recent NIST White Paper, the following 3 materials in particular are sited as in need of continued technology advancement:
  • Nanomaterials
  • Composite Materials
  • Super/Specialty Alloys and Smart Materials
Additionally, the paper identified the following problems and promises of composite materials:
  • Aerospace industry’s emphasis on fuel efficiency favors the use of polymer-matrix composites instead of aluminum
  • Automotive industry recognizes advantages of weight reduction, parts consolidation and increased cost-effective design options for polymer-matrix composites;
  • Energy sector’s growing use of wind energy has led to increased demand for polymer-matrix composite turbine blades;
  • Better processes and tools needed to recognize special properties such as the anisotropic nature of these materials (strength and stiffness greatest in direction parallel to axis of the embedded reinforcements);
  • Need to overcome cost barriers to use such as expensive starting materials, time-consuming fabrication processes, and autoclaves and expensive tooling;
  • Multiple industries require accommodation of production of large, structurally complex parts; and
  • Increased application of recyclable composites can reduce carbon footprint.
Some of the best and brightest minds of our nation who work for NIST identified the above as the future of composite materials. If you are a composite material company, I would suggest reading the entire white paper as it may inspire innovation. In particular, I like that NIST identified recyclable composites as a future component of composite material manufacturing. I imagine thermoplastic composites will play a major role in the recycalability of composites, as post consumer plastic (such as the PET bottles in the picture at the top) can be used as a replacement for thermoset resin.

Photo Credit: ThreadedThoughts via flicker

Friday, November 6, 2009

Lightweight Composite Medical Device

On this blog I like to point out interesting and novel uses of composite materials. For example, the medical is slowing starting to accept composites, and like the carbon fiber prosthetic legs, above is a video of an interesting option to crutches and wheelchairs.

The freedom leg uses molded composite braces to transfer the load from the upper, un-injured leg, to the ground. It weights a little over 2 lbs, and if I had a broken leg, I'd consider using it...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

$10 Million Dollar Carbon Fiber Mast

The carbon fiber mast on the Oracle BMW America's Cup boat failed and snapped yesterday. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the designing and building of the mast with spars cost a cool $25 million. However, a replacement carbon fiber mast is only going to set them back $10 million USD, and the boat should be repaired in time for the upcoming America's Cup.

Ironically, the carbon fiber mast snapped during a non-stressful practice session with light winds, I hope they have boat insurance that covers composite materials...

Photo Credit: Port of San Diego via flicker

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wind Turbine from Bee Wings - Biomimicry in Composites

A favorite topic on the composite material blog is the process of learning from nature to make better products and material, this is known as biomimicry. We've talked before about analyzing shellfish, spider silk, geckos and fish.

Above is a video from a start-up called Green Wavelength. They have designed a wind turbine based upon the wings of bees. Quite an interesting concept, and it would be interesting to see details on the performance and mechanics. I am guessing the "wings" are being constructed with composite materials.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stealth Wind Turbines - Using Composite Materials

As wind energy becomes more popular, the negatives of the massive installations needs to be addressed. Noise, bird/bat deaths, and unsightliness are common issues with large turbines. Another concern not commonly addressed is the interference with radar systems.

The fast moving composite blades can reflect radar and can appear and cause confusion with military and civilian radar. This could potentially cause serious problems in the future.

A recent article from Technology Review discusses how the wind industry is addressing these concerns. A new coating is being used on the towers to absorb radio frequencies, and playing with new combination of composite materials and plastics in the skin is allowing for radar absorption as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Make Your Costume From Composite Materials

I've talked before about composite robot costumes, but as Halloween is here, those with the materials and capabilities should construct their families costumes out of composites. It will be lightweight, strong, and will never corrode. (Nobody wants a rusted Storm-trooper costume...)

Here are some more examples of costumes using composite materials:

Halo 3
Star Wars
Hannibal Lecter

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Composite Material Industry Has a Voice in Congress

Every major material industry has representation in congress (aluminum, wood, steel, etc). Thanks to the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA), the composite material industry now has a voice as well.

