The show must go on……geopolitical distractions notwithstanding

Hello all,

Welcome to another post, as most readers make their way back to resume business activities after the summer sojourn.

 HUNKY DORY ?

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The latest economic assessment indicates  that both the global and US economy are at an inflection point with a somewhat faster growth rate. The initial phase of the fragile European recovery from its double-dip recession has been tentative [BNY Mellon]. Japanese growth surged in Q1 and then plunged in Q2, resulting in a relatively flat GDP for H1, 2014 – the expansion is however expected to resume. Geopolitical turmoil has been occurring in various locations and appears to have worsened in recent times. A dip in export growth helped send the German economy in reverse gear in Q2, with GDP down by 0.2% compared to Q1, mainly due to import growth outperforming the country’s exports. France also witnessed zero growth in the second quarter. Not surprisingly, the Spanish and Portugese economies expanded by 0.6% in Q2, though observers warn of the vulnerability of both, to shocks [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The stock market was on a roller coaster ride in early August and there currently appears to be an uptick, following a brief period of stabilization.

U.S. TAKES OVER

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What made news in mid-August on the energy front was the unsurprising revelation that the US produced 13.63 million barrels per day (BPD) of oil and natural gas liquids in April 2014, which was 2 million BPD more than Saudi Arabia, per data released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). This energy miracle has been made possible by the shale oil and natural gas boom from states such as Texas and North Dakota, which saw their respective production levels soar by 119% and 177% from 2010 to 2013 [The Motley Fool]. Despite turmoil around the world, oil prices are at 13-month lows – analysts at Goldman Sachs expect oil price to remain stable over the next year, thanks to America’s production boom replacing oil from less stable areas of the world.

Little wonder that reshoring is no longer a myth in the US with the manufacturing renaissance gaining ground progressively.

DRIVING…IN COMFORT

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Audi, the Volkswagen AG subsidiary, is introducing GFRP suspension springs before the end of this year for an upcoming, upper mid-size model. The composite spring is around 40% lighter than its steel counterpart (3.5 lbs vs. 6 lbs) resulting in a weight saving of ~9.7 lbs for four springs. The GFRP springs save weight at a crucial location in the chassis system, enhancing vibrational comfort and therefore making driving more precise [Plastics News]. The composite spring is reportedly made by wrapping glass fibers in alternating angles around a core of twisted fibers impregnated with epoxy resin. The impregnated strand is thicker than the wire of a steel spring and the overall diameter is slightly larger.

 STORMING STEEL’S DOMAIN

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The automotive sector continues its relentless pursuit of lightweighting as a means of achieving fuel efficiency to meet both EU regulations and CAFE norms in the US. At the 2014 VDI Plastics in Automotive Engineering Conference in Germany; Volkswagen described an experimental CFRP crossbeam (front, central and rear crossbeams for the Tiguan model), all designed for identical bending and buckling strength as steel crossbeams. Epoxy resins with glass transition temperatures of 120°C, 150°C and 180°C were evaluated keeping in perspective car body manufacturing tolerances for permanent deformation after typical 200°C electrophoretic paint dip (EPD) coating oven exposure [European Plastics News]. Front and rear crossbeams were fixed to the steel bodywork by resistive element welding and rivets and the central crossbeam by screws and epoxy adhesive.

 PERCEPTIBLE SHIFT

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The use of composites in window frames in lieu of PVC is well known. However, it is the gradual shift in the type of matrix material that is capturing the attention of the building sector. While epoxy and vinyl ester resins have been popular, polyurethane (PU) matrix is emerging as the preferred choice in view of better thermal insulation characteristics. The composite profiles based on GFRP or CFRP (generally the former) are produced by pultrusion. With a thermal conductivity similar to to that of wood or PVC, the window frames satisfy the requirements of energy-saving regulations and passive house standards [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The superior mechanical properties stem from the high glass fiber content (~80% by weight), thereby making it possible to manufacture profiles with a very narrow visible height and low installation depth – such as sliding doors for balconies and terraces.

 ONE-UPMANSHIP ON METAL

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A new thermoplastic composite for high-speed, high-volume injection molding with tensile strengths close to or better than metals, is making waves with the potential to replace titanium aerospace bolts. With both GF and CF versions, the material comes in three performance levels depending on the combination of polymer types and fillers. Tensile strength can reach from up to 50,000psi to as high as 120,000psi, that exceeds steel. Tensile modulus ranges from up to 5 million psi to as high as 12 million psi [Design News]. The composites are 75% lighter than steel and 60% lighter than titanium. Thermoplastics include PEEK, PPS, PA, PEI, PPA. Short or long fibers can be used depending on mechanical strengths desired. Potential applications include nuts, bolts, gears, brackets, recreational product structures, sporting goods. Market sectors include aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, alternate energy, medical and electronics.

ALL FOR A COMMON CAUSE

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Both BMW and Boeing have done pioneering work in recycling of carbon fiber, considering the extensive usage by both manufacturers in the automotive and aerospace sectors respectively. They also signed a collaboration agreement in 2012 for joint research and knowledge-sharing in CF recycling. BMW uses recycled CF in the epoxy resin based CFRP roof of the i3 electric drive and i8 plug-in hybrid cars as well as the i3′s PU-CFRP rear shell. Oriented (anisoptropic) and isotropic non-woven fleece materials from CFRP waste materials is now a practical reality. The recycled CF yarns are stretch-broken with high tensile strength and low yarn count, thereby rendering them suitable for processing into textile fabrics. While most recycled CF is obtained by thermal treatment to burn away organic polymer content, there is also a supercritical fluid solvent (solvolysis) process. Fluidization in water makes recycled CF pulp non-woven tissue-mat fleece, akin to papermaking. Up to 3 meter wide fleece is made in a mechanical carding process, sans heat. This involves cutting CF fabric production scrap, opening the fibers and combining them into a fleece that has superior draping performance compared to uni-directional preform fabrics [European Plastics News].

The high cost of CF and CFRP necessitates ways and means of recycling and reuse of CF. When two leaders in their respective market sectors collaborate, the outcome can only be positive and a commercial success.

CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY

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New developments abound when it comes to revolutionizing the way cutting, drilling and machining of composites is accomplished. Ultrasonic-assisted machining (UAM) is the latest technique that utilizes a specially designed piezo-electric transducer working in tandem with a traditional turning, drilling or milling machine and developed by a team of researchers at Leicestershire, UK. The device creates ultrasonic vibrations between 20kHz and 39kHz and the machining technique makes composite materials sufficiently “soft” in the area being worked – hence much less force is needed from the cutting tool, resulting in less damage, less waste and a better finish [Plastics Today]. CFRP composites based on epoxy resin have been successfully machined utilizing this technique. The challenge lay in minimizing, and, if possible, completely eliminating damage due to drilling. Ultrasonic drilling has shown excellent damage mitigation with significant drilling force reductions.

THINNER, LIGHTER – THE NEW NORM

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The first all-thermoplastic liftgate has been produced for the 2014 Nissan rogue crossover in North America. The complete liftgate (recyclable) assembly weighs 24 kg, is 30% lighter than stamped steel and contributes to fuel economy increase. The outer panel (2.8mm thick) with integrated spoiler is molded from a thermoplastic olefin (TPO), while the inner panel (2.5mm thick) is a 30% long glass fiber reinforced PP. Injection molding on 4,400Tonne presses was used for producing the component [Plastics Today].

ETHANE ROUTE – ASCENDANCY

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The shale gas revolution impacting the market dynamics of ethylene and propylene availability (and price) has been dwelt with in several earlier posts. The margins with ethane cracking are almost double that of naphtha [Platts]. Hence, one need not have to be a financial wizard to figure out the commercial viability and profitability of ethane (shale oil/natural gas based) crackers (in lieu of crude oil based naphtha). Ethane production continues to rise in the US. Global polymer major SABIC is modifying its cracker in the UK to handle shale gas imported from the US – the plant is expected to be commissioned in 2016 [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. Deriving advantage from cutting edge technology in creating new sources of competitive feedstock is the global norm being embraced by corporate leaders whose vision is clearly to maintain their strategic advantage extending into the future.

POSITIVE GROWTH TREND

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The US demand for pipes is expected to rise 7.3% annually through 2018 driven strongly by growth in crude oil and natural gas activity as pipes are used extensively in drilling and oil&gas pipeline applications. Per latest report from a leading market research firm, demand will also be supported by a rebound in building construction, increasing housing completions and strong interest in kitchen and bathroom renovation projects that will boost demand for drain, waste and vent pipe. Plastic pipes are poised to grow at a rapid pace of 8.7% annually through 2018. Growth will be spurred by the increasing use of plastic (including composites) pipes at the expense of steel and concrete. In applications such as potable water and sewer/drainage, plastic pipes will be increasingly specified by consumers trying to reduce maintenance and replacement costs [Plastics Today]. HDPE pipes that accounted for the second largest share (next to PVC) of pipe demand in 2013, is expected to see the largest demand in 2018 boosted by its use in sewer/drainage, potable water and natural gas distribution applications – all of which also use composites. The spinoff from ethane surplus (shale gas fallout) is bound to result in abundance of polyethylene. The technological advances by manufacturers in introducing improved grades of HDPE, rivaling composites in many applications, could be one of the reasons attributed to the spurt in demand (through 2018).

BALANCING ACT

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As we approach the end of the third quarter, the general global optimism on growth is being dampened by geopolitical turmoil that is likely to linger awhile. In normal circumstances, the immediate fallout would have been a spike in crude oil (and consequent energy) prices, considering the clout that OPEC wields. The situation this time around is however slightly different – thanks to the shale gas (fracking) revolution in the US and less dependence on imported oil. It has been almost a tectonic shift and game changer with wide repercussions in the polyolefinic (PE,PP) supply chain scenario. The consequent upside has been the spate of technological advances in polymeric composites to derive maximum advantage from the situation. While the battle lines between metals and composites were always drawn and clear, the latter continues to inch its way and encroach the entrenched domain of the former in several market segments.

But then, we do need to remind ourselves of the adage “slow and steady wins the race”, albeit with a slight  twist….. and that is the industry needs to up the ante by transforming the current canter (relatively speaking) into a gallop, and hasten bridging the yawning (double digit and multi-fold) gap that still persists between metals and composites’ industrial usage.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Innovation and Speed of Commercialization in Composites Sector – is the glass half-full ?

Hello everyone,

Here we go again with another post…….

GROWTH  EUPHORIA

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As we weave our way into the last month of Q2  2014, several factors stand out that merit mention. Per PWC, the Eurozone is on the way to recovery and poised to register growth this year – for the first time in three years. This is substantiated by stock markets posting returns of more than 20% in the past year, while yield on corporate bonds are nearing record lows. The UK economy is also reportedly in good health according to two major business lobby groups – the Confederation of the British Industry (CBI) and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC). The CBI says growth reached a record high in May. The BCC has also upped its growth rate for 2014 from 2.8% to 3.1%, which is well above the 2.7% forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) – the Government’s independent fiscal watchdog [BBC]. Though the U.S. economy contracted the first quarter after it began the year on a roller-coaster ride, it is still on track to register a 3% annual growth backed by statistical data on movement of goods (trucking sector), unemployment  rate  and other relevant factors. The dip in Chinese exports has reiterated the need to focus on boosting domestic consumption which is a better-late-than- never scenario.

GFRP FORMWORK – IN REAL TIME

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A key advantage of prefab sandwich panels in composites such as ease of transportation and installation is legion. Building bridges over busy waterways are generally accompanied by delays and disruptions to shipping traffic. In a departure from conventional norm, rather than moving the steel structure into place and building the formwork, engineers building the Uyllander bridge in Amsterdam (Netherlands) turned the process around. The steel structure – steel arch and steel trusses spaced 3.8 meters apart was constructed onshore, after which a lightweight GFRP sandwich panel formwork was installed, also onshore. Lightweight and stiffness were key requirements in the the GFRP design – the deflection in the middle of the panel could not exceed 25mm when concrete was cast (weight of concrete + steel reinforcement was ~800kg/sq met). Another challenge was to provide a supporting edge with a thickness of 15mm so as to limit the supporting thickness at the edges. 72 GFRP sandwich panels were produced by vacuum assisted RTM, complete with integrated holes needed for installing the steel strips to hold the pipes running under the bridge. The panels were installed onshore, after which the bridge was moved into place, the steel rebar was constructed and the concrete deck was cast. A key aspect was to minimize traffic interruptions, which was successfully accomplished [Plastics Today].

Novelty in thinking and execution is a key trait in problem-solving.

