Composite process materials are formed by combining two or more materials that have different properties to obtain a material different from the individual components. Both materials impart their own characteristic properties, and the combination often eliminates or reduces the weaknesses of individual components. The properties of the resulting material can be pre-decided. Composite process materials require fewer raw materials, fasteners, and joints, and this flexibility during the manufacturing process results in a variety of properties. They are resistant to fatigue, extreme temperature, corrosion, and wear, which has resulted in the widespread use of these materials.
Composite process materials are made of two main categories of constituents — the matrix and the reinforcement. The matrix embeds, surrounds, and supports the reinforcements. Ceramics, metals, or polymers generally make up the matrix. Polymers are further classified into thermoplastic and thermosetting.
Thermoplastic materials include plastics that can be molded into different forms, and the primary reasons for global market domination are polyethylene and polypropylene. Different thermoplastics such as Polycarbonates (PC), Polypropylene (PP), Polyphenylene Sulfide (PPS), Polyetherimide (PEI), Polyether Ether Ketone (PEEK) and Polyamide (PA) are among the many plastics in use.
As per PlasticsEurope, a plastic manufacturers association, the global production for all types of plastics in 2017 was 348 million tonnes, as compared to 335 million tonnes in 2016. Production of polyethylene in 2017 was the highest, which is used in the production of films, laminates, tubes, containers, bottles, etc.
Polymers that are cured into a solid form and cannot be returned to their original state are called thermosetting composites. Thermosets are widely used in high-heat applications and easy and cheap to produce. Due to lengthy production cycle times and low recyclability, the demand for thermoset composite materials is beginning to lower as compared to thermoplastics. Thermoset composites include materials such as epoxy resin, polyester resin, vinyl ester resin, and polyurethane resin, which are extremely brittle and have low impact toughness. Epoxy resins are used in the manufacture of adhesives, paints, coatings, floorings, and primers.
Glass fibers have a high strength-to-weight ratio and superior impact resistance and are used in applications that require higher strength. They are good electrical conductors and are moisture, weather, heat and chemical resistant and are easy to fabricate. Nowadays, graphene fibers, a new type of high-performance carbonaceous fibers, are used as they have high tensile strength and better electrical conductivity. Graphene reinforcements have resulted in an increase in Young’s modulus (i.e. a measure of the ability of a material to withstand changes in length when under lengthwise tension or compression) by 150%, shear modulus (i.e. the ratio of shear stress to shear strain) by 27.6%, and hardness by 35%.
Natural fiber-reinforced plastics or biocomposites are formed by a matrix and a reinforcement of natural fibers such as palm, jute, banana, luffa, rice husk, kenaf, cotton, coir, sisal, flax, hemp, ramie, and abaca. Biocomposites are in the growth phase as researchers are inclined toward the development of environment-friendly materials due to stringent laws. For instance, in Dec 2017, an exhibition on biocomposites was held in Cologne, Germany, which was attended by more than 30 biocomposite manufacturers.
Other fibers include basalt, aramid, and Kevlar fibers that have special characteristics such as higher static strength, fatigue life, resistance to heat and impact strength, along with a wide range of tensile properties. For instance, Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) is tough, has the highest impact strength, and is resistant to concentrated acids and alkalis, thereby finding multiple applications in the chemical industry.
The lay-up process has two methods, namely, open mold and closed mold. The open mold method is a low cost and effective method used in the manufacturing of boats, RV components, tubs, showers, truck cabs, and fenders. As per a report published by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) in 2018, the unit sales of powerboats in the U.S. reached 276,000, an increase of 4%. Also, marine expenditure and expenditures related to boats, engines, and trailers were valued at a total of USD 42,000 million.
The filament winding process is mainly used in the production of open and closed structures such as cylinders and pressure vessels. The market for NGV (Natural Gas Vehicles) that use CNG and, in the near future, fuel cells that have hydrogen, require pressure vessels for storage, especially in countries such as Argentina, Iran, Italy, China, and India. The global number of natural gas vehicles, in April 2019, increased to 27,765,376, which further propels global composite process materials market growth.
In the injection molding process, heat is injected into a mold, which is then subsequently cooled and solidified. This process is generally used in the mass production of products with complicated shapes. The process is used in the manufacture of chairs, toys, and packages of electronic goods. As per JEITA (Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association), the electronics and technology industry is estimated to undergo an increase from USD 2,934,500 million in 2018 to USD 3,045,800 million in 2019.