The ACMA has put together a 25-member Congressional Composites Caucus co-chaired by U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson (pictured above, and most famous for yelling "you lie"), a South Carolina Republican. The caucus held its first meeting in July.

The following is a list of current members of the Composite Caucus:

Joe Wilson (R-SC) – Caucus Chair
Rick Boucher (D-VA) Caucus Co-chair

Michael Arcuri – (D – NY)
Steve Austria (R-OH)
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Gresham Barrett (R-SC)
Brian Bilbray (R-CA)
Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)
Vern Buchanan (R-FL)
Chris Carney (D-PA)
Howard Coble (R-NC)
Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE)
Virginia Foxx (R-NC)
Doug Lamborn (R-CO)
Patrick McHenry (R-NC)
Buck McKeon (R-CA)
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)
Michael H. Michaud (D-ME)
Bill Shuster (R-PA)
Mark Souder (R-IN)
Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Henry Waxman (D-CA)

Not listed is my local congressman, who I have already contacted and encouraged to join. (I suggest everyone reading this involved with composites do the same.)

Here is an interesting recent interview with Monty Felix, the current president of the ACMA. In the article, it states that the composites industry is a $42 billion industry with 3,000 makers of composites that employ more than 250,000.

In this letter attempting to rally support from other congressmen (which you can send to your congressman), dated June 22nd, 2009, and signed by Joe Wilson and Rick Boucher, it states the composites industry is a $70 billion dollar industry employing 550,000 nation wide.

So by calculations, either the congressmen puffed up their numbers or the composites industry has lost $28 billion in revenues and 300,000 employees since the end of June.

Photo Credit:

Monday, October 26, 2009

Boron Fiber - Superior to Carbon

There are those who think carbon fiber is the strongest reinforcing fiber available, but they are mistaken. Boron fiber, a far superior fiber to carbon, is underutilized due to being 6 times more expensive. Here is an interesting article discussing the manufacturing of Boron Fibers in the USA. The article states:

"Aerospace applications built this business. Boron fiber is used for structural reinforcement or repair of the F-15 fighter, B-1 bomber, Black Hawk helicopter, space shuttle and Predator.

The material also found its way into high-end golf clubs, skis, hockey sticks, fishing rods and Tour de France bike frames. Formula One, for competitive reasons, largely banned its use, says Treasure. Only the wealthiest teams could afford it."

Photo Credit: orphanjones via flicker

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Composite Material Biomimicry - Shellfish

I have talked before about biomimicry potential in composite materials, and about spider silk as a reinforcing fiber. While recently looking at the rocky shoreline in California, I saw a family of mussels taking a beating from the powerful surf. Day after day, these creatures take a non-stop pounding in a highly corrosive and wet environment... Truly amazing. Additionally, mussels grow on anything (in-organic or organic). It is not uncommon to find mussels growing on concrete, metal, and fiberglass. It gets one thinking that mussels would be an ideal candidate to investigate for improving adhesives, and perhaps reinforcing fiber.

If you have a chance to take a close look at a mussel in the wild, you will notice is is hanging on by many tiny threads, these are called byssal threads and are extremely strong with good elastic properties.

There is a plethora of information on byssal threads, it even seems the Romans used to weave byssal threads into a lightweight and warm cloth known as sea silk. Recent research had been conducted regarding the adhesive properties, this article discusses how a key amino acid discovered from mussels is now being used as a wood glue.

Please comment if you can think of other species in nature that could advance composite materials.

Photo Credit: jkirkhart35 via flicker

Friday, October 16, 2009

Russia Leader in Nano Composites?

President Dmitry Medvedev fo Russia said in a speech last week that Russia is on its way to becoming a leader in nanotechnology, citing a nanocomposites facility in Russia. News Europe quoted the president saying:
"Medvedev noted that the current volume of the products manufactured with the use of nanotechnologies is estimated at $250 billion. Citing expert estimates, Medvedev said the global nanotechnology market could reach a huge $2 trillion to $3 trillion by 2015."
I wonder if Medvedev is talking in dollars or rubles?