Innovations abound when it comes to responding to market needs for lighter/stronger materials with improved performance. The icing on the cake is, undoubtedly, overall cost reduction. A new generation of carbon fiber reinforced polyamide compounds processable by injection molding, to potentially replace structural metal components in automotive, oil and gas and industrial applications hold great promise. The company (Lehvoss NA) claims that the compound has 50% greater tensile strength,15% more stiffness and 90% greater impact strength than traditional carbon fiber reinforced polymers. Further advantages claimed are good tribological properties, electrical conductivity and low co-efficient of thermal expansion [Plastics Today].

JUGGLING WITH CYCLE TIME & COST

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Cannon‘s Epoxy Structural Reaction Injection Molding (ESTRIM) is a faster alternative to traditional resin transfer molding of epoxy parts. The company’s processing technology for CFRP parts for the BMW (i3 and i8) that has been supplied to Benteler-SGL Automotive Composites, has a dosing unit with a liquid lay-down distribution method which deposits a liquid ribbon of formulated resin over the carbon fiber reinforcement. The uniform film of resin impregnates the fibers once pressed in the mold. The absence of in-mold flow of reacting resin coming from the mixing head drastically reduces the counter-pressure generated during injection, allowing for use of low-tonnage clamping presses [European Plastics News]. The obvious economics are low investment in molds and clamping tools, lower energy consumption during each cycle, all culminating in lower production costs. The ESTRIM mixing head technology allows fast-reacting formulations to be used with demolding possible after three minutes !

Long glass fiber reinforced PP (in the LFT category) has been employed by automakers as a weight and emission reduction solution for large molded structural parts such as front-end modules (FEM), door modules, instrument panel carriers, tailgates and seat structures. A leading sustainability independent consulting firm has found that a FEM made of PP based LFT had a life cycle greenhouse gas emission (GHG) of 78 kg vs. 149 kg with a polyamide hybrid solution – a 48% reduction. The data also showed that the PP based LFT had a lower life cycle energy footprint of 1,200 megajoule vs. 2,140 mj for one with a polyamide hybrid solution – a 44% reduction. The advantages of PP based LFT on vehicle emission reduction are obvious [Plastics Today].

CONCEPT – TO – TESTING

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When it comes to lightweighting in automotive design, the permutations and combinations are endless; depending to some extent, on the end performance requirements of the component in service. Composites continue to make inroads in the metal domain for under-the-hood applications. An interesting, as yet untested development is a thermoformed hose. The technology consists of weaving carbon or glass fibers together into a hose, which is then transferred to a mold along with a thermoplastic such as polypropylene (PP). The mold is subsequently heated to 240°C for three minutes, after which air is pumped into the mold, raising the air pressure in the mold. This causes the reinforcing fibers to be pressed against the hot wall of the mold. The materials come together, following which the part is finished under normal pressure (5-6 bar) used for thermoforming. The finished part could replace different metal brackets under the hood, it is claimed [Plastics Today].

THRESHOLD OF REALITY

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Ever head of biomimicry ? It is all about learning from nature – studying nature’s designs and emulating these to solve human challenges. Typical example – the famed Velcro ! Following the success story of self-healing polymers, nature has once again shown the way for self-healing composites ! The bane of composites damage, as we all know, is delamination. Internal delamination is not only difficult to detect, but well nigh impossible to repair by conventional techniques. Perhaps, this has been the most single limiting factor in greater widespread use of composites, as a small internal crack can lead to irreversible damage. It appears, there is now hope. Researchers at the Beckman Institute’s Autonomous Materials Systems (AMS) Group in Illinois created 3D vascular network patterns of micro channels filled with healing chemistry – that threads through a fiber reinforced composite. When damage occurs, the networks within the material break apart and allow the healing chemistry to mix and polymerize, autonomously healing the material, over multiple cycles. Creating the vascular architecture integrates seamlessly with typical manufacturing processes of polymeric composites, thus rendering it a strong candidate for commercial use. The vessel system is made up of two different micro channel networks, each containing one of the two liquid healing agents (an epoxy resin and hardener). Delamination damage to the composite ruptures the capillary network and triggers the delivery and subsequent polymerization of reactive chemical species. It was found that arranging the vessels in an overlapping herringbone design promoted better mixing of the liquids (enhanced mixing through increased interfacial and overlapping fluid boundary layers) compared to parallel configuration (diffusion is primarily limited to adjacent bands between the delivered heating agents). When a fracture occurs, it ruptures the separate networks of healing agents automatically releasing them into the crack plane – akin to a bleeding cut. As they come in contact with one another in situ, or within the material, they polymerize to essentially form a structural glue in the damage zone. After each healing cycle, it was found that higher loads were required to propagate the crack with the herringbone configuration [Plastics Today].

BIO-BASED : THE  FUTURE

CHEMICALS, PRICES, periodic table on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

The shale gas boom has resulted in North American ethylene producers shifting more to natural gas based feedstocks and away from petroleum based naphtha, as reported in our earlier posts. The result has been a sharp reduction in production and availability of propylene. This has resulted in bio-based chemicals attracting serious interest as drop-in replacements for petroleum based commodity chemicals. Epichlorohydrin (which is one of the starting materials for epoxy resin) is now being produced from glycerol (instead of propylene). Likewise, propylene glycol (a key ingredient for unsaturated polyester resins) is now being produced from glycerol. Such paradigm shifts are bound to affect (ease) the raw material availability and price volatility witnessed in the resin market over the years and provide a boost to bio-based chemicals in the long run [Plastics Today].

The Alfa Romeo is set to return to the U.S. this month after nearly two decades. The 4C is a carbon fiber fitted sports car optimized for low weight and agility. It has an one-piece monocoque CFRP chassis weighing just 65 kg. More models are on the way in 2015 [Plastics News].

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX !

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Hitherto, offshore wind turbines are installed in water less than 30 meters deep. The concept of undersea energy storage through the use of giant concrete storage spheres is now being touted by researchers at MIT. The idea is that when offshore turbines are producing more electricity than the grid needs – overnight or on weekends, when demand is slack; power would be used to pump seawater out of the hollow spheres placed at the seafloor beneath the turbines. When extra power is needed, the system would take advantage of hydrostatic pressure, opening up to suck water back into the spheres, with the water passing through a hydropower turbine to generate electricity. Reportedly, one such 25-meter sphere in 400-meter-deep water could store up to 6 mWh of power. To be economically feasible, the system would need to operate in water at least 200 meters deep with cost/mWh dropping until 1,500 meters, before beginning to trend upward. The turbines would float, anchored by the massive concrete spheres that also store energy. Now comes the hard part – preliminary estimates indicate that one such sphere could be built and deployed at a cost of $12 million. This could yield an estimated storage cost of 6 cents/kWh – a level considered viable by the utility industry [Earth Techling]. This is more relevant in Europe where offshore wind power rules the roost. The U.S. though is still grappling with its first major offshore installation.

The good news is that constant efforts are being made technologically and otherwise, to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy and it is yielding positive results. The first step is the willingness to think strategically and then evolve ways to execute the same.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Rapid Advances in Polymeric Composites – rendering technological myths redundant

Hello again,

Unseasonal weather in many regions especially since the beginning of 2014, has once again brought discussions on climate change and global warming to the fore. The fact that predictions are already in place for a warmer-than-normal summer in several parts of Europe, North America lend credence to the global warming phenomenon.

ADAPTATION IS THE KEY

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They say wine gets better with age, but the regions we typically associate with its production could be in for a major shakeup due to climate change over the next few decades. Researchers are predicting a two-thirds decline in production in the Bordeaux and Rhone regions in France, Tuscany, Italy and Napa Valley in California by 2050 due to global warming that will make it more difficult to grow grapes. Instead, regions once considered inhospitable to grape production will take over-including Northern Europe (Britain too), the U.S. North West and central China [Design&Trend]. The United Nations’ latest report on climate change states it is inevitable and that countries need to start thinking of managing the same [The Atlantic]. Protagonists of green energy would perhaps state that this is a tacit reference to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by embracing wind energy, greater reliance on CNG, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through fuel efficiency of automobiles enabled (among others) by greater use of lightweight plastics and composites etc.

The key word is adaptation rather than mitigation.

 COMPOSITES – GROWTH ENGINE

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The emphasis on manufacturing innovation in composites to accelerate growth in commercial applications has been spelt out clearly by the late March announcement of the U.S. proposing a Composites Industry Institute christened as Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute with the federal government offering $70 million in funding that has to be matched. In its call for proposals for an institute that focuses on overcoming the barriers to greater widespread use of advanced composites, the Department of Energy (DOE) says it is pursuing the promise of composite materials. Industry analysts predict the global carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) market to grow to $25.2 billion by 2019 and glass fiber reinforcements to reach $16.4 billion by 2016 [Plastics News]. The goal of the new institute will be to lower the cost of advanced composites by 50%, reduce the energy to make composites by 75% and increase recyclability to more than 95% within 10 years.

What better news can the composites industry hope for ?

 SHIPPING CONTAINERS IN CFRP

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At a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the European Commissions’s Joint Research Center detailed how CFRP could revolutionize the shipping container market segment, (hitherto the domain of steel) based on Life-cycle Cost Benefit Analysis – the  successful proven mantra in the composites industry. Looking at the analysis…….while a composite container may cost EUR 6,000 ($8,300) versus EUR 2,200 ($3,050) for a steel container; at a diesel fuel cost of EUR 1.60 per liter ($8.40/gallon), the composite container would break even after the container has travelled 120,000 km (74,500 miles) on sheer weight considerations alone – 1.2 Tonnes vs. 2.2 Tonnes for steel, with the inevitable advantage of corrosion resistance, the bane of steel. The icing on the cake ? Composite containers could also potentially be foldable and hence could be laid flat on their return to China [Plastics Today]. In 2006, Congress passed a law in America requiring all containers arriving into American seaports (from foreign shores) be scanned for illicit materials and illegal immigrants. But the deadline for compliance continues to be pushed back due to technical issues: scanning steel requires high power X-rays or even gamma rays which are expensive to generate and hazardous. CFRP containers, however, can be scanned with “soft” X-rays that are easier to generate and use.

A revolution in the making in storming the steel bastion ?

Air Cargo Containers was granted Technical Standard Order (TSO C90d) certification for its lightweight composite AMJ model Unit Load Device (ULD) in December 2013. It is the first all-composite container to receive this certification from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It is constructed of proprietary composite side panels and floor panel, built around an aerospace grade aluminum frame for lightness and durability as well as improved maintenance characteristics and flame retardant capability. Tare weight is 480 lbs which is 350 lbs less than competing aluminum containers. Weight savings achieved is around 42% [Plastics Today].

THERMOPLASTICS VERSATILITY

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Processing of liquid thermoplastic resins by RTM is now a commercial reality. The formulated resins from Arkema are based on various oligomers, monomers, additives, catalysts and fillers. Targeted cycle times in the automotive sector are 2-3 minutes using fast RTM and 20-30 minutes for for bus and truck components. The density of the composite ranges from 1.55 with carbon fiber (60% volume) to 1.9 with glass fiber (50% volume). Unlike unsaturated polyesters, the resins do not contain styrene. The thermoplastic characteristics enable design of composite parts that are easily thermoformed and recyclable with comparable mechanical performance to epoxy parts [Plastics Today].

Technological advances abound in structural adhesive solutions for bonding lightweight materials including CFRP in the automotive sector. Recent formulations of Dow‘s adhesive offer a cycle time of around one minute facilitating mass series production. Open time can be adjusted to accommodate specific mounting requirements such as quicker curing time by infra-red treatment. The fact that the initial adhesion requires no additional fixing tools is an added advantage [Plastics Today].

 WIND ENERGY ECONOMICS – REVELATIONS

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There has always been several schools of thought when it comes to discussing the real benefits of wind energy, costwise. Latest research (March 2014) from top American universities has found that when total costs include environmental impacts, U.S. wind energy costs virtually the same as natural gas. A collaborative study from the University of California and Syracuse University examines price differentials between American wind energy and natural gas, when long-term factors such as the future costs of carbon dioxide emissions are accounted for [Climate Group]. Supplementing data from the U.S. Department of Energy on the current lifetime “levelized” cost of electricity from a new wind farm and from an advanced combined cycle gas plant, the research project has factored three additional aspects – future cost of carbon dioxide emissions added to the price of gas, cost of supply intermittency added to price of wind and cost of correcting natural gas price volatility added to price of gas. On adjusting figures to reflect these three conditions, the new average levelized cost of electricity from wind is 9.2cents/kWh – a tad higher than natural gas’s 8.85cents/kWh. The result is even more favorable for wind if one considers some of the larger possible values for carbon emissions.

