Sunday, May 15, 2011

Leading with Composite Materials

By Mondo Humboldt

Composite materials have become very popular in high-performance products that need to be strong enough to take harsh loads and remain lightweight. They have become so popular that JEC Composites, a company that promotes composite materials internationally, has held a composite show in Paris these last few years. The show is the biggest composites exhibition in the world! At the show companies like ASC Process Systems get a chance to showcase their specialized process equipment used to construct composite materials like composite bonding autoclaves.

The show is the perfect platform to launch new inventions and ideas involving composite materials in front of a dynamic group of potential buyers, suppliers, and peers. Composite innovators have been focusing on ideas that reduce environmental impact, while reducing cost. Renewable energy features were a big hit at the 2011 JEC Composites show held in Paris, France. Wind blades constructed, of course, by composite material were show cased. Also the Wind Explorer, a two seat electric car made from carbon fiber composite and powered by mostly wind energy, was featured. Inventions like these are paving the way for composite innovations that aid in recycling and the reduction of energy in some way.

A composite is a material made of more than one component made by man. Modern composites are usually made of two components, a fiber and matrix. The fiber component of the material is known as the reinforcement. In some mixtures, fibers aren't lined up and are laying in many different directions or all jumbled up. In other mixtures fibers are all lined up in the material. This makes the material stronger in the direction in which the fibers are aligned but weak in the direction going against the fibers. Some materials only need to be strong in one direction so this can be a benefit. For materials that need to be strong in more than one direction, the fibers are pointed in different directions, or woven. The matrix component holds the fibers together and adds toughness to the material.

The curing of composites requires the compacting of the plies of material, then pressing this material against the mold, forcing out volatiles and excess resin, and holding everything motionless during the entire cure cycle. Using an autoclave, the structural adhesive bonding forces the parts together and holds them while the adhesive cures. Unlike a press, the autoclave applies pressure uniformly irrespective of the shape of the workload. Processing by autoclave is far more costly than oven heating and is therefore generally used only when isocratic pressure must be applied to a workload of comparatively complex shape.

When it comes to light weight structural components composites are the future. Composites are now being used for aerospace components where weight and strength are critical factors. These factors determine the development of aircraft for aerospace companies world-wide. The Boeing 787 is composed of more composites than any other Boeing commercial plane before it. Composites have been found to reduce maintenance in the high tension-loaded area of the fuselage. Composites also make up many of the things around us. Baseball bats, bicycle frames, bathtubs, and counter tops are just a few examples. No one knows exactly where the future of composites will lead us but, the possibilities are endless!

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