Photo Credit: quinn.anva via flicker

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Can I sell carbon fiber without an export license?

If you work with composite materials, and you are asked to sell carbon fiber to someone abroad, be sure you have an export license. Three men found this out the hard way; WCCO reports that these men have received sentencing last week for their involvement in exporting high-modulus carbon fiber to the China Academy of Space Technology. The leader of the operation has received 3 years and 10 months of prison!

A great deal of composite material technology is protected by export licensing. If you are interested in exporting anything, first check with the US Department of Commerce. They are extremely helpful as for the most part, exporting goods is helpful to the domestic economy. Remember, you are responsible for the final destination of your product. (So make sure the carbon rocket cases being sold to a guy in Canada don't wind up in Iran...)

Photo Credit: antigone78 via flicker

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

University of Maine Composite Bridge

I have previously discussed University of Maine's composite bridge technology. Yesterday there was an article in section D-1 of the New York Times highlighting this composite technology.

Here is the online version of the article, it goes into detail on the design, but essentially, inflatable tubes made of glass and carbon are arched across the span. These tubes are then impregnated while in position, and filled with concrete. Composite panels (I assume pultruded) are affixed on top of the large tube structures, followed by gravel and pavement.

Composite bridges are not new, if fact Asia has been a believer in composite bridge technology for some time now (will try and find supporting information). The upfront costs are often higher with composite materials, however the speed of installation can often outweigh the price premium on busy roadways.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Another Composite Material Reseach Center Gains Funding

Here is an announcement that Southern University in Louisiana has received a $5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create the “Next Generation Composites Crest Center,” or NextGenC3 for short. The Advocate reports:
"The center will focus on the development of cutting edge research on composite materials and educational activities that will provide traditionally underrepresented minority students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines with research experiences at a readily accessible advanced research facility."
I think this is fantastic, more exposure young engineers and designers can receive with composite materials will ultimately fuel the long-term prosperity and growth of the composite industry as a whole...

Photo Credit: Eric Charlton via flicker

Friday, October 9, 2009

Latest with Boeing and the 787

Many who follow composite materials like to keep an extremely close eye on Boeing, and in particular, the development of the new 787 Dreamliner. Randy Tinseth, the vice president of marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Seattle has a great blog (Randy's Journal), which is a must read for staying up to date with all things Boeing.

Photo Credit: markjhandel via flicker

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Humvee Door Design

Here is an article from Defense News talking about new BAE Systems armor kits for the Humvee and how they reduce weight by 500 lbs. (Which actually doesn't seem like that much). What I found most interesting in the article, is that they redesigned the doors which:
"feature front and rear doors that swing open like cabinet doors, providing combat troops front- and rear-armor protection."
Most all military vehicle doors open like conventional automobiles, in parallel. However, it makes perfect sense to reverse this. The doors, up armored with composites, act as shields and protect from the front and rear.

I am willing to bet money this will save more then one life, and it is often the simple ideas which can have a great impact. Perhaps in other military and composite applications designers and engineers should take a step back, and question why.

Photo Credit: US Army Military Command via flicker

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

BPA in Composite Materials

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an organic compound that is widely used in plastics. The majority of BPA is used as a monomer in the manufacturing of polycarbonate (think 5-gallon water bottles), but there is a large amount being used as an additive in epoxy resins. Recently, BPA has been shown to act much like the hormone estrogen; causing concern for consumer products containing BPA. (In particular baby bottles and water bottles.)

Concerns over BPA in the structural composites industry are yet to come to light as the majority of epoxy based composite products do not allow for human ingestion. However, one use of epoxy does, and this is causing some concern.

Many epoxy dental sealants commonly use BPA, in a recent survey among dentists, 25% reported being "very worried" about the use of BPA in dental sealants. Here is the American Dental Association's take on BPA.

It will be interesting to see the future of BPA in consumer products, plastics, and epoxy...

Photo Credit: ^@^ina via flicker

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lamborghini Sponsers University of Washignton Composites Center

Italian car manufacturer Lamborghini has donated $1 million to the University of Washington's: Automobili Lamborghini Advanced Composite Structures Laboratory. (Not a bad sponsor...)

