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.