The interesting fact with such studies is that all forms of variables that affect the ultimate economics are factored in arriving at a realistic comparison, with less room for any bias.

 BENZENE – OPTIONAL ROUTE

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In my last post, I had stated that it may be worthwhile looking at an alternate route to benzene to combat the looming styrene shortage and its effect on unsaturated polyesters/vinyl ester resin prices. With the current natural gas glut in the U.S. (potentially to be followed by the UK, Australia and China), the development of high performance ceramic membranes has opened up the distinct possibility of of converting natural gas to benzene. Once commercialized, this approach could reduce the practice of flaring natural gas (across the world) which wastes about 140 billion cubic meters of gas annually. Oil wells in remote areas often use flaring, because transporting the natural gas to markets would be very expensive [MIT Technology Review].

Jointly with Hyundai Motor, Lotte, Korea has developed superlight CFRP composites for the main frame, roof&door side panels for Hyundai’s Intrado concept car that was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in March and achieved a weight reduction of around 60%. Through its unique structure, the thermoset composite  manufactured using high-pressure RTM, has the strength equivalent to steel [Plastics Today].

Conventional techniques such as milling or water-jet cutting suffer high levels of tool wear when machining CFRP composites, negating, to some extent the gains in efficiency and life-cycle cost that  it promises. A new automated laser processing technique for CFRP structures in mass production scenarios is currently in the works, thanks to Volkswagen‘s initiative in spearheading a joint consortium effort. The goal is to employ a new fiber-guided, high performance laser with pulse lengths in the nanosecond range. As CFRP contains both stiff fibers and sticky polymers, the fibers lead to wear on mechanical tools such as mills and cutters, while the sticky polymer increases the deterioration of the tool by blocking the rake and clearance angle. Water jet machining is also problematic as it requires the use of abrasive materials which might remain in the cutting edge and initiate contact corrosion. A laser-based operation should avoid tool-wear issues entirely, cutting instead through laser ablation. In such an operation, a short interaction with the workpiece is clearly beneficial – the option is still to use nanosecond pulses rather than the even faster femtosecond sources being deployed in other material processing applications. With shorter interaction on the surface, the plasma plume can expand in all directions. But with thicker material, the plasma can expand in only one direction – up. This slows down the expansion process and leads to an increased heat input. Further, economics is also a factor since ultra-fast sources are more expensive than nano-second pulsed systems. Critically, it is the investment required per Watt of average output that could be the driving force in decision-making [Optics].

 AND THE WINNER IS…….

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At least 14 billion pounds of new polyethylene (PE) capacity are anticipated for North America by 2018 as producers look to capitalize on growing supplies of low-cost natural gas supplies in the region. As this amount is more than the domestic market will be able to absorb, part of the new capacity will need to be exported and PE prices are likely to decline. In polypropylene (PP), new supplies of propylene monomer from the propane dehydrogenation (PDH) route through one (current) PP expansion project in the region. About 3 billion pounds of new capacity will eventually transpire in the next few years, which could also lead to increased PP exports from North America and make prices competitive in the long run [Plastics News].

The battle of the polyolefins will be intense in the coming years. Whether PP will prevail is definitely a moot point at this stage, as the economics of the PDH route have yet to be commercially proven.

MORE THAN A GLIMMER

Stay optimistic on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

With the uptick in global economy, the timing is just right for  companies to draw up expansion plans for organic growth and/or make strategic acquisitions that have synergistic benefits for a robust 2015 and thereafter. There are definite signs of the eurozone recovery with many countries within the EU reporting a slew of economic data that is most encouraging. The stockmarket has been on a tear lately prompting the Cassandras to speak of an impending bubble.

But, hey, the show must go on and the projected optimistic scenario should make us all sport a wide smile.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Next-shoring : the latest strategy for business competitiveness and growth

Hello all,

Here we go again with another post on the latest in global economics, composites and polymers while chipping in occasionally with tidbits on entertainment and sports. A truncated February has been the prime reason for deferring the publication of this post.

RESHAPING THE WORLD

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The impact of GDP growth of nations on the composites industry in the respective countries has never been so obvious since the beginning of the global economic downturn in 2009. Questions abound on whether regions/countries have hit the bottom of the “U” and there is an uptick in the economy. While experts continue to be flummoxed at times by conflicting reports on the health of the Chinese economy (the debate is unending), the U.S., UK and Germany continue to forge ahead with bright 2014 prospects.

The theme of the 2014 World Economic Forum meet in late January in Davos was aptly “Reshaping the World”. Leaders recognized the skills of nations to navigate the complexity and interconnectivity of the changing world, with profound political, economic, social and technological forces shaping our lives. There could not have been a better way to succintly sum up the global scenario. A discerning feature was the U.S. vs. Europe competitiveness on the energy front with the former being adjudged the clear winner much to the dispirit of the Europeans [CNBC]. The American euphoria could perhaps be short-lived if one were to go by reports of the recent shale gas exploration success in the UK – not a real match in terms of barrels per day of oil or cubic feet of natural gas, but still a significant step.

For those who followed the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the (healthy) U.S.- European rivalry was all too obvious, driven largely by sportsmanship and adrenalin pumping (will to win) !

THINWALLING – THE NORM

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Automotive instrument panel retainers in composites have been around for more than a decade. However, developments never cease in making parts thinner and lighter. An injection-molded thinwall instrument panel retainer in the 2014 Chrysler Jeep Cherokee is reportedly the industry’s first to attain 2.0mm thickness employing long glass fiber reinforced polypropylene (PP) with a 30% fiber loading. The part is reportedly 27% lighter than the previous talc-filled PP version (2.5 to 4.0mm thickness). Thinwalling enabled a cycle time reduction of approximately 30% versus the conventional 3.0mm thick part due to faster cooling time and a nominal cost reduction. Advanced fiber orientation was employed in the design of the new part to properly set up the injection mold for warpage mitigation [Plastics Today].

Lightweighting has almost become a fetish in the automotive industry and the collaborative efforts of OEMs, fiber producers and machinery manufacturers continue to reap rich dividends.

Another recent development has been a weight-optimized commercial vehicle storage compartment flap with a 70% uni-directional glass fiber reinforced PP tape. The thermoplastic tape laying method provides outstanding mechanical properties, resilience and ability to form complex shapes apart from reducing waste and cost. Yet another automotive development has been an injection-molded glass fiber reinforced polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) head-up display that shows important information directly at the driver’s eye level. This rigid, temperature-resistant material features high dimensional stability and low warpage, enabling very low tolerances that allow precise dimensions for various components. The components of a head-up display-case bearing housings, the optical rail and mirror holder should not change shape even slightly, that makes the reinforced PPS an ideal material for this application [Plastics Today].

CARBON FIBER – ALL THE WAY

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It was mostly about carbon fiber composites at the January 2014 Detroit Auto Show. The auto industry’s carbon fiber dreams are increasingly making it to the street. GM and BMW introduced cars at the show that use more CFRP than their previous models [Plastics News]. The Chevrolet Corvette Z 06 has a standard removable carbon fiber roof panel enabling drivers the luxury of an open air option without losing their composite cover. This is a follow up on the 2013 Corvette Stingray with a carbon fiber hood and fixed roof. BMWs new M3 sedan and M4 coupe both have carbon fiber roof systems with potential weight reduction of 80kgs in each model. Toyota’s FT-1 concept car utilizes a carbon fiber exterior door panel made in a single step in one large mold. The large one-piece hood swoops down for a split front end with exposed carbon fiber trim that skims over the surface. Nissan’s Q50 Eau Rouge concept luxury car utilizes aerodynamics for the carbon fiber exterior trim. The curving capabilities available through molding is used to funnel passing air directly where it is needed to cool the rear brakes of the sports car.

Another way to reduce drag co-efficient and improve fuel economy, apart from conventional weight reduction techniques.

NEXT-SHORING IS THE NEW TREND

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Demand for manufactured goods in emerging markets is surging and fragmenting, as factory costs shift technological advances with more powerful robotics and the internet creating a new range of opportunities for manufacturers to digitize operations. Manufacturing strategies built on labor-cost arbitrage are becoming outmoded. The race is on to get ahead of what comes next. The new trend is to place greater emphasis on proximity to both demand and innovation while making location decisions that balance economies of scale against the growing diversity of tastes within and across global markets. First it was offshoring (arbitrage labor costs by using low-wage workers in developing nations). Then came reshoring -return of manufacturing to developed markets as wages rose in emerging nations. The latest mantra is next-shoring, which  places emphasis on proximity to demand and proximity to innovation. Both are crucial in a world where evolving demand from new markets places a premium on the ability to adapt products to different regions. Next-shoring strategies encompass a diverse and agile set of production locations, a rich orientation of innovation-centered partnerships and a strong focus on technical skills [Mckinsey].

Recent examples from an array ? Toray’s latest announcement on plans to invest in a new carbon fiber integrated- manufacturing facility in South Carolina in the U.S.; Jushi venturing out of China and setting up new glass fiber manufacturing plant in Egypt. Watch out for many more announcements of new plants by both fiber and resin manufacturers in the near future.

Dynamics of change….embracing it and being proactive is essential for businesses to survive. More so, a fundamental prerequisite for market leaders to retain numero uno status in their respective market segments.

INNOVATIVE POTENT COMBOS

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A recent trend in thermoplastic composites features not only a glass fiber reinforced prepreg, but also the cutting and incorporation of long fibers into the overmolding material at the injection machine itself. Arburg highlights the ability, using the latter, to modify glass fiber length according to the application and the cost advantage of not having to buy pre-compounded LFT granules. Sophisticated robotics and infrared cameras monitor the effectiveness of the preheating station for the prepreg. However, it is not clear at this stage as to how many applications will require the use of both LFTs and prepregs [Injection World]. In what can be considered as a 21st century version of RTM, manufacturing automotive products in thermoplastic composites using in-situ polymerization of caprolactam into polyamide6 in a modified injection molding machine, is making waves. In a prototype demonstration, the liquid components were injected over a 3D glass fabric preform. The stated advantages over preforms created by thermoforming a prepreg sheet is that the preform is impregnated and formed at the same time – hence, more complicated geometries and more surface finishes can be obtained.

NOVELTY IS THE KEY

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A company claims that it can boost the flexural stiffness of fiber reinforced profiles by more than 500% by incorporating continuous long glass fibers in the profile – but only in the places where the reinforcement is needed. It claims lower cost than equivalent metal or pultruded products. By eliminating the need for metallic reinforcements, the profiles (displayed at K2013) are the ideal solution in environments where thermal conduction and corrosion are an issue. The use of glass fiber instead of aluminum or steel improves the thermal efficiency of buildings [Pipe &Profile Extrusion]. The successful product was developed through a combination of pultrusion and extrusion technologies. In a similar fashion, a German company has developed endless fiber reinforced polymer composites ideal for lightweight, high strength applications. During extrusion the profile is uni-directional reinforced through pre-impregnated ribbons in a longitudinal direction ensuring reliable transfer of the high pull-off forces. This also counteracts the majority of stress conditions experienced by a prismatic profile. The profiles consist of a thermoplastic matrix reinforced with continuous fibers with a specific fiber orientation which are created in an integrated winding station. The products can be made with different thermoplastics reinforced with glass or carbon fiber. Use of carbon fiber enables production of pipes and profiles that are more lightweight than extruded aluminum profiles. By selecting the correct combination of profile geometry, thermoplastic material, fiber and its orientation, the profile can be adapted to suit the load in terms of torsion, tensile rigidity and tensile strength. The profiles have impact strength, low weight, exhibit low thermal expansion and a high degree of insulation. Products are available as tubes and a variety of profile shapes including triangular, I-beam, square and rectangular [Pipe &Profile Extrusion].

Combining pultrusion and extrusion processing…..novelty has no limits.

NATURAL GAS POWER

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Improved hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has helped unlock vast new tight oil supplies in several states in the U.S. Per International Energy Agency, crude oil production rose by 990,000 barrels /day in 2013 – an increase of 15% over 2012. That’s the fastest such absolute growth of any country in 20 years [Time]. The fracking revolution has simultaneously unearthed vast stores of natural gas. Corporate America is on a spree in converting their trucking fleets to natural gas and building more fueling stations. Proctor & Gamble, United Parcel Service and Frito-Lay North America are expanding their natural gas fleets. Trucking companies are increasing their number of natural gas vehicles while energy firms are busy building infrastructure for natural gas in the U.S. Technology has made natural gas a real game changer. CNG tanks will continue to be in great demand, resulting in a significant increase in use of carbon fiber for the tanks.