Here is the research labs mission statement:
"Our mission is to provide research and education solutions in the field of composite materials and structures that are of particular relevance to ensuring the safety of current and future air and ground vehicles.

The research conducted in the group includes foreign object damage resistance and tolerance, crash worthiness, lightning strike protection, and certification by analysis supported by test evidence. "

More info: Seattle Times

Photo Credit: OmniNate via flicker

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reducing Aviation Emissions

Interesting article by MITs Technology Review on how the aviation industry can reduce global warming emissions. Obviously, using lightweight composite materials is a start; further carbon reductions can come from improved logistics, improved wing/airplane design, and using bio-fuels.

Read the article here.

Photo Credit: Rob Shenk via flicker

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lightweight Composite Armor

Pictured above is the results from a roadside bomb in Iraq that killed 14 US marines. It should be a reminder that while US troops are fighting overseas, they need to be best protected and armored.

Lightweight composite armor, as discussed before here, here, and here, is playing an important role in troop protection and mobility. Troops need to be protected at the highest level, yet they cannot be overburdened or slowed down by excess weight.

One of the largest US manufacturers of composite armor is Hardwire LLC, they were ranked in the September edition of INC Magazine as one of the fastest growing companies. In a press release from today, Hardwire announced that they plan to double there manufacturing capacity.

In related news, Army Times is reporting that the Army is considering developing a lighter version of the Abrams battle tank. Currently, the Abrams tank weighs in at 75 tons and the new tank would have a goal of 60 tons. Lightweight composite armor would undoubtedly be mandatory in this new tank design.

Additionally here is a press release about General Dynamics new Stryker vehicle. This too would utilize lightweight composite armor.

With no definite end to conflict abroad creating a continued demand from the military, it is no wonder companies like Hardwire are expanding.

Photo Credit : nukeit1 via flicker

Monday, September 28, 2009

Best Composite Material Salesman: Your Senator

Senator Bob Bennett from Utah (pictured above) came up on my radar as he apparently is a big proponent of composite materials. Let's take a look at some of his 2010 Defense Appropriations Requests.

$5 million to Alliant Techsystems (ATK) "This project will fund a world-class center of excellence for fiber placement and tape-laying composite aircraft manufacturing technologies will be created, augmenting Hill Air Force Base's repair depot capabilities."

$3.6 million to Radius Engineering for "Composite Tail Rotor Blade" design and engineering.

$3.5 million to Conductive Composites Company for "Conductive Composites Nano-Materials Scale-Up Initiative"

$4 million to Hexcel Corporation for "Transitioning Stretch Broken Carbon Fiber to Production Programs"

Nice work Senator Bennett.

Researching a little further, I found an interesting Seattle Times site, where you can search earmarks with the corresponding lobbying and campaign donations for 2008. Here is the search for Hexcel. In 2008 Hexcel had $2.4 million in defense earmarks, but spent $40,500 on lobbying and $56,535 on campaign contributions. With a total investment (lobbying & contributions) of $97,035, and a return of $2.4 million, that's a pretty good ROI.

The 2008 $2.4 million earmark for "M65 Bismaleimide Carbon Fiber Prepreg" was sponsored by 8 congressman. Ironically $10,500 was contributed by Hexcel to half of those supporting congressman.

Photo Credit: Bertelmanns via flicker

Friday, September 25, 2009

Composite Bats Not Allowed in NCAA

If you happen to be on a rec. softball league such as I am, you will know that the best bats are made from composite materials. Our team's best composite bat claims "carbon nanotubes." These bats have incredible pop, and balls bouce off them extremly hot.

Such composite bats are banned by the NCAA and have recently been outlawed by the National Junior College Athletic Association. So what type of composite bat is outlawed?
"Stronger and lighter than high-grade aluminum, non-wood composite baseball bats are either made of a graphite-fiber composite material or have an aluminum core with graphite lining."
Looks like the fiberglass bats are still ok...