The main benefits of carbon fiber are its strength and lightweight. They also provide high corrosion resistance and impact strength. The use of carbon fibers is increasing, particularly in the automotive and aerospace sectors. The increase in demand for carbon fiber decreases costs due to competition and increases precision in flexibility manufacturing. For instance, General Motors partnered with Teijin in May 2019 to announce its first pickup box made of Carbon Fiber Reinforced Thermoplastic (CFRTP).
3D printing has given new impetus to the growth of the composite process materials market. Composite fibers are most suitable for 3D printing as they increase strength, stiffness, heat resistance, and durability. Carbon fiber, glass fiber, and Kevlar are widely used 3D printing materials. As per Sculpteo, a 3D printing manufacturer, 70% of companies increased their investments in 3D printing in 2018, as compared to 49% in 2017, which indicates that the 3D printing market is nearing maturity.
A 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Energy found that wind could provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030 and 35% by 2050. Wind turbine blades are made of composite materials using fiberglass and polyester or epoxy. Glass fiber reinforced plastics are widely used in wind turbine production. As per the Global Wind Energy Council in 2018, wind energy rates were initially expensive, but have now come down to USD 0.03/KWh, making it more competitive.
Composite materials have widespread use in the construction industry. Due to their high strength, impact resistance, low weight, low Young’s modulus, and resistance to heat and chemicals, composite materials become ideal for this industry. They are used in paneling, cladding, insulation, skylights, bathroom fixtures, swimming pool fences, and glass-reinforced plaster, among others.
The transportation industry is a significant user of composite materials due to their lightweight. The aims to reduce emissions and increase fuel efficiency, both of which are directly affected by vehicle weight, have increased the use of composite materials. The emergence of electric vehicles has also impacted the demand for composite materials such as polyamide, polyester compounds, and fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites. The number of electric vehicles rose by 63% to around five million from 2017–2018. The rise in fuel costs has consequently increased the demand for lightweight material, which in turn made composite materials extremely essential in automotive manufacturing.
Composite materials are key components in the aviation and aerospace industry due to their high-performance criteria. Carbon and glass-reinforced fibers are extensively used in the manufacture of wings, fuselage, and sections such as the undercarriage, rear end of the fuselage, tail surfaces, and doors.
Composite materials have high dielectric strength and arc resistance properties, along with elevated continuous operating temperatures that are ideal for insulation. Thermoset plastics experience minimal impact due to electrical arcing or tracking. Phenolic-matrix and melamine composites are used to produce circuit boards, gears, and insulators.
Composite materials such as carbon fiber are increasingly being used in medical applications due to their biocompatibility and chemical inertness. Carbon fiber composites are used in artificial limbs as the main loading structure. Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWP) composite is also used in artificial joint production. The open cell growth makes carbon fiber an ideal choice in cartilage implants.
Almost 70% of all pleasure boats are made up of glass fiber composites as they are resistant to corrosion, rust-free, and easily mouldable. The use of composite process materials in the manufacture of bicycles, skis, snowboards, rackets, golf clubs, and fishing rods is increasing and is an attractive market for composite materials.
The growth of the composite process materials market looks promising due to the variety of types, flexibility in manufacturing, and widespread use in multiple applications. China has witnessed significant growth and is a leading producer of composite materials. Many companies are tying up with Chinese manufacturers to set up plants. For instance, Owens Corning announced its partnership with Chongqing Polycomp International Corp. (CPIC) to develop a new facility. This facility is set up to manufacture high-modulus glass fiber products in China and will include a glass furnace with an annual production capacity of 110,000 metric tons. Many companies are trying to set up plants in India as the government is inclined toward infrastructural growth and the building of roads, dams, and other structures. For instance, Taishan Fiberglass, a Chinese glass fiber producer, plans to set up a glass fiber plant capable of an annual capacity of 80,000 tonnes, which required an investment of around USD 265 million.
As per the International Trade Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. composite process materials market was projected to grow at a rate of 4.2% from 2017–2018. In March 2018, Toray, a carbon fiber specialist manufacturer, acquired thermoplastic and thermoset prepreg specialist, TenCate Advanced Composites, for USD 1,100 million.
The EU, in 2017, launched its Horizon 2020 program, with a project called FIBRALSPEC, to develop carbon fiber from renewable resources such as lignin, an organic polymer. Research and development for green precursors will offer an alternative to the current industry standard of petroleum.
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