RESIN PRICES – ON THE RISE

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The shale gas revolution that has resulted in the U.S. unearthing a bounty of oil and hence becoming less dependent on imported crude oil, continues to have a profound effect on availability of propylene (thereby causing PP price to rise by more than 5 cents/lb). Ditto for thermosetting resins due to the benzene-styrene effect (as forecast in our January post). Benzene price was at a record high in January. Almost all major thermosetting resin producers globally announced price increases in early February for unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resins (blame the styrene effect!). While plans are already afoot on the propane dehydrogenation route for increased production/supply of propylene (with a bit of luck, from 2015); the quest for a commercially viable alternate route to benzene (and hence styrene) needs no overemphasis. Brace yourself for further price hikes in 2014 and beyond.

Time for Low Styrene-Emission (LSE) thermosetting resins to make a greater impact through more widespread use ? Perhaps……..

Global warming has been the reason attributed to the bitterly cold weather in several parts of North America, chiefly the U.S. Hedgehog day in early February threw up contradictory predictions on an early spring. Change is everywhere – be it political, the economy, business investment climate or the weather.

As mortals, we have no option but to embrace change at each stage. Ditto for change in this blog’s format, which is in the works.

The Oscar awards are round the corner and the world expectantly awaits the winners. Fingers crossed on this one…….

Till the April post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Do Regulatory requirements Foster fast-track innovation, Forge synergistic alliances and Spur rapid growth ?

Hello everyone,

At the outset, I wish all readers in the 100+ countries (that this blog’s readership covers) a Happy and Prosperous 2014!

Most of you would be back after the holidays rejuvenated and determined to tackle another challenging year ahead, albeit with less pain and greater optimism than in 2013.

OPTIMISM – THIS IS FOR REAL

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Taking stock of 2013, the results have started trickling in……

Global manufacturing ended 2013 on a strong note as major exporters like the U.S., Japan and Germany all saw demand pick up; although China’s performance remained modest with diminished exports in December 2013 and a marginal drop in Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI). Years of loose monetary policy along with soaring stock markets appear to be bolstering economic confidence – this bodes well for a global economy that has struggled to shake off the effects of financial crisis and recession [Reuters]. By not showing signs of contraction, Europe appears to have turned the corner, while the emerging markets are reportedly faring better. The U.S. economy seems to be on a roll with December’s PMI of 55.0 and the housing market on the road to recovery.

CLEAN, GREEN ENERGY

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The relentless pursuit of clean green energy remains unabated. Official figures confirm December 2013 was a record breaking month for wind power in the UK with more electricity generated from wind than any other month. A total of 2,841,080 MWh of electricity were generated by wind power for the National Grid – enough to power more than 5.7 million British homes. Overall, wind power supplied 10% of Britain’s total electricity demand for homes, businesses and factories [Clickgreen]. Globally, this market segment continues to be the principal growth driver for glass and carbon fiber composites. The abundance of natural gas in the U.S. is resulting in the retirement of more coal-fired plants in favor of (less expensive) natural gas-fired plants for electricity generation. Per U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal-fired generating capacity is expected to fall from 312 GW in 2012 to 262 GW in 2040. Increased generation with renewable energy is expected to account for 28% of overall growth in electricity generation between 2012 and 2040. Recall the commitment by leading nations at the commencement of this decade of harnessing 20% renewable energy by 2020.

The winds of change are definitely blowing in the right direction.

The cyclical recovery in global auto sales that began in mid-2009 has resulted in broad-based gains in 2013 in every region except Europe. Volumes in Western Europe began stabilizing in the latter half of 2013 and forecast to increase this year for the first time since 2009. Record global car sales is projected for 2014 with a 5% increase (over 2013) triggered by the first synchronized expansion in global purchases since 2005 as a result of rising consumer confidence, low short-term interest rates and strengthening employment growth [Scotia Bank].

AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR IN TOP GEAR

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Achieving weight reduction and the resulting fuel economy is a perennial challenge. Volvo has unveiled an innovative potential solution to the problem associated with bulky and heavy battery packs by replacing steel body panels with carbon fiber composite panels infused with nano-batteries and super capacitors. The conductive material used around the vehicle to charge and store energy can be recharged via the vehicle’s regenerative braking system or via the grid. When the system and motor requires a charge, the energized panels behave like any traditional battery pack and discharge accordingly. Volvo claims the composite trunk lid, which is stronger than steel, could not only power the vehicle’s 12volt system, but the weight savings alone could increase an EV’s overall range and performance as a result. The switch to CFRP composite of the plenum cross-member under the hood resulted in 50% weight saving and torsionally stronger structure compared to steel. The bottom line….an interesting solution that could not only reduce overall weight, but increase charge capacity relative to a vehicle’s surface area [Gizmag]. Per Volvo, weight savings of 15% or more could be achieved by replacing a vehicle’s traditional body and relevant electrical components with nano-infused carbon fiber panels. When it comes to weight saving the battery pack in Tesla Model S not only adds significant cost  but also weight (around 453 kilograms). With Volvo’s concept, that huge chunk of weight would not only be lighter but spread out evenly over the vehicle’s body. As a result, vehicle handling and performance characteristics would improve as a result of this revised displacement concept.

With fertile imagination….such revolutionary concepts and consequent successful outcomes are a given.

RESIN BREAKTHROUGHS

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The cure kinetics of a novel heat-resistant epoxy resin based on naphthyl pyromellitic diamide with diamino diphenyl methyl sulfone on carbon fiber reinforced composites has provided interesting insights. Differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) was used under non-isothermal and isothermal conditions. The former results in highly crosslinked network later in the curing stage. The CFRP composites were found to exhibit a high glass transition temperature, low moisture absorption, adequate flame retardance and especially very low tensile strength loss at high temperatures [Sciencia].

Polyurethanes (PU) continue to make inroads as matrix materials for composites in view of their proven versatility. The effect of soft segment molecular weight and chemical structure on the morphology and final properties of segment thermoplastic PU containing various hard segment contents has been investigated. Vegetable oil based polyesters and corn sugar based chain extenders have been used as renewable resources. Chemical structure and molecular weight of polyols strongly affect the properties of the synthesized TPU. An increase in soft segment molecular weight increases the degree of soft segment crystallinity and microphase separation, thus imparting enhanced mechanical properties and higher thermal stability [Sciencia].

LIGHTWEIGHTING – NO LETUP

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Technological developments abound in meeting Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and EU regulations laid out by the U.S. and European Union respectively on fuel economy (read, miles per gallon) of all vehicles. Gurit‘s Car Body Sheet (CBS) is a unique composite structure for car body panels. The combination of two layers of carbon fiber reinforcement, one above and one below a syntactic resin core, results in stiffness properties similar to those of an I-beam. While CBS panels match the stiffness of typical steel or aluminum body panels, they minimize the required layers of carbon fiber reinforcement, reducing both mass and cost of the component. The final layer of CBS is an in-mold primer layer which enables CBS to far exceed the surface quality of standard composite materials neutralizing fiber print-through and providing an excellent surface for paint. The combined cure ply thickness is 1.8mm and the panels are 80% lighter than steel of the same thickness [Plastics Today]. Nickel tooling, built-in vacuum circuit and thermal fluid circulation enables programmed cure cycle temperature ramps that result in 80-minute cure cycles to produce fully cured dimensionally controlled surface panels.

Which reminds us of the adage “Necessity is the mother of invention”. Can there be a better example than achieving fuel economy through intelligent identification of potential vehicle components, judicious choice of materials and tweaking of processing parameters/techniques, all contributing to weight reduction?

CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGIES

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The requirement of fire retardance for mass transit applications needs no overemphasis. Public safety is of paramount importance.  A new halogen-free high performance thermoset resin system is well suited for thermoset composites in mass transit. Sans conventional fire retardant additives such as antimony trioxide or alumina trihydrate, the one-part system features a proprietary intumescent mechanism and provides excellent wet-out, spray characteristics and crack resistance. The resin has lower specific gravity and leads to lighter weight and stronger parts that are easy to fabricate. It is designed for contact molding and spray-up GFRP processes [Plastics News].

Thermoplastic composites are making rapid strides in a range of industries requiring lightweight, high-strength material options along with low cost, automation and short cycle times attainable with injection molding. An all-plastic organic hybrid composite technology involves heating a continuous fiber reinforced sheet blank impregnated with polyamide 6 and then placing it in an injection mold where it is formed into a 3D shape and overmolded with more polyamide 6 (unfilled or glass fiber reinforced). In some cases, the sheet blank is thermoformed separately before being placed in the injection mold. The initial development focus has been on automotive interiors including seating area components, door side impact beams, cross-car beams and front ends [Plastics Technology]. A seat back consisting of woven glass fiber/polyamide sheet overmolded with a specially developed 35% glass fiber reinforced polyamide 6 combines stiffness ,ductility and Class A type finish. The part weighed 20% less than standard seat backs. Other potential thermoplastic candidates include PP, PBT, PES, PEEK and polyamide 66.

A new Resin Transfer Molding (RTM) process simplifies production and painting of CFRP automotive parts. Production of a 2mm thick CFRP roof panel with a paintable surface that can go into the paint line with other exterior car parts was recently demonstrated in Europe for a sports car body. A compact mold carrier design has a special seal system in the mold that makes it possible to inject Polyurethane  with vacuum assistance when the mold is slightly opened. Integrated sensors monitor and regulate optimal filling [Plastics News].

NAPHTHA vs. ETHANE 

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The success of fracking and abundance of U.S. shale gas is shaking up the global petrochemicals industry. Using natural gas to make ethylene has meant a switch away from naphtha from which oil-based feedstocks such as propylene, butadiene and benzene are derived. Styrene, in turn is derived from benzene. Will this have a negative impact on vinylester and unsaturated polyester resin prices in the long run? The probability remains high. Continued shift to ethane will lead to an ongoing shortage of higher carbon chemicals such as propylene and butadiene. This environment is also likely to be supportive of renewable chemistry economics. An indirect beneficiary could be the global bioplastics market that could grow at a staggering 40% per year through 2020 according to Morgan Stanley researchers [Plastics Today].

STRATEGIC ACQUISITIONS

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With markets perking, the timing is right for Mergers & Acquisitions (M&A) to gain momentum. Companies are flush with cash. Organic growth could well take a backseat in businesses which require heavy capital outlay. The M&A route could be the preferred option in enhancing market share and expanding customer base in a shorter time frame. Toray‘s acquisition of Zoltek (carbon fiber) and Karl Mayer‘s acquisition of Liba (warp knitting & technical textiles machinery) are just the tip of the iceberg.

We are in the cusp of a technological revolution arising out of the shale gas success saga. Being forewarned enables us to be forearmed in seeking alternatives, so that the development cycle pertaining to innovations reaching the marketplace remains unaffected.

Does the industry have the wherewithal to effectively combat the disruptions arising from technological advancements that affect market dynamics caused by a shift away from oil?

The answer is an emphatic YES!

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Gung ho or Cautious Optimism? Its a toss-up!

Hello everyone,

The European Commission’s latest economic forecast is sobering reading for anyone who thinks the euro-zone economy is turning the corner [Quartz].

CLEAR TRENDS AHEAD ?

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Its not all gloom and doom. The 2014 outlook is better. One forward-looking indicator which is the latest Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) is above the 50 mark (the level that suggests economic expansion) for the fourth month running. German factory orders rose much faster than expected, Spain foresees a broader uptick in consumer spending. British indicators added to evidence that the UK is spearheading Europe’s recovery from recession [Reuters]. Latest figures show that the US economy grew at annual pace of 2.8% in Q3 – a growth rate that was faster than expected compared to 2.5% in Q2 [BBC News].

All signs point to a gradual global recovery with consistently high growth from 2015.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS – VALIDATION

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Multi-axial fabrics have been the driving force for more than a decade in pushing the performance level of composites. The most recent development is the 3D weaving process for manufacturing high performance carbon fiber composites. A new 3D weaving loom to produce prototype 3D fabrics has been commissioned at Belfast; wherein preforms can be woven in a variety of widths, thicknesses, patterns, shapes and strengths [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. Research has shown that the 3D composite has significantly better performance, including 15% higher fatigue properties and a crack propagation value up to 20 times higher than 2D reinforced epoxy laminates.

For a 3D orthogonal carbon fiber weave, geometrical parameters characterizing the unit cell have been quantified using micro-computed Tomography and image analysis. Novel procedures for generation of unit cell modes, reflecting systematic local variations in yarn paths and yarn cross-sections and discretization into voxels for numerical analysis have been implemented. Resin flow during reinforcement impregnation can be simulated using computational fluid dynamics to predict the in-plane permeability. A significant effect of the binder configuration at the fabric surface on permeability was observed, which is to be expected. In-plane tensile properties of composites predicted using mechanical finite element analysis showed good quantitative agreement with experimental results. Accurate modeling of fabric surface layers predicted a reduction of the composite strength, specifically in the direction of yarns with crimp caused by compression at binder cross-over points [Sciencia].