Hat tip:

Photo Credit: monstershaq2000 via flicker

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Composite Carabiner - Destructive Testing

I written before about composite carabiners, but here is a funny video of destructive testing of a metal carabiner. Why is it funny you ask? Skip to about 3:30 and watch the reaction of the tough-guy on the left...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Spider Silk is the Next Reinforceing Fiber

I've discussed recently the study of biomimicry, and where the composites industry can look at nature to further advance technology.

Here is a fascinating Wired magazine article, discussing how 70 researchers spent 4 years manually collecting spider silk from Golden Orb spiders (as seen above) in Madagascar. They wove the silk into a beautiful textile... Truly amazing.

Spider silk is one of the strongest materials known to man, with properties far exceeding high-grade steel and aramid fibers. The fiber is also extremely elastic. Researchers across the world have tried to copy the the production method of spider silk, but are not yet successful. Spiders are able to take a liquid solution of chemicals and compounds, and under extremely high pressure, extrude their silk. Scientists are able to duplicate the liquid, but not the spiders manufacturing process.

Could you imagine composite armor made from spider silk?

Photo Credit: aussiegall via flicker

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Keep an eye on Schweiter Technologies

As you have probably heard by now, Rio Tinto has sold off Alcan Composites for $349 million to Swiss textile and coating machinery manufacturer Schweiter Technologies.

It looks as if Schweiter received a pretty good deal as Alcan Composites had 2008 sales of $859 million.

As the largest supplier of balsa and other core products, it will be interesting to see what Schweiter's plans will be...

More Info:
Rio Tinto Announcement
Schweiter Announcement

Photo Credit: jfrancis via flicker

Monday, September 21, 2009

Composite Material Definition

According to NASA's Dictionary of Technical Terms for Aerospace Use, composite materials are defined as:
"Structural materials of metals, ceramics, or plastics with built-in strengthening agents which may be in the form of filaments, foils, powders, or flakes of a different compatible material."
NASA's interest in composite materials is as follows:

Exhaustive Interest : Physical and mechanical properties, production, handling, testing, and evaluation of composite materials for use in aircraft, rockets, launch vehicles, space vehicles, reentry vehicles, aircraft and spacecraft propulsion systems, and supporting facilities.

Selective Interest : Research and development on composite materials having potential aerospace applications.

Negative Interest : Routine developments of structural composite materials for use in housing, heavy industry, and earthbound transportation, unless a potential exists for aerospace use.

That right, NASA is not interested in composite materials used in "eathbound transportation..." Who knew? Perhaps they would be interested in a $150 edge-of-space camera?


Photo Credit: NASA Aug 2007

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Composite Armor Updates

He are some of the of the latest on composite armor:

BAE Systems Security & Survivability announced they will be supplying the composite armor kits for 1,780 new military line haul tractors. More Info

In a separate announcement, BAE signed an agreement with Rock Island Arsenal Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center (RIA), located in Rock Island, Illinois. This government agency will be working with BAE to provide the manufacturing of composite armor. More Info

Here is an interesting article about the M-ATV program and Oshkosh, It seems the military is going to order 10,000 of these vehicles (already have ordered 2,000). All of which will be fit with composite armor from Plasan.

Finally, here is an article about a recent military show in China. The People's Liberation Army showed off UAVs, weapons, and combat vehicles. The article states:
"The Type-99G MBT is the most modern variant of the new Type-98/99 series first seen in the 1999 parade. Improvements include an upgraded turret with detachable and upgradable composite armor, use of explosive reactive armor, plus improved engine and targeting systems."
I wonder what type of composite materials China is using?

Photo Credit: via flicker

Friday, September 11, 2009

Composite Road Mats - For Oil Fields

The US consumes a ton of oil, far more then we produce, and according to a DOE EIA Report, the US imports about 2/3'rds of the oil consumed, with Canada providing the largest portion of oil to the US. As of June 2009, the US was consuming 2 million barrels of Canadian Oil, or Alberta Tea as I like to call it...

