Friday, January 29, 2010

Carbon Fiber UAV

Here is a neat look at a little UAV made of carbon fiber. It is pretty amazing what these sensors and surveillance equipment can do...

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Composite Armor at the Superbowl

I don't usually find composite material information from gossip web sites, but TMZ is reporting that celebratory Kim Kardashian, girlfriend of Saints running back Reggie Bush, will be riding to the big game in an "Armor Horse" limo as seen above. Supposedly this limo is protected with "composite ballistic panels."

Photo Credit: 

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Composite Materials in the Winter Olympics

It's no secret, technology can help win gold medals at the Olympics. During this coming winter Olympics composite materials will play a large roll. Composites will be used in skis, snowboards, bobsleds, luges, lightweight aerodynamic helmets, ski poles, hockey sticks, and perhaps even curling equipment.

In racing events where seconds can be the difference between a gold medal and not placing at all, a technology equipment advantage could be the deciding factor. Here is an article about a small composites company in Canada which has designed a snowboard for the giant slalom out of carbon fiber. By dialing in the weight, shape, flex pattern, and balance, they are hoping their snowboards will be that difference to when a medal at home.

Not only will composite materials be used during competition, but Canadian aerospace company Bombardier has manufactured the torches out of composites (I'm guessing carbon fiber). In all, they manufactured 12,000 torches, you can see it here.

Photo Credit: Webdevil666 via flicker

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Shell Armor - Biomimicry Composites

Here is a new study on a deep water sea snail who has an amazing shell. It lives by geothermal vents so it experiences extreme fluctuations in temperature and acidity. Yet in this highly corrosive environment this snail shell still provides protection from predators.

It is no surprise that researchers are looking at this type of shell to provide insights for new armor. Biomimicry is one of my favorite topics here as there is much we can learn from mother nature. She has after all been inventing and modifying for millions of years.

What other "animal armor" is out there that perhaps we should look at? Take the desert tortoise for example, much like a Humvee in Afghanistan the tortoise's armor needs to be lightweight, strong, and withstand the harsh environments.

Photo Credit: Ken Wilcox via flicker

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Fiberglass Windows Gaining Popularity

Fiberglass windows have been around for sometime now, but are only recently gaining serious momentum. Fiberglass windows, typically use pultruded profiles for the frames; and since the frames and windows are both essentially made of glass, they expand and contract at the same rate, this creates a longer life window. Less gaps are created between the glass and frame, creating a tighter seal with efficiency gains. Additionally, aluminum window frames, which are conductive, generally are not as energy efficient as fiberglass windows.

The Janurary/February 2010 issue of This Old House, reports that:
"While sales of windows sank 18 percent overall last year, the market for fiberglass models shot up 9.4 percent. Experts attribute the bump to consumers' growing familiarity with the material and that, unlike vinyl, the pricier fiberglass fiberglass is as printable as wood and lasts longer since it expands and contracts with window glass."
Fiberglass windows will likely continue to gain market share as advances in pultrusion resin systems, such as urethane, will lead to higher quality products with increased energy efficiency.

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Photo Credit: JAGwired via flicker

Monday, January 18, 2010

Selecting a Composite Decking Material

Composite decking products, such as Trex, are a different type of composite then we usually discuss here. Unlike traditional FRP composites consisting of a continuous fiber reinforcement such as fiberglass or carbon fiber and a polymer resin matrix, composite decking products, for the most part, are an extruded composite consisting of wood fiber (saw dust) and polyethylene (grocery bags). Composite decking is a replacement for traditional wood and has many advantages, including lower maintenance, no splinters, no termites, etc.

However, many of the composite decking products have downsides as well. From my experience, some composite decking products are susceptible to stains and mold. For example, if part of your deck is in the shade, this area could slowly grow mildew and require occasional power washing, not exactly zero maintenance. Also, BBQ stains and other spills can grab hold to a composite deck and be near impossible to remove.

The best thing to do before deciding on a type of composite deck material, is talk to professionals working with the various composite materials, also ask if you can talk to customers they have worked with.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why we need composite materials?

The continued integration of lightweight composites into automotive and transportation will help alleviate the United Sates dependence on foreign oil. In particular, the US dependence on foreign oil supplied by unstable nations (as seen in the map above.)

Composite materials integrated into aerospace, automotive, trucking, and mass transit will all have fuel saving benefits. Additionally, products manufactured with composites will require less energy to transport or ship then traditional materials.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

What composite materials are people looking for?

The search giant Google probably knows more about composite materials then anyone in the world. That, and they probably know who in the world is the most interested in composite materials. There is an interesting tool called Google Trends. This little tool allows the public to see what topics are being searched, and their location. This can provide some market insight into where certain composite technologies are finding global interest.

For example, let us look at a composite material terms, and the top five geographical locations people are searching for information. The blue bars to the right are a graphical view of the total number of searches for that particular term.

1. Chennai, India

2. Mumbai, India

3. Delhi, India

4. Seattle, WA, USA

5. Montreal, Canada

Carbon Fiber
1. San Diego, CA, USA

2. Irvine, CA, USA

3. Los Angeles, CA, USA

4. Sacramento, CA, USA

5. Orlando, FL, USA

Carbon Fibre
1. Canberra, Australia

2. Perth, Australia

3. Adelaide, Australia

4. Brisbane, Australia

5. Bletchley, United Kingdom

1. Tampa, FL, USA

2. Orlando, FL, USA

3. Portland, OR, USA

4. St Louis, MO, USA

5. Seattle, WA, USA

1. Bremen, Germany

2. Toulouse, France

3. Hamburg, Germany

4. Paris, France

5. Zurich, Switzerland

1. Seattle, WA, USA

2. St Louis, MO, USA

3. Phoenix, AZ, USA

4. Los Angeles, CA, USA

5. Washington, DC, USA

1. Mumbai, India

2. Delhi, India

3. Montreal, Canada

4. Bogota, Colombia

5. Madrid, Spain

Filament Winding
1. Tehran, Iran

2. Mumbai, India

3. Delhi, India

4. Milan, Italy

5. London, United Kingdom

You get the idea... It is really quite fascinating to see what parts of the world are interested in what segment of composite materials. It seems Iran is extremely interested in filament winding; I wonder if homeland security is aware of this?