The ability to predict mechanical properties and behavior of composites using fabrics has been a salient feature in recent times – designers continue to play a prominent role in facilitating such modeling and simulation before commercial production.

POLYAMIDE TO POLYPROPYLENE

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Glass fiber reinforced polyamide (PA)  has generally been the material of choice for air intake manifolds in automobiles. Continuous technological developments in tailoring highly engineered polypropylene (PP) compounds to required stiffness aspects has resulted in Volkswagen being the first automaker to switch from PA to short glass fiber reinforced PP for this application. Benefits include a 15% weight saving, superior acoustic performance and greater production cost efficiency. More short and long glass fiber reinforced PP are now being used in instrument panel carriers, front-end modules and under-the-hood applications [Plastics Today]. Borealis has opened a new long glass fiber reinforced PP plant in Italy that uses pultrusion to  achieve increased fiber length in both pellets and parts. The glass fibers are typically arranged parallel in the pellets, all having the same length as the pellet itself.

CFRP MAKING INROADS

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It keeps getting better… I mean the reduction in cycle time when processing CFRP for automotive applications. A recent demonstration of a  production-line-ready-carbon fiber reinforced roof shell with a polyurethane (PU) matrix says it all. The component can be used as-is or painted straight away as the fiber structure is not visible on the surface. The Class A surface finish is assured through adoption of a two-stage production process [Plastics Today]. Firstly a carbon fiber preform is robotically placed in a RTM compression molding tool and impregnated with PU resin. The 2mm thick semi-finished part is then  robotically transferred to a second RTM compression molding station where a 0.2 mm aliphatic polyurethane UV-stable coating is applied. The part is then trimmed to its final shape. Overall fiber content is around 50%. The PU for both the part core and surface is poured in when the mold is slightly open (compression RTM). This results in very low flow resistance which allows injection of the PU system with high pour rates. The mold is then closed. The process not only improves fiber wetting, but also  prevents fibers from moving around [Krauss Mafffei].

This adds to the growing list of successful synergistic commercial developments in the automotive sector between auto, fiber, resin and machinery producers, especially in CFRP.

INTEGRATION – BENEFITS

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In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned the experimental introduction of polycarbonate (PC) in lieu of traditional glass in automobiles.  SABIC‘s glazing technology to protect the plastic and ensure PC meets safety and performance requirements has met success in sunroof systems especially in Europe and is now making its debut on side windows of the Volkswagen AG’s XL1 high-efficiency hybrid car that also touts a CFRP body. The unconventional design has a streamlined shape to improve the car’s aerodynamics. It is the first vehicle to feature advanced plasma coating on two-component injection-molded PC windows. The side windows are 33% lighter than conventional glass and can still roll down – making it the first PC, roll down, moving windows used in the auto industry. SABIC is also showcasing a long glass fiber (GF) reinforced PP for the tailgate which is 30% lighter along with long GF reinforced PBT for structural components. System integration has resulted in a weight saving of almost 12 kgs [Plastics News].

ONE-UPMANSHIP

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The fracking technique success in the US to extract gas and oil from shale has caught the attention Down Under. An Australian company announced successful gas flows from a horizontal fracked well [Shale Gas Now]. The US energy drilling boom is revolutionizing the niche market for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Analysts opine that North America will vie with the Middle East as the world’s top supply region this year and in 2014 at average daily production rates of around 2 million barrels per day. Of the anticipated US LPG surplus of  nearly 350,000 barrels per day by 2015,  about 110,000 barrels per day could reach Asian markets. This game-changing development will redraw global LPG trade flows and force Middle Eastern LPG exporters to lower prices [Trade Arabia]. Mammoth LPG export terminals are being built in the US.

The PE/PP market dynamics will witness a major shift in the next five years consequent to the shale gas revolution and the US slowly becoming a net exporter rather than importer (as has been the case till earlier this year). Crude oil prices, barring geo-political issues, could well be heading south in the coming years, thanks to the abundance of natural gas.

ACOUSTIC REVELATION

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An unique non-woven fabric that helps solve car makers’ needs to improve acoustics and reduce weight without breaking the bank, is making waves. Based on the “physics of acoustics “, the technique focuses on two dominant properties of part design – thickness and resistance to airflow. As sound moves through air in waves of minute pressure variations, the solution has to work for  long wavelengths (low frequency) and short wavelengths (high frequency). The thickness of the existing insulation layer determines what low frequency wavelengths can be absorbed. The new non-woven material replaces the traditional black scrim on the surface and controls the mid and high frequency wave length by managing the sound pressure level variations and trapping the energy in the insulation layer of the part. This makes the composite more efficient than just the homogeneous insulation material by itself [Innovation in Textiles]. In a recently launched automotive hood liner, weight saving of almost 950 grams/ sq meter (>2lbs/sq meter) was achieved with this non-woven fabric – the acoustics stayed the same, there was cost reduction generated in the  raw material line, and additional improvements in manufacturing related to shorter cycle times required to mold a 600gsm glass fiber part as compared a 1,600gsm part [Nexus].

The addition of nanoparticles to polymeric matrices has shown great promise for improving mechanical and thermal properties – however, this improvement comes with a decrease of processability. In a typical case, two different forms of glass fiber – one a bi-axial fabric and the other an uni-directional glass fiber mat were sprayed with carbon nanofibers on both sides. Mechanical properties of composites produces by vacuum-assisted RTM were obtained. Permeability, as a measure of of processability of the sprayed glass fiber mats, were measured. While there was an increase in mechanical properties, permeability was found to diminish with addition of carbon nanofibers [Sciencia].

DUAL SYNERGY

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Combining injection and compression molding to achieve weight reductions of up to 50% in automobiles? Could be a commercial reality, per Daimler. Pressed components allow a marked reduction in weight, whilst injection molded components enable the incorporation of ribs to ensure the necessary stability and strength as well as opening up a broad scope for shaping to enable realization of different components. In the new process, ribs and attachment points are injected directly into the pressed carrier while still hot. The starting material for the carrier takes the form of hybrid bonded fiber fabrics consisting of thermoplastic and reinforcing fibers. Use of the same materials for the bonded fiber fabric and the injection molding process results in an optimum bond. The technology enables simple functional integration and thin wall thicknesses. Interior weight savings of up to 5kg per vehicle can be reportedly achieved with this technology. The weight reduction is accompanied by reduced material input – consequently, reduction in CO2 emissions from the component manufacturing process. Compared to the compression molding process, costs can be reduced by up to 10 %. Further, components can be produced without any increase in costs compared to the injection molding process due to reduced material input and use of suitable materials. The first parts for pillar and door trims with this technology goes into series production in one of the next Mercedes-Benz model lines [Plastics Today].

POWER SHIFT TO NATURAL GAS

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Natural gas powered trucks and vehicles (at the expense of diesel) is on the increase in the US. At Walt Disney’s Disneyland in California, the year round guest transportation services to and from theme parks, shopping, dining and parking areas features eco-friendly buses powered by cheap, abundant clean American natural gas. One company alone has built more than 400 natural gas refueling stations in the US [Motley Fool]. Ford’s recent announcement that its customers will be able to get the F-150 truck factory equipped to run on either natural gas or gasoline is symbolic of the increase reliance on (less expensive) natural gas. United Parcel Service is projected to control the most extensive  Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fleet by the end of 2014. Currently, the US estimated cost/gallon of diesel is $3.78, gasoline $3.28, CNG $2.28 and LNG $ 2.50. Home retailer Lowe’s is well on its way to replace all diesel powered fleet with natural gas trucks by 2018.

About 5% of all heavy duty trucks sold in 2014 will run on natural gas – up from 1% this year.

The success of fracking in the US has resulted in an abundance of natural gas. The UK and Australia have also been successful in exploiting the technology, with more countries likely to follow suit. The direct impact is use of natural gas derived ethane as feedstock (rather than crude oil) for cracking to yield ethylene. There is bound to be a major shift in polyolefins price and availability.

The dependence on crude oil is likely to be marginalized in the next five years. It is not without reason that oil-rich countries such as Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi are already implementing plans in moving away from oil dependence by creating Special Economic Zones for mega infrastructure projects (water desalination plants in Saudi being a prime example) and industrial parks (Plastics Cluster in Abu Dhabi – one of the world’s largest industrial parks dedicated to plastics conversion).

INVESTMENT & FORESIGHT

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A few glass fiber producers have already announced price hikes. Resin producers did so in Q3. Platinum and rhodium prices are attractive enough to warrant investment in capacity expansion of glass fiber plants. With the Dreamliner and Airbus A350 ramping up commercial production, aerospace grade carbon fiber is also poised to find stability in pricing (as in the past).

2014 should be a good year for fiber and resin producers alike and for the composites industry at large.

In view of the holiday season in December, our next post will be published in early January 2014.

Till then,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Composites’ competitiveness to the fore

Hello everyone,

With Q3 2013 behind us and improving economic trends in the eurozone & U.S., Abenomics kindling a boost in economic activity with a far more volatile financial environment in Japan and conflicting views on China faltering; focus is on the final thrust by most nations to end 2013 on a healthier note than when the year began.

EUROZONE – COMPELLING 

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The World Economic Forum has come out with its latest 2013-14 Global Competitive Index of countries. As in previous years, the world’s top 10 remain dominated by a number of European countries with Switzerland (in pole position), Finland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and United Kingdom confirming their places among the most competitive economies. Three Asian countries also figure in the top 10 with Singapore remaining the second-most competitive economy globally and Hong Kong & Japan occupying the 7th and 9th spots respectively. After having declined for four consecutive years, the U.S. has reversed its downward trend, rising by two spots to take the 5th position ahead of the Netherlands and Sweden.

It may not have been a great year for the eurozone, but  competitiveness says it all and underscores its importance in the global economy.

ADDING A NEW DIMENSION

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In one of the earlier posts, I had stated that water would emerge as the new oil of the future. Transportation of water is thus a key factor to be dealt with and there is no dearth of piping materials – be it metals, plastic or composites. Pressure pipes come in many forms – from oriented PVC to fiber reinforced composites. A new innovative composite pressure pipe is made of continuous glass fiber reinforced high density polyethylene (HDPE) composite tape which is wound around a specially designed extruded thin-wall HDPE thermoplastic liner and heat treated in a proprietary process [Pipe and Profile Extrusion]. The pipe construction adds an outer layer of HDPE film to protect the system from both ultraviolet degradation and abrasion damage. At 4.26lbs/ft., the pipe is lighter than a pressure rated composite and plastic pipe of comparable diameter [Ticona]. Two people can easily lift and carry the pipe, thereby eliminating costs associated with unloading equipment, increasing safety and minimizing work site damage and reclamation costs. Rated at 250psi operating pressure, the 10.5 inch diameter pipe is designed for general water transport infrastructure including distribution systems, oil and gas operations, hydraulic fracturing feed water and produced water, large irrigation systems, tank farm operations and de-watering systems. Burst pressure of the finished pipe can be increased from the current 500psi by varying the number of layers of continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic tape on the thin-walled HDPE liner.

The high demand for piping in the U.S. for fracking alone is significant. The icing on the cake is the abundance of HDPE that would be available down the line using ethane (shale gas feedstock) in lieu of conventional naphtha (crude oil feedstock).

 SMC WITH GLASS BUBBLES

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Thermoplastic composites have been making inroads in the automotive sector and challenging the traditional workhorse – thermosetting SMC. Not to be left behind, a custom SMC manufacturer in the U.S. has recently developed an ultra-low density SMC with high surface quality that is expected to find wide applications in the transportation and general industrial markets [Plastics Today]. Use of glass microspheres has resulted in attaining a specific gravity of 1.18 for the SMC which is at least 38% lower than the industry standard SMC formulations. The new SMC formulation reportedly offers outstanding toughness and intended for high impact applications. Its proprietary technology improves the resin-to-glass bonding strength on a micro-structural level by about 50%.