To get these 2 million barrels a day to pipelines, massive temporary roads are constructed, going over the difficult terrain of the tundra and swampy bogs. Giant 8' x 15' mats are placed together to create a road. These roads have massive trucks with heavy loads going back and forth over uneven ground. Needless to say, these mats take a serious beating.

Traditionally, mats are made with thick planks of wood and steel frames. These however are extremely heavy, and do not last as long as desired. More recently, composite materials are being introduced using light weight sandwich panels. The requirements are not easy as the panels need to be stiff, withstand wear and impact, and be able to connect to other panels.

Here is a recent article from the Oil & gas inquirer, describing a composite road mat system using a polypropylene honeycomb core and FRP skins. The article also discusses alternative methods to constructing these roads using wood chips over geotextile mats...

Photo Credit: jakesmome via flicker

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Biomimicry of Composite Materials

Biomimicry is known as "the process of understanding and applying biological principles to human designs". It is a method of understanding why something works so well in nature, and then applying the reasoning to something man made.

Here is an example, researchers are trying to develop a robot to climb walls, instead of reinventing the wheel, researchers will study a gecko, to learn how it is able to climb walls so well, and then try to copy those features. (Geckos have a hard time filing patents)

Above is a video describing this exact example.

In composite structures and composite materials, there is much researchers and scientists could learn by first looking at nature. US News reports here:

To help wind turbines advance further, scientists are looking into morphing blades, which can rapidly change their aerodynamic profile to best suit the prevailing wind conditions.

"The idea was born from a simple observation of a fish in an aquarium," said researcher Asfaw Beyene, a mechanical engineer at San Diego State University. "Many flying and swimming animals have superior efficiencies than manmade devices. The primary difference between natural motion and motion of manmade devices is lack of geometric adaptability to varying flow conditions."

In another current study, which can be read here, researchers are trying to determine how a naturally occurring composite, teeth, can be so well adjusted to high impact and abrasion. They hope that what they discover will lead to better composite materials for aircraft and automotive components.

What other composite products or composite materials could benefit from biomimicry?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Three Words.... Fiber Reinforced Plastics!

I'm sure everyone has seen this before, but for anyone in the composite material or plastics industry, it is worth seeing again.

Monday, August 31, 2009

New Composite Research Center for medical Products... Perhaps

Scientists in Wichita, KS applied for $15 million dollars of stimulus money to create a research center to help integrate composite materials into medical and orthopedic products. The city of Wichita has already donated 43 acres of land worth $1.2 million, and are hoping to build a 50,000 sqft building next to the current National Center for Aviation Training.

Much of the new composite aerospace materials, especally FDA approved thermoplastic resins, have a bright future for use in orthopedics. For example, if you look closely at the x-ray above, you can spot a metal bone screw holding together a fracture. If that orthopedic insert could be composite, it would not appear on the x-ray, and the doctor could more easily determine the healing of the injury. Other advantages of composite medical inserts include higher lubricity (less pain/discomfort) and less risk of allergies (a surprisingly large population is allergic to nickle).

With the nearby National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), a leading composite material research institute, there is ample space for sharing of ideas and technology.

More info:

The Wichita Eagle

Aerospace Composites

Photo Credit: joebeone via flicker

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Composite Armor Manufacturing

Here is an interesting article about a North Dakota armor/material/composite company, Sioux Manufacturing Corp. They are recovering from a recent law suit, and pushing forward to try and supply the government with armor and ballistic composite products.

The company is said to have a 250 sqft manufacturing facility, employ 190-210 people, and have revenues between $25 and $40m.

Interesting enough, I recently stumbled on this new government award to supply 86 ballistic spall liners for a unit cost of $795.01, for a contract value at $68,370.86...

Photo credit: via flicker

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pultruded Composite Scaffolding

Making scaffolding out of composite materials seems like it should be an obvious decision. Planks would be lightweight, non-conductive, strong, durable, not absorb moisture, and never rot. Although the concept seems like a no-brainer, it has taken time to make inroads.