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Composite Cargo Shipping Containers

Composite cargo shipping containers have always been seen as a no-brainier. They are lighter weight, they are well insulated, and they are non-corrosive. Above is a video of a new (2016 Update, video was removed from youtube) composite cargo shipping container manufactured by a Dutch company. (Skip to 1min mark). This container is collapsible, which is an additional advantage.

Other not so obvious advantages of using composite materials in a shipping container include:

- Transparency, x-ray and other scanning equipment can be used by Homeland Security to inspect as ports.

- Tracking, RFID and GPS tracking systems can be easily embedded in the skins.

- Floating, surprisingly many see-land containers fall off cargo ships in rough conditions and during loading/unloading at port. Supposedly, current containers have a neutral buoyancy and float out of view just under the surface; which is a serious hazard to boats. A composite container would float and allow for easy retrieval.

The major downside to composite shipping containers is their initial costs. This particular container is said to be 3 times more expensive then a steel container. Cost justification with a tangible savings/payback needs to be evident for wide adoption. Additionally, I believe manufactures need to have a well planned end of life solution. Undoubtedly these containers will be damaged beyond repair, and a recyclable solution is needed. Current steel containers are scrapped easily for recycling, and composite containers would need the same.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Natural Fiber Composites - Abaca

With consumers, manufacturers, and governments all desiring more environmentally friendly products, composite companies are beginning to look seriously at bio-based materials. Bio-based resins, reinforcing fibers, and core materials are all potential replacements for traditional products.

When looking at reinforcing fibers, for some time people have been using hemp, flax, bamboo, etc as a polymer reinforcement. Products or parts made with these natural fibers do not have nearly the structural characteristics of traditional composite fibers such as fiberglass. However, for many non-structural components such as interior car panels, these reinforcements are an ideal fit.

One natural fiber that is gaining momentum is Abaca. A relative of the banana family, abaca is primarily grown in the Philippines and more recently in Ecuador. The major use currently is in speciality paper products, such as coffee filters, but abaca is slowly gaining traction in automotive composite applications. As of 2008, abaca was cultivated on 140,000 hectares (345,000 acres) in the Philippines, representing about $80 million in annual revenue.

In years to come I imagine abaca and other bio-based composite components will become more prevalent... as they should.


Photo Credit: ripplestone garden via flicker

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Composite Armor gets Big Defense Funding

The US government is starting to put a good deal of money behind composite material research and development. Just a few weeks ago 2010 Defense budget was accepted, and with this came a good deal of special composite material projects, some of which I have discussed before here. In addition, here are some more announcements of composite related defense funding (almost all for composite armor):

- University of Delaware has been awarded $1,600,000 to spur the development of the next-generation composite technologies to support advanced watercraft that will be faster, stronger, stealthier, less costly, field repairable, have longer service life, and are up-armor capable to operate. Source

- The University of Delaware will additionally receive $3,200,000 for continued research to allow the Army's Composites Applied Research and Technology Center to successfully insert more durable, modular, lighter and protective composite armor and structures into its tactical vehicle fleets more quickly and affordably. Source

- INVISTA S.a.r.l. will receive $3,200,000 to increase the safety and protection of soldiers' uniforms with improved flame resistant, durable, lower cost materials to protect against Improvised Explosives Devices (IEDs). Source

- Armor Dynamics is set to receive $1.6 million to develop advanced composite and reactive armor. Source

- $3.9 million for Tex Tech Industries to produce Ballistic CORE Technology. The Ballistic CORE Technology project provides enhanced protection for troops against fragmentation from blasts and a variety of bullets. Source

$1.6 million for Hodgdon Defense for research and development to reduce structural weight for high-speed composite craft through the use of lightweight composite materials. Source

- $5.3 million for the University of Maine in Orono. The appropriations funding will support critical programs to include the LGX High Temperature Acoustic Wave Sensors, woody biomass conversion to JP-8 Fuel, ballistic protection for remote forward operating bases, and cellulose nanocomposite technology to support operating base infrastructure and troop protection. Source

- $320 million for the Warren-based Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center and its National Automotive Center. That money will support such research into protecting Army vehicles against rocket propelled grenades and other explosives, strengthening combat and tactical vehicle armor, and developing fuel cell and hybrid electric vehicles. Source

- $3.2 million for Air Products to develop stronger and lighter composite armor for military vehicles Source

- $1.6 million for Bosch Rexroth Corporation in Lehigh County to develop a suite of simulators capable of screening and evaluating new materials, light weight structures, and high value subsystems and components on both wheeled and tracked vehicles. Source

- $1.6 million for Lawrence Technological University to develop and test stronger, lighter vehicle armor. Source

In addition to the DoD appropriations bill finding, the Army Research Labratory's is providing a $15 million Army contract to the University of Dayton Research Institute for composite armor systems from the future. Source

Did I forget any other government funding for composite armor?

Photo credit: nevada tubleweed via flickr