The dogged determination with which carbon fiber & resin producers and CFRP processors are collaborating to reduce cycle time of molded parts for the automotive sector is admirable. Innovative mold technology has resulted in automated manufacture of a CFRP vehicle engine hood with a cycle time of just 15 minutes. Featured recently at the Composites Europe 2013 show, the mold comprises a mold frame and two mold halves with an integrated sensor technology. The combined fixing and ejection units allow double-sided impregnation of the preform, enabling complex sandwich parts to be produced in a single process step [Plastics Today]. The mold surface topography has been optimized to such an extent that direct surface coating of the CFRP engine hood is possible – a major step towards efficient production as it involves dispensing with post-treatment of the part prior to applying the surface coating. Curved contours and stiffening structures improve the static and dynamic properties of the hood. The sandwich structure incorporates necessary fixing elements to avoid need for subsequent assembly of additional elements and enabling weight reduction of almost 60%.

Cycle time has always been the bane in greater use of CFRP in the automotive sector…not so anymore.

AN ODD COUPLE ? NAAH !

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PVC thermoplastic resin reinforced with long glass fiber ? The twain have generally been considered an odd couple. Considering the spate of technological developments, it was therefore not surprising to hear Solvay‘s recent announcement of an innovative vinyl composite technology involving continuous long glass fibers impregnated with PVC powder that provide fire resistance, stiffness and high impact resistance. Target market sectors include marine, construction and automotive.

Timely reminder of the Adidas slogan… impossible is nothing.

Kawasaki Hydromechanics Corporation, Tokyo recently delivered a large composite molding system incorporating a 35,000kN hydraulic press to Japan’s National Composite Center (NCC). The system incorporates various processing options, including an in-line compounding extruder enabling long fiber thermoplastic (LFT-D) moldingRTM unit and an infrared heater for composite sheets. Priced at US$9 million, the molding machine is tailored for development of various large mass-production processes and able to mold large components up to 3 x 2 Meters in dimension. The molding system will reduce production cost through CFRP molding enabled by the LFT-D unit. By combining an IR heater and RTM injector, it will enable testing and selection of CFRP molding techniques most suitable for the shape, strength and cost profile of individual components [Plastics Today].

Rivaling the Germans when it comes to gigantic multi-functional hydraulic presses for composites ? A far cry and welcome change from a nation that has always prided itself in miniaturizing components and products especially in electronics and appliances sectors.

PERMUTATIONS & COMBINATIONS

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Brace yourself for more fiber-resin variations and molding techniques combos. The prototype of a rear seatback using new continuous fiber-reinforced thermoplastic woven fabrics overmolded with specially formulated high-impact modified Polyamide 6 was recently staged in Germany [Plastics Today]. BASF also showcased a test part using its Combination of Inmold-forming and Overmolding process (CIFO) consisting of a 1.5mm thick formed laminate and up to 3mm thick molded-on functional elements such as ribs and cages. Demonstrating the characteristics of composite part manufacturing, special features of the component include sealing around the edges, long flow paths, formed holes, rib array & a ribbed U-profile beam. The same concept extending to polyurethane and epoxy resin systems with continuous fiber reinforcement is currently in the works.

CFRP matching aluminum and steel in torsional stiffness and that too with significant weight reduction ? An engine X brace with improved torsional stiffness is now available in CFRP as an aftermarket bolt-on. Aluminum replaced steel initially and cut weight by 40%. Now CFRP has replaced aluminum with a 50% weight reduction. Per Chrysler, a car with the part was subjected to a 500 mile road test and a thermal test was conducted to check for heat issues – none were observed [Plastics Today]. The estimated temperature requirement for the part is in excess of 230°F. Work is in progress for an improved RTM system with high-pressure vacuum assist. The brace uses 102 pieces of CF, varying in thickness from 2.60 to 2.75 mm.

LIVE AND LET LIVE

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With all the euphoria surrounding the extensive use of composites ( around 50%) in the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350; aluminum is staging a comeback. An aluminum-magnesium-scandium alloy is under development that is expected to be 5% lighter than conventional aircraft aluminum and could be ready for the next generation jets. The new alloy that faces tests in labs and regulatory approval is also more expensive that conventional aluminum [Yahoo Finance].

As to the aircraft of tomorrow, it is bound to be an aluminum-composite hybrid according to industry experts.

September witnessed a flurry of price increase announcements for thermosetting resins in Europe by leading resin producers – the key reason being feedstock prices, especially benzene and its derivatives. Polypropylene (PP) price volatility in NA continues and this trend is likely to carry on until new propylene monomer capacity comes onstream in 2015. PP growth is thus likely to be impeded by supply and price in the short/medium term.

POWER IN NATURAL GAS

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Natural gas is poised to displace coal as the world’s second favorite fuel by 2040. Natural gas demand is expected to grow 65% over the next 30 years, per ExxonMobil. This implies that the cleaner-burning fuel would provide 25% of world’s energy by 2040. Demand for natural gas is expected to come from a deeper penetration in electrical generation as it would be directly displacing coal [The Motley Fool].

Nothing is permanent except change – what can exemplify this classic cliche better than the September 30 news that Apple officially surpassed Coca-Cola (the brand that held the #1 position for 13 consecutive years) as the  world’s top brand [Yahoo Finance] according to Interbrand.

Composites are still decades way from displacing traditional materials of construction in a major way….but the success rate in doing so during the past decade has been phenomenal. Case in point – the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 airplanes that boast of around 50% composites.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Aerospace & Automotive Sectors….. the show goes on

Hello again,

Its back to business………..

Apart from being a vacation month for many, August was eventful in more ways than one.

AGAINST ALL ODDS

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It was mayhem of sorts for the stock markets and geopolitical tensions did precious little to allay fears of an exacerbation of the economy blues. The timing could not have more inopportune; especially when the “feel good” factor was just playing upon us with the eurozone reportedly coming out of an 18-month recession, the U.S. beating forecasts to register a 2.5%  growth in GDP in Q2 and Chinese manufacturing besting expectations with a 51.0 Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) in August – the highest level since April 2012.

Signs of prosperity in the face of adversity –  a classic example of diversity ?

SOARING IN CONFIDENCE

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The aerospace  (and composites) sector had a lot to cheer about in the last week of August. Boeing announced newer versions of the 787 Dreamliner in the offing. Ethiopian airlines [ABC News] that reported a record profit for the 12-month period ending June 2013, attributed it partly to savings in fuel costs arising out of the fuel-efficient 787 design…composites no doubt playing a significant role towards this cause.

Composites replacing aluminum has been a key feature of the new generation Airbus 350 (and the 787 Dreamliner). The latest innovation has been the development of the complete inner core door frame in CFRP using RTM technique, for the Airbus 350. The process enables the highly stressable CFRP composite to be produced with a comparatively high fiber volume content with good impact properties, while reducing weight at the same time. Manufacturing is via an injection process using the proven modular system found in Wickert downward presses. The hydraulic press system was designed to be absolutely oil-tight by completely enclosing the press area and the entire press technology peripheral system, including the hydraulic and electrical systems, since the carbon parts could not be risked to exposure to even a hint of oil mist. The control and process visualization integrates the injector, heating/cooling system and press shuttle. The cycle time for fabrication is six hours per airplane door – which is faster than fabricating with aluminum. The product will be on display at Composites Europe 2013.

Proof of the pudding ?  Aerospace grade carbon fiber producers and CFRP processors will probably be laughing all the way to the bank for the next few years with the projected (increased) roll out by both Airbus and Boeing of the A350 and 787 versions respectively.

REVVING UP

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Currently, the North American auto sector is on a roll with a surge in vehicle production – in fact, the industry is being termed as being at “hyper-utilization ” [Plastics News]. Forecasters predict production levels to bounce back to between 15.5 million and 16 million vehicles this year, which is expected to climb above 16 million in the next few years. Global car sales advanced 4% in H1 2013 and is well poised to post further gains this year, aided to some extent by reduced headwinds emanating from Western Europe [Scotia Bank].

The UK is the strongest auto market in Europe with first-half 2013 sales posting a double digit increase. Per latest data from PwC Autofacts, New York, the developing Asia-Pacific region will account for 62% of overall growth in global automobile production through 2017. North America comes a distant second at 13.4%, with the European Union accounting for 11.7%, South America 6.7% and Eastern Europe 6.3% [Plastics Today].

Thermoplastic composites continue to play a major role when it comes to lightweighting in the automotive sector. BASF‘s new innovative approach involves use of laminates based on woven glass fabrics and unidirectional  (UD) tapes that are fully impregnated with polyamide (PA) or polyethylene terephthalate (PBT) [Plastics Today]. Overmolding materials also based on PA and PBT have been specifically developed for use with the laminates. The tape-laminate combination enables injection molding of complex parts that have very high mechanical reinforcement by use of continuous fibers at precisely defined locations, whilst simultaneously incorporating specific functions as the result of overmolding. For parts with very high stiffness, the overmolding compound can be loaded with up to 60% glass fiber reinforcement. For crash loaded applications requiring high impact strength and optimized for high energy absorption, specific tape-laminate configurations are available.

THE SUSTAINABILITY WATCHWORD

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Innovation drives change. The BMW i3 electric car launched last month has its passenger compartment constructed of CFRP over an aluminum chassis. Interestingly, around 25% of the plastic used in the interior comes from recycled material and renewable sources. In the course of its development, the company claims to have developed the first recycling concept of its kind worldwide for CFRP components. Little wonder that the car has been described as a “revolutionary step towards sustainable mobility” [European Plastics].

Can there be a better advertisement for commitment to sustainability whilst simultaneously delivering performance ?

Chemical recycling of GFRP composites could soon be a commercial reality. A hydrolysis process has been applied to degrade an unsaturated polyester resin based on dicyclopentadiene (DCPD) cross-linked with styrene monomer in the matrix of a composite material reinforced with long glass fibers. Sub-critical conditions of water (200C <temperature <374C and pressure <221 bar) were chosen based on relevant chemistry for simple esters. A washing of the fibers is necessary and an important step in the process. Experiments measured the effect of process parameters on the efficiency of hydrolysis, on the quality of recovered fibers and on the nature of the recovered organic products. Identification of the recovered organic products indicate monomers of the resin are obtained and that secondary reactions also occur during the hydrolysis process [Sciencia].

A new dimension to GFRP recycling that is different from the conventional pyrolysis technique ?

 FIBERGLASS LINEALS – RESURGENCE ?

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Pultruded fiberglass profiles as the supporting material for window and door assemblies have been around awhile. The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) has long been an advocacy agency for the fenestration industry. The major advantages of fiberglass as a fenestration material are strength and stability – essentially strength means window frames can be slimmer, letting in more daylight. The slim look also mimics originally designed windows [Plastics News]. Stability is important as the more a material expands and contracts, the more the sealants will crack and leak. Pultruded fiberglass windows and doors combine the desirable properties of both vinyl and aluminum. The structural strength approaches aluminum and it can take dark colors like metal. The thermal properties are close to vinyl and co-efficient of expansion is equal to that of glass which is a boon to structural integrity. According to a recent study by AAMA, fiberglass windows in the U.S. have gained traction – garnering a 3.2% market share, up from 2% earlier.

Moral of the story ? Persevere relentlessly even in established applications to successfully increase market share.

 CHEMISTRY→PRODUCTIVITY 

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Further updates on the novel Epoxy Structural Reaction Injection Molding (ESTRIM) technology that I had briefly touched upon in my April post earlier this year…… Cannon‘s ESTRIM technology is a fast-cycle molding system for composite parts made using carbon fiber reinforced epoxy resin that reduces demolding time of a finished composite part from 20-30 minutes of a standard RTM process to just 3 minutes ! This impacts productivity significantly in a positive way, drastically shortening the Return on Investment (ROI) in machinery. The quality of the molded piece is reportedly on par with the traditional process, while the high-pressure technology used to meter and inject the liquid reactive formulation allows for complete elimination of cleaning solvents from the production cycle [Plastics Today]. This provides significant benefits to workers’ health, working place atmosphere and process economies.

OFFSHORE WIND – UNSTOPPABLE ?

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In July, the London Array wind power project in the United Kingdom became the world’s largest offshore wind farm with a fleet of 175 wind turbines and a nameplate capacity of 630MW – enough energy to power nearly half a million homes and reduce harmful CO2 emissions by more than 900,000 tonnes annually. The UK currently boasts of more than 3.6GW of offshore wind power capacity which is forecast to more than quintuple in size by 2020 [Forbes]. With over 5GW of global installed capacity representing about 2% of total installed wind power capacity [GWEC], and with a whopping 80GW to be installed by 2020, the offshore wind market is picking up speed [Renewable Energy World]. With longer blades and carbon fiber being the preferred material of choice, producers have their task cut out for the next 3-5 years. Wind energy accounted for 43% of new electric additions last year adding more than 13GW of new wind power capacity to the U.S. grid in 2012. Wind energy now has the capacity to power all homes in the states of California and Washington. GWEC‘s latest report predicts a 11% drop in 2013 to just under 40GW followed by a sharp recovery in 2014 to slightly exceed 2012 market and average just over 11% annual market growth from 2014-2017.