Wood, steel, and aluminum, the traditional saffolding planks are inexpensive, familar, and proven. For someone to try and enter this market, trying to convince construction companies to switch to a more expensive product, especally in this construction enviroment, would be a serious challenge. Not to mention the hurdel in code certification and the ever present liability risk of someone getting injured using a plank.

This is why my hat goes off to Tim Bothwell, who I have recently learned from this article, that he has been spending many years developing and selling a pultruded composite scaffolding system. His company, Bothwell Composite Plank System, is said to have made 10,000 planks in the last 3 years. Part of his success has been the targeting of niche power generation and offshore oil markets.

It seems Bothwell has partnered with Top Glass out of Italy, which was recently acquired by Kemrock Industries out of India.

Photo credit: kevindooly via flicker

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Car Companies Looking at Lightweight Composites... Thermoplastics?

This recent Plastics news article (read it here), discusses how the major auto manufacturers are researching advanced composite materials. In an attempt to stay with the times, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation is investigating new materials being researched at universities, government laboratories, and R&D companies. It was also noted,
"Michigan is not alone in investing in lightweight materials: Toyota Motor Corp. of Toyota City, Japan, is “progressing” in its research into using thermoplastic composites in structural parts, said Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager at the Toyota Technical Center in Gardena, Calif. The center is part of the research and development division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc., Toyota’s U.S. subsidiary based in Erlanger, Ky."
Weight savings (fuel efficiency) will continue the push towards the increased use of composite materials in transportation. For car manufacturers, composites processing has traditionally been seen as a new and big investment in tooling and equipment. Material costs, surface finish, end of life recyclability, and other issues must all be solved prior to acceptance.

Thermoplastic composites will be a natural candidate with the ability to post mold, ability for automotive quality surface finish, impact resistance, and recyclable features. European car manufacturers are already playing around with continuous fiber thermoplastic components, as I believe the new BMW M series bumpers are manufactured with a carbon reinforced thermoplastic bumper. (will look into this further)

Photo Credit: WilVision Photography via flicker

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

U. Maine's Composite Bridge Technology

The University of Maine's AEWC Advanced Composites Center has been know to do some exciting things. Back in February of this year, they announced they were spinning off a company for a composites technology called, "Bridge in a Backpack." Not entirely sure how it works, but it seems they are using hollow tubes and inflating a sort of bladder, curing in place, and later filling with concrete, thus making a structural bridge. Time savings and shipping/logistics savings are a likely draw. Read some more info here.

This new company called, "Advanced Infrastructure Technologies," is planning to build bridges for the Maine Department of Transportation, and it seems the U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is giving them a visit this week. Read the announcement here.

Photo Credit (not a composite bridge): Big D2112 via flicker

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Latest Word on Composite with Boeing and Airbus

Nobody like wrinkles, especally composite manufacturers. Wrinkles in composite laminates can lead to delamination and premature failure. Apparently, Alenia Aeronautica out of Italy supplied Boeing with some fuselage sections, where the carbon fiber had some wrinkling. Boeing filed a stop work with Alenia as of June 23rd, and as of last Friday, Boeing has delayed the first 787 flight test until further notice (other issues involving joining the wings). Read a NY Times article here.

Meanwhile, Airbus has received £340 million in loans from the UK government to help stimulate domestic manufacturing, much of which will undoubtedly be composite related. This comes on top of a recent £60 million loan to GKN Aerospace for the manufacturing of rear spar and trailing edge for the A350 XWB. Read about it all here.

Photo Credit: markjhandel via flicker

Monday, August 17, 2009

Carbon Fiber Composite Running Legs

Ever since I first heard of the "Cheetah Leg", a prosthetic leg made for running, I have been fascinated. The leg, partly designed upon the leg of a cheetah, it is made to feel as if the runner is standing on the ball of their foot. First introduced in the late 1990's these carbon legs have continued to make advancements, and the athletes using them are constantly breaking records. You can read about the latest technology in a recent New York Times article here.

Composite materials are being used in a wide range of applications, but this innovative design and use of carbon I find extremely amazing.

