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

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