Composites should enjoy a good run in this sector for the next few years barring unforeseen roadblocks.

A new grade of polyetheretherketone (PEEK) advanced engineering plastic has secured qualification from Airbus. The high-flow, easy-processing high modulus material can deliver an equivalent strength and stiffness at up to 70% lighter weight compared to traditional aerospace metals such as stainless steel, titanium and aluminum. The high modulus polymer provides up to 100 times longer fatigue life and up to 20% higher specific strength and stiffness when compared to aluminum under identical conditions [Plastics Today]. Considering the fact that removing 100lbs (45kg) can result in almost $10,000 in annual fuel cost savings per long-range plane, the potential to improving fuel efficiency is tremendous [Victrex].

A decade ago, plastics contributing to fuel efficiency in airplanes would probably have been scoffed at….not anymore though.

“INTELLIGENT” COMPOSITES

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It is now technologically possible to embed radio frequencey identification (RFID) tags with ultra-thin antennas inside components made of CFRP composites such as aircraft wings – a technique that can also be adaptable to composite structural health monitoring [Design News]. CFRP composites can be conductive, and embedding RFID or other wireless chips can damp signals at commonly used frequencies such as LF, HF, UHF. Further, composite manufacturing is generally carried out at temperatures and pressures that might crush the chips, though the transponders are resistant to mechanical stress. The three frequencies work well with glass fibers – but carbon fibers interfere with the chips’ signal transmission, especially at UHF higher than 868MHz. The problem was circumvented by designing transponders that can withstand typical manufacturing pressures of 10 bar and temperatures as high as 180C and thus incorporating into aircraft components. The transponders measure only a few square millimeters and the antenna is thin enough to be embedded in composites while being protected by a thin layer of fibers [Fraunhofer].

 Is this the path to making intelligent CFRP composites ?

SHIFTING THE BALANCE ?

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The U.S. is set to become a net energy exporter in the next few years thanks to the success in fracking (shooting steam and chemicals into shale rock formations to unlock natural gas) that is re-wiring geopolitics and the world of energy [ALJAZEERA]. The U.S. is now 100% independent in natural gas and, with increase in production of 15-20% per year, North America will be independent in oil. Per EIA‘s latest report, US crude oil production hit 7.5million barrels per day in July, the highest level in more than 20 years – by October,  monthly crude oil production will exceed  crude oil imports. Predictions are that the U.S. is set to overtake Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’ biggest oil producer by 2017. In my July post, I had mentioned the reservoir of “untapped energy” of approximately 37 trillion cubic feet of shale gas beneath 11 counties in the UK – the fact that the country is embarking upon fracking augurs well for lowering energy costs [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

There is no doubt that the PE/PP market dynamics is about to witness a sea change in the near future. Ditto its impact on automotive applications, which is bound to be for the better.

UNTHINKABLE REALITY

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Imagine a future where Americans can drive coast-to-coast on a fuel made in America. The fuel, natural gas, is clean, affordable and fueling an economic competitive advantage that’s the envy of the whole world [The Motley Fool]. Clean Energy Fuels expects to have 150 natural gas fueling stations by the year end as part of its plan to build America’s Natural Gas Highway. These stations would refuel a truck in the same amount of time as conventional gasoline. The fact that more bus fleets will be powered by natural gas (due to its sheer abundance at competitive price) has resulted in a spurt in demand for CNG cylinders made of CFRP/GFRP in North America.

 A quantum leap of faith ?

TEQUILA TIME !

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Mexico is beginning to beat China as a manufacturing base for many companies despite its higher crime rate, per new report from the Boston Consulting Group. Mexico’s gain is a plus for the U.S. as Mexican factories use four times as many American-made components as Chinese factories [Bloomberg Businessweek]. The other key advantages are: manufacturing wages, after factoring Mexico’s superior worker productivity are expected to be 30% lower than that of China by 2015; Mexico has more free-trade agreements (44 countries) than any other country; significant advantages in energy costs with natural gas prices being tied with those of the U.S. (China pays more than 50-170% for industrial natural gas); industry clusters, especially in auto and appliances which are growing (89 of the world’s top 100 auto parts makers have production in the country).

Re-writing the rules for manufacturing hubs ?

Scientists and engineers keep plugging away towards technological advances in spite of geopolitical tensions. It is as if they are insulated from external events. The well known cliche that technology brooks no barriers cannot be validated more vividly than the current global environment. Advancements in troubled times pave the way for rapid marketing of technologies when normalcy returns, thereby reducing the concept-to-commercialization timeframes.

It is during such times that we speak and think of  “what goes down must come up” and “hitting the bottom of the U”  philosophical concepts.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Materials Technology Breakthroughs – are we ahead of the curve ?

Hello all,

As individuals and organizations commence introspection of H1 2013…….

SCORCHING HEAT

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“Human-caused climate change is already helping shift the planet’s natural balance according to scientists – creating more heatwaves, drought and natural downpours. A stormy and expensive reality that is already at our doorsteps”. That was the screaming headline on ABC News on the last day of June. The extreme weather that we have witnessed globally in the past few weeks proved once again how fickle mother nature could be – is mankind to be blamed for what is being witnessed ? Ask the protagonists of climate change.

The debate will continue for some time to come.

RISE AND FALL

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The first half of 2013 has just gone by and a quick analysis is like the proverbial curate’s egg – good in parts. The continued decline in China‘s manufacturing activity as reflected in the official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) slipping to 50.1 in June (from 50.8 in May) has pundits proclaiming weakening of both external and domestic demand and critics describing the nation as going from “driver to drag” on global growth [CNBC]. Surprisingly, Spain‘s PMI moved up to 50 (from 48.1 in May) with manufacturing activity recording the strongest reading in more than two years. The June PMI for the eurozone as a whole for the manufacturing sector rose to a 16-month high of 48.8, up from May’s reading of 48.3. U.S. manufacturing activity bounced back in June with the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) index rising to 50.9 in June (from 49.0 in May) [BBC News].

When it comes to technical fabrics, the sky is the limit on fabric styles and innovations in machine technology. Leading producer Karl Mayer has expanded its range of products with the launch of its new multi-axial machine for producing composites from which rotors of wind turbines are made. The new Maxtronic Multiaxial has not yet been formally released into the market. The new model incorporates a well thought-out design of the transport chains and the weft-laying units guarantee absolute uniformity and constant yarn tension levels when processing technical yarns at every laying angle. The model, that reportedly offers a high level of productivity, combines high speed and powerful performance with gentle yarns treatment and accuracy. Like Malitronic, its predecessor, the Maxtronic is available in a working width of 100 inches and the finished textile can be cut into webs of the required width directly on the machine, due to the integrated cutting device. The machine operates in the standard gauges of E5 and E6 [ Knitting Industry].

FRINGE BENEFITS

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Light weight injection molded truck oil pans made from polyamide66 reinforced with 35% glass fiber displacing traditional aluminum, could well be the trend in future. Apart from being lighter, the new pan is resistant to chip impacting from stone and gravel, coupled with a 2dB reduction in noise level. The excellent flowability of the molding compound due to low melt viscosity enables fast set-up and molding cycles, allowing precise tolerance control as the material flows easily into complex thin sections of the mold [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

COLLABORATE TO SUCCEED

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A synergistic collaboration between Du Pont and Citroen has resulted in the successful development of a composite side impact beam that has passed crash tests. Made from continuous glass fiber reinforced polyamide66 laminate, the composite beam led to a 40% weight reduction over traditional ultra-high strength steel. The composite part is shaped into the beam in a heating and forming process in which the material crystallizes. In a second stage, steel connectors are inserted and the part is back molded in polyamide66. The beam shows very high stiffness in the -40C to +90C range. The composite part absorbs more energy than metal and short-glass fiber reinforced polymer beams [Plastics News].

As part of a vehicle’s shock absorber system, automaker Fiat has developed the jounce bumper with a thermoplastic elastomer (instead of PU foam) that delivers high elastic recovery, excellent fatigue and durability and low stiffness variation over a wide range of temperatures. It dampens noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) by preventing the metal shock absorber spring from fully compacting from shock impacts due to potholes, curb and objects on the road. It also offers an additional spring function to improve vehicle behavior when negotiating smaller holes on the road surface and cobblestones or quick direction changes or sudden braking [Plastics Today]. Several OEMs have tested the new design on a variety of vehicles over tens of thousands of kilometers without any behavioral issues. The new design delivers similar performance to PU, but with lower part damage. After traversing 3,000km of cobblestoned roads, the new bumper exhibited less than 3 % permanent deformation, far below the industry standard of 10%.

LUSTER SANS METAL

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A metallic luster film containing no metal whatsoever is replacing solutions based on plating, coating and metal vapor deposition. Toray has introduced a conductive PET-based film of thickness 100-145 micrometers comprising several hundred individual lamellar layers or more formed during the extrusion process with precise control of layer thickness. The refractive effect of these individual layers in the film can be exploited in components such as speedometers and decorative components whose color can be varied from chrome-like to a light transmitting color through light application. It can also be used in the form of discrete film inserts in injection molding [Plastics Today].

Welcome to a new type of carbon fiber reinforced graphite material designed for industrial heat treatment applications. The carbon-fiber-reinforced-carbon (CFRC) high-strength composite is said to be ideal for use in high-temperature processes requiring lightweight and temperature resistant materials such as heat treatment of steel components for the automotive and aerospace industry or coating of silicon wafers in the photovoltaics (PV) industry. Use of uni-directional CF rather than woven CF reportedly offers dramatically improved performance [Plastics Today].

GREEN ENERGY…GROWING

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Renewable energy may supply more electricity than nuclear reactors or natural gas by 2016, spurred by declining costs and growing demand in emerging markets, according to a statement released by the International Energy Agency [IEA] in the last week of June. Wind, solar, bio-energy and geothermal use may grow 40% in the next five years, double the 20% pace in 2011. The findings are another indication that renewables increasingly are rivaling fossil fuels on price without subsidy, as the cost of wind energy declines. Emerging markets will be the largest drivers of growth for renewables in the next few years with China accounting for 40% or about 310GW of new capacity. Growth will slow in industrial nations because of subsidy reductions and uncertainty about government support for the technology according to IEA. IEA’s push for nations to end fossil fuel subsidies will continue while noting that incentives for coal, oil and gas in 2011 were globally six times higher than renewables [Bloomberg].

An alternate technology for lightweight compressed natural gas and hydrogen fuel tanks that utilizes selective fiber placement of carbon fiber has resulted in significant reduction in weight and cost through a 20% reduction in material utilization. The methodology involved analysis of discrete composite elements for a manufacturing process with discontinuous reinforcing fibers [Plastics Today].

RE-DEFINING REFINING

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If the U.S. is making waves in successfully exploiting fracking technology for shale gas exploration, can the UK be far behind? Following a report released by the British Geological Survey [BGS] in the last week of June that shale gas resources of around 40 trillion cubic meters lay underground across much of the North of England; the Government announced that companies looking to extract shale gas shall offer communities located near exploratory drilling facilities £100,000, while those next to production sites would receive 1% of revenues. The shale strata identified by BGS are reportedly much thicker than those in the U.S.- hence one UK extraction station should be able to extract as much as several U.S. ones, thereby minimizing the effect on the environment [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

The market dynamics on PE/PP could change even more if a fraction of the potential shale gas is successfully tapped for extraction.

The fact that a variety of plastic and non-plastic materials will play key roles in vehicle lightweighting implies that various material combinations will need to be somehow bonded together – enter the role of adhesives. Whilst high-performance and specialty vehicles alike are increasingly employing structural adhesives; in the longer term, even mass-market vehicles will increasingly be glued together [Plastics Today]. Experts predict that the amount of adhesive employed in a car may grow by as much as 33% in the next 5-10 years from the current 15kg. The advent of higher performance structural adhesives implies load-bearing parts and components such as doors, bumpers and struts can now be bonded and stiffened as well. Case in point is the Cadillac CTS that uses 387 feet of structural adhesives. Hybrid structural adhesives are the latest trend that offer high structural and damping performance, combining the performance of three different adhesive bonding technologies: the resistance and mechanical strength of epoxies, elasticity of PU and fast assembly rates of MMA. This new breed of adhesives combines elongation, low modulus and high mechanical performance with high impact, peel and shear strength for a range of temperatures from -80C to +140C. The use of primer can be dispensed with as the bond remains flexible, yet allows rapid handling of the bonded parts. The broadest range of heterogeneous materials can be joined including treated metals, composites, ABS and PC, glass, zinc, CFRP, SMC/BMC/RTM compounds. This class of adhesives replaces welding and riveting methods of joining, couples damping with acoustic features, mitigates noise, exhibits excellent elasticity and peel strength [Aderis].