Below is a video from the TED conference in 1998, if you are not familiar with the TED conference, check it out when you have some free time. If you jump to about the 15min mark, you will see and learn about the first edition of these carbon legs.

Photo Credit: Tarique via flicker

Friday, August 14, 2009

2nd Quarter Results for Composite Companies

Second quarter results are out for publicly traded composite material companies, and so far, it seems things are still slow. Here are a few of the results:

Hexcel posted a 37% drop in quarterly profit. More Info

Owens Corning, although beating estimates, earnings for the quarter were down 19%. More Info

Toray took a loss, blaming decreased demand. More Info

Aldila, a California manufacturer of golf shafts took a larger loss on less earnings then during the same period in 2008. More Info

European pultruder Excel reported a 14% decline in sales for the 2nd quarter. More Info This comes on the heels of the announcement of layoffs in June.

One company that turned a profit is large contractor Alliant Techsystems (ATK), they do a fair amount of composite manufacturing, but it seems their profit came from sales of bullets. More Info

Photo Credit: azrainman via Flicker

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pultrusion: Tooling and Prototype Costs

The pultrusion process is known as the most cost effective method of manufacturing FRP composite profiles. this is because once a pultrusion machine is up and running, there is little labor involved. However, in prototyping of profiles manufactured by pultrusion, costs can be extremely high. The largest cost being the manufacturing of a precision ground die (although this is a one-time cost).

Other fixed costs in pultrusion include tooling, set-up, and clean up when finished. These costs are present whether 10 feet, or 10,000 feet are pultruded.

To help lower prototyping costs, Virginia Tech has developed a
"Novel and cost effective pultrusion die technology streamlines the construction processes and reduces tooling costs by as much as 11%. Lead times are cut by almost 50%.

Technology utilizes rapid prototyping and tooling techniques to produce shaping elements comprising the die core with an exterior core housing constructed from readily available pre-cut metal bar stock."

This technology is available for license from the University, and for more information please visit their website here.

Photo Credit: Ebert Composites Corporation

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

UAVs and Composite Materials

In the latest cover story in Popular Science Magazine, an interesting article is dedicated to drones used by the Air Force and the training of the pilots. From this article, the following were the most interesting quotes:

"At this moment, dozens of armed drones circle miles above insurgents, watching everything in real time, with resolution sharp enough to read a license plate"

"More than a third of the 200 Predators delivered to date have crashed catastrophically, due to both aircraft malfunction and human error."

This timely article is coinciding with the largest Unmanned Aerial Vehicle conference currently going on in DC, The AUVSI's Unmanned Systems. At this trade show, demonstrations of UAVs are going on, with the largest advancements being: surveillance/communication equipment, advanced propulsion, and advanced aerostructures/increased payloads.

Composite materials are playing a crucial role in the bodies and wings of these vehicles, particularly autoclaved carbon components. Weight must continue to drop thus allowing these aircraft's to carry more equipment / weapons, and stay in the air longer.

As this relatively young industry continues to mature, advances in composite tooling, out of autoclave production, and new composite materials will help transform the next generation UAVs and drones.

Other interesting recent articles:
NY Times

Photo Credit: via flicker

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Composite Armor Companies Get More Funding

Composite armor companies are making some recent headlines for receiving substantial funding support. This includes the following:

Armor Dynamics, out of Kingston, NY is set to receive $2 million from the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill to develop advanced composite armor. You can read the announcement here and another one here.

In same 2010 defense bill, PPG Industries is set to receive $2 million in composite armor development. Press release here.

Additionally, CPS Technologies Corporation announced it has received an award of $1,473,509 from the Army Research Laboratory to continue the development of manufacturing technologies for large modules hybrid metal matrix composite armor. Read the press release here.

Not to mention the $3.3 million slated to AGY for ballistic fiber which was mentioned before here.

As long as troops are in conflict, force protection will be mandatory. Here is an interesting blog post about composite armor in the MRAP vehicle and the JLTV. The JLTV, Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, which is in development by some of the largest military contractors and will hopefully be the replacement for the older Hummer-type military vehicles.

Photo Credit: via flicker