High performance composites influence the business agenda

06 June 2012

From an historical perspective, a mixed set of factors have affected the composites industry, crossing socio-political, technology, marketing and environmental issues. Here, Philippe Michaud, Huntsman Advanced Materials Technology Director discusses how the market has evolved to place the development of high performance composites technologies firmly on the agenda as a key enabler across a number of market sectors.

Composite technologies have come a long way in a relatively short time and have made high performance composites an extremely attractive option for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Because they are lightweight, they bring performance advantages to numerous applications.

Commercial objectives
Focused on producing high quality, complex and lightweight parts, many industries are addressing how to strike a balance between speeding up parts manufacturing, reducing investment costs and producing excellent results. Processing capabilities have thereby fallen in the spotlight with the onus on the requirement for better, high performance technologies.

What’s happening in automotive
In the automotive sector, lowering vehicle weight is driven by the need to create overall better fuel efficiencies and enhanced power to weight ratios. Recent years have seen high levels of activity in the global electric vehicles (EV) industry. However, electric vehicles having particularly heavy batteries, efforts are focused on how to make them as light weight as possible in order to achieve a better performance.

Government directives did originally spur initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, but what we’re seeing now is both pull from the market and push from the OEMs, focused on the delivery of enhanced vehicle performance. By and large, these influencers are mostly responsible for the significant growth in the composites market today.

More and more manufacturers are evaluating their carbon composites processing methods and realising the benefits of high speed Resin Transfer Moulding (RTM) for "part a minute” production. Huntsman’s resin systems for high pressure Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) and compression molding are already proving their ability to offer advanced processing properties and significant production time savings for direct processing, with the former enabling production cycles as short as three minutes and the latter providing even shorter cycles of less than a minute.

There are differences in opinion across the automotive industry concerning just how much weight can be saved, but insight and the widespread adoption of this technology shows that when processed accurately, significant weight savings and the associated benefits of enhanced power-to-weight ratios will follow.

Advancements in aerospace
Moving from one market in relative infancy to another in a more advanced stage, it would be apt to say that the aerospace market has been enjoying the benefits of composites for many years. From a research point of view, the next technological challenges centre on the exploration of new processes that reduce manufacturing times and new materials to enhance the technical performance in the fabrication, repair and assembly of aircraft components on short to medium range airliners such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320.

Priorities for Wind Energy
Wind Energy is another key market for composites and blade manufacturers are very much focused on the continuous improvement of wind turbine performance. Requirements for developing higher performance materials with an emphasis on lowering toxic risk while sustaining very good processing conditions is another key area in which Huntsman is actively concentrating its efforts.

Technical and market developments over the past two decades have turned this once marginal application into a global giant, which is also fast becoming one of the world’s largest markets for composites.

Wind energy is undisputedly the number one choice in Europe’s efforts to move towards clean, renewable power and is expected to power industry, business and homes with clean electricity for many years to come.

In summary
With more than ten years’ experience operating in the composites market, Huntsman Advanced Materials’ R&D and technical team is continuously working to improve the structural integrity and mechanical requirements of the parts and products of tomorrow as the uptake of composites continues to gather momentum across industry a whole.

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