Conquering the last frontier in adhesive technology ?

PP vs. POLYAMIDE

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It was evident at Chinaplas 2013 that local OEMs are looking to up the PP usage in vehicles from current levels of 45-55kg. Use of PP in vehicles is the highest in Europe and some new luxury vehicles are using almost 90kgs [Plastics Today]. Large cars in Europe traditionally use PC and PC/ABS extensively. Polyamide has hitherto been the preferred choice for under-the-hood applications. Henceforth, PP could make inroads with short-fiber reinforced PP likely to storm the polyamide bastion of intake manifolds, thanks to technological advancements in PP properties.

Now, if that happens, it would be no small feat !

An ASTM International plastics committee has recently announced a big change to the Resin Identification Code. The iconic chasing-arrows symbol will be replaced by a solid equilateral triangle [Plastics News]. There will be a transitional period in switching to the triangle, though.

Changing times….. and changing rules.

NORTHWARD TREND

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A June report on automotive plastics estimates the global market demand to top£30 billion by 2018 with the industry expected to grow more than 13 % annually between 2013 and 2018. This should translate into sales of £30 billion by 2018 compared to £14 billion in 2012. Around 50% of automotive plastics is used in Asia followed by Europe with 28% and North America with 11.3%. PP, the largest single base resin, constitutes 37% of all plastics used [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

Scottish industrial textiles producer Don&Low has developed a new range of non-woven composite fabrics that combine spunbond non-wovens with innovative reflective foils and metallized films that find use for a variety of functional and decorative purposes. The benefits of the reflective composites include low emissivity, reflective surface that acts as a radiant barrier to improve thermal insulation either to improve heat retention or to assist in keeping items cool and also allow passage of water vapor(breathable), while at the same, being water repellant [Innovation in Textiles].

A single-piece air extractor (hood scoop) used on GM‘s Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 employs a carbon fiber reinforced epoxy prepreg. The component was formed on a tool fabricated from a low-temperature molding compound tooling material. The resin was chosen for its exceptional clarity and ability to produce an aesthetically pleasing rigid structure directly from the mold with minimal reworking requirements.

WIND-SAFE BANKING

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With the current glut in natural gas in the U.S., there could be a significant amount of domestic LNG being shipped overseas if applications under consideration by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] are reviewed favorably. This could result in a spike in domestic natural gas price that currently hovers around $4/MBTU – compared to $12/MBTU in Europe and $14/MBTU in Japan. If prices rise, coal could replace natural gas – hence the focus should be more on wind energy [Renewable Energy World].

One hopes better sense prevails on this issue.

In view of the ensuing holidays, our next blog will be posted in early September when most readers (from over 100 countries) would be back after their summer sojourn.

Till then,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Dynamic global landscape – shifting trends in polymers, composites and energy sectors

Hello again,

The world as a whole fared better than the average billionaire in 2012. According to the Boston Consulting Group‘s Annual Report released last week, global private financial wealth grew at an impressive clip of 7.8% in 2012, besting the 7.3% and 3.6% expansion in 2010 and 2011 respectively [Forbes]. The principal driver of the rise in wealth was the strong rebound in equity markets.

IN RETROSPECT & LOOKING AHEAD

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2012 was also another year of strong GDP growth in the developing world where the collective economy expanded 10.1% compared to North America, Western Europe & Japan’s collective GDP that grew by just 2.3%. Continued double digit GDP growth, rising savings rate and soaring equity markets fueled a 12.9% increase in private financial wealth in the developing world compared to 5.9% in the mature economies. If this trend continues, the Asia-Pacific region will be home to a projected $48.1 trillion in wealth in 2017, making it the wealthiest region in the world and displacing the current leader North America, in the process.

Will 2013 play out differently with mature economies bucking the trend ?

Composite gas cylinders are progressively gaining momentum and can be used for household, bulk transportation and storage applications. Its container range includes low pressure LPG (propane/butane) cylinders and pressure vessels for CNG (methane). Russia’s first plant [Rugasco] to produce composite gas cylinders was formally commissioned late May with an annual production capacity of 200,000 low pressure gas containers [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. An automated continuous production line uses continuous glass fiber strands by filament winding process using programmable robotics. This is followed by process of baking and epoxy resin coating and the addition of an outer protective cover. The composite cylinders are claimed to be 70% lighter than steel and enjoy the advantages of transparency and visibility of gas in the cylinder.

FAST AND FURIOUS

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The race for producers to develop high-speed systems to produce CFRP parts for automotive applications is fast and furious. Toray‘s new system produces parts in 10-minute cycles without sacrificing mechanical properties, compared to 160 minutes for competitive systems. The key is a new resin curing system coupled with a slit prepreg approach and RTM innovation with resin impregnation and curing taking 3 and 5 minutes respectively [Plastics Today]. Mold setting and demold require 1 minute each. The reinforcement is produced by slitting continuous carbon fiber (CF) of a fast cure unidirectional prepreg at an angle from the fiber’s axis at a specific interval to increase drapeability, while maintaining their original positions. The slit prepreg is called unidirectionally arrayed chopped strands which circumvents the problem of bending stiff prepregs to fit in a mold. Molded parts maintain fiber distribution and show excellent surface finish at a 52% CF loading.

This new system was developed at Toray’s Japanese, European and American R&D Centers. Obviously, such successes do not brook regional barriers.

Machining of CFRP products cannot be avoided to avail a near-net shape. Studies in the development of prediction model on cutting force, cutting power and specific cutting force have met with success in assessing the number of machining parameters to be controlled and time taken for machining to determine cutting time. The developed models can be effectively used to predict cutting forces in machining of CFRP products [Sciencia].

PC IN & SMC ON THE WAY OUT ?

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In automotive applications, polyester-based SMC continues to face stiff competition from thermoplastics. New Polycarbonate (PC) grades with extremely low linear co-efficient of expansion are being adopted for body panels in lieu of SMC. Teijin‘s new grade of PC has been adopted in the Lexus HS for the license garnish where the painted part required excellent dimensional stability because rear lamps fit directly as part of the rear hatch [Plastics Today]. Teijin has also developed a high pencil grade of PC that satisfies head impact requirements for auto applications, undergoing ductile fracture rather than brittle fracture. Full vehicle PC glazing is already being touted a distinct possibility in five years that would enable a 30-40% weight saving.

Technological advances in thermoplastics from grassroots is revolutionizing applications in the automotive sector. Will thermosets match the pace or continue playing catch up ?

Special lightweight nonwovens are being made from carbon fiber (CF) by auto major BMW as one step in the chain that eventually sees them converted into CFRP components. In contrast to woven fabrics, nonwoven bonding methods do not kink the fibers and detract from their special properties. The alignment of fibers in the fabric is crucial to achieving optimal quality in a CFRP component [ Innovation in Textiles]. The high tear resistance along the length of the fibers allows CFRP components to be imparted high strength by following their direction of loading. By overlaying the fiber alignment, components can also be strengthened against load in different directions.

When automakers also start donning the “materials & its forms’ thinking hat, the end result is bound to have success written all over.

SHALE GAS SPIN-OFF

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The benefits of the shale gas boom in North America have been multifold. Apart from affecting the PE/PP market dynamics in a significant manner, it has now filtered down to even Polyamide 66 (nylon). Low-cost propylene derived from shale gas is now being used to to manufacture adiponitrile precursor and then Polyamide in an integrated manner [Plastics Today]. This means that it is cheaper to ship the resin from North America to China than it is to ship the intermediates. A new compounding facility in Florida churns out glass fiber reinforced grades of PA66 with close viscosity tolerance that generate lower levels of mold deposits, thereby enabling processors to run longer before tool cleaning. Target applications include connectors, under-the-hood auto and low voltage switchgear.

A company subsidiary of France-based Arkema has introduced new acrylic sheets that are pre-shrunk and designed for use in several components such as military canopies, aircraft windshields, side windows and wing tip lights [British Plastics]. Claimed to have excellent weathering qualities, the acrylic sheet is available in thicknesses varying from 0.125 to 1 inch, can be bi-axially stretched and has superior properties to glass, whilst meeting military specifications.

OFFSHORE WIND – FUTURE POWER

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Wind power surged to a new record in 2012 with nearly 45GW of new installations, a 10% increase from 2011 according to Global Wind Energy Council‘s latest annual market update. The Council also projects a 11% decline this year to just shy of 40GW with a sharp rebound in 2014 to above 2012 levels and 61GW by 2017 [Renewable Energy World]. Another report released late May by the Energy Information Administration [EIA], states that extended Production Tax Credit (PTC) could push wind power production up by 34% in the U.S. in the next three years [The Motley Fool] since “generate power by 2013″ deadlines have shifted to ” begin construction by 2014 ” mandates, thus clearing the air of confusion following the PTC extension announcement in January. Per statement from the Department of Energy [DOE], out of a potential 4,150GW of offshore wind energy, the initiative aims to achieve 54GW by 2030, translating to roughly 10,000 offshore wind turbines averaging at least 5MW each and close to 4% of the nation’s electricity capacity [Renewable Energy World].

At an estimated 800-1,000kgs of carbon fiber per MW, producers can do the maths on the requirement of CF for this application alone in the coming years.

Volkswagen is producing large parts for its XL1 Super Efficient vehicle in CFRP that include the monocoque with slightly offset seats for driver and passenger, exterior body parts as well as functional elements such as the anti-roll bars. The parts, made by the RTM process, are produced in multi-shell, heated and vacuum-sealed tools. At just 1.2mm thickness, the stiffness and strength of the exterior skin matches metal while boasting of a density that is 20% that of a comparable steel part [Plastics Today]. The use of sandwich structures in the monocoque  coupled with aluminum structures in the front and rear sections, renders the vehicle safe. A special fleece layer of resin film is added to the parts as a cover coat for the Class A finish.

 FOAM INNOVATION

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An Italian foam producer Acell has developed an uniquely effective method to mold doors and panels for the building/construction industry using proprietary foam combined with SMC. Arcells’ foam is a combination of proprietary ingredients that form a strong structural foam in densities ranging from 80 to 800kg/cu met and in a range of cell sizes. Successfully used in SMC doors, the proprietary foam acts as a breather, allowing gases to escape through the open cells and out of the mold. A single thin layer of SMC is used for each skin, molding pressures are very low (as the foam is deformable). During the mold cycle, the SMC skins lock, mechanically and chemically with the foam during the mold cycle.The low pressure and lack of abrasion permits molds that are not too heavy (unlike conventional SMC) and hence less expensive. The process permits use of woven fabrics to impart higher flexural strength to the panels.

DSM‘s Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber has been used as a ballistic material in an amphibious armoured personnel vehicle produced in Turkey. The lightweight, cost-effective ballistic tape has been used as spall liners that protect vehicle occupants from high-velocity fragments that are created when explosive shells send shock waves through the vehicle’s metal armor. The tape as a spall liner delivers a combination of high-end properties, including proven ballistic performance against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).

When it comes to protecting precious human lives, there should be no dearth in availability of various forms of ballistic protection from different materials, each unique and advantageous in its own way. Options ought to be aplenty.

 TRANSITION

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In the wake of the boom in North American energy (primarily related to shale in the U.S. and oil sands in Canada), the region has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world. While geopolitical risks abound, market fundamentals suggest a more comfortable global oil/supply demand balance over the next five years [Yahoo Finance]. In the May release of its annual Medium-Term Oil Market Report, the International Energy Agency [IEA] forecasts North American supply to grow by 3.9 million barrels/day (mb/d) from 2012 to 2018 or nearly two-thirds of total forecast non-OPEC supply growth of 6 mb/d. World liquid production capacity is expected to grow by 8.4 mb/d-significantly faster than demand which is projected to expand by 6.9 mb/d. Global refining capacity will post even steeper growth, surging by 9.5 mb/d, led by China and the Middle East. European refiners will see no let-up from the squeeze caused by increasing U.S. product exports and the new Asian and Middle Eastern refining titans.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

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Such tectonic shifts in the energy supply & demand scenario could well impact the manufacturing sector. We are already witnessing  reshoring in the U.S., labor issues (manpower availability) in China (unthinkable a few years back) and the “charity begins at home” concept being obliquely drummed by many nations (to boost employment in their respective countries through domestic growth) with no overtone of jingoism.

Global trade could perhaps be affected initially, but is bound to pick up once the world economy gets back on track and growth clocks 5.5 % in 2-3 years.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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