Composites on a high, driven primarily by revving up of global automotive production & sales

Hello all,

Here we go again with another post…..

Dreams die first ?


The global economy appears to be in the recovery mode if one were to go by sentiment alone – though the extent of positivity tends to swing to extremes depending on the continent. The signals are definitely mixed. But hey, one needs to add a dash of optimism at times and hope for the best. Oil prices continue to wreak havoc, with the knowledgeable ones who wear their hearts in their sleeves, predicting a further dip to the $35-40 range in the next three months. If there is certainty, it is the fact that the Goldilocks territory for the oil sector is a thing of the past – at least till 2020. With a forecast of $55-60 in 2016; oil hitting the sweet spot on price anytime in the near future can be ruled out, per industry biggies and market analysts.

The present glut is for real, even without factoring production from Libya and Iran entering the market.

The World Steel Association forecasts that global steel demand will decrease by 1.7% in 2015, before growing by 0.7% in 2016. China’s steel demand has waned at an unprecedented speed of 3.5% this year and a projected 2% in 2016 following the slowing of the nation’s economic growth [CNBC]. Steel prices have fallen sharply this year and the industry is in dire straits. The euro zone’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for October was 52.3 which was just above the threshold level of 50.0 that separates growth from contraction. PMI in the U.S. came in at 54.1, up from 53.1 in September. Japan’s PMI came in at 52.4, up from 51.0 in September.

A silver lining in the cloud for major economies ? You could say that without the proverbial grain of salt!

Lowering cycle time


Suitability for high volume manufacturing is a key prerequisite for composites to make greater inroads in the automotive sector. The pursuit in developing fast curing resins by producers, to result in shorter fabrication cycle times has been relentless. The upside of such developments is the simultaneous tweaking of technology to result in improved processing. A recent success story has been the production of chassis components for a Zenos sports car using carbon fiber and an isocyanate-based resin system for the honeycomb sandwich panels. The technology is reportedly based on proprietary structures that blend carbon fiber and other materials of varying densities [Plastics Today]. The end composite is 15-20% lighter requiring less resin and carbon fiber (CF) with significantly less material waste. The chassis components include front and rear bulkheads, body sides. floorpan and the cantrail.

Lamborghini is synonymous with luxury sports cars and, of course, carbon fiber composites (CFRP). It was one of the first adopters of CFRP in the 1980s and a die-hard autoclave-cured thermoset based composites enthusiast. Not any more, though. Lamborghini is now focusing on lower cost technologies in its latest models using chopped carbon fiber reinforced SMC for both body-in-white (BIW) and aesthetic parts as also RTM processing for its vehicles [Plastics Today].

The emergence of carbon fiber-based SMC in automotive applications has been gaining ground since 2014. Key takeaways are lower molded component cost and short cycle times (depending on component thickness). Recall how glass fiber-based SMC became a runaway success in the automotive industry in the 1980s by riding on its fast cycle time.

Focus on recycling


Considering the high cost of carbon fiber and CFRP, efforts on recycling technologies continue unabated. Composites Recycling Technology Center has been set up in Washington to develop new products from uncured carbon fiber composite prepreg. More than 2 million lbs of CF prepreg are disposed off as landfill annually in the State [Plastics News]. The main sources of uncured CF prepreg include Boeing, Toray, Zodiac Aerospace and Janicki Industries. The recycled material will not be used for aerospace structural components. It will instead be used for tennis racquets, sports and recreational goods.

The quest to recycle composites and plastics is perennial.

PUR systems gaining ground


In spite of gasoline prices tanking (thanks to crude oil glut), the lightweighting challenge continues in the automotive industry. Polyurethane (PUR) resins are making advances by leaps and bounds as a viable matrix option in composites. Covestro has come out with a new PUR system for CFRP structural components that has three times the energy absorption potential of comparable resins, thereby providing a high level of occupant safety if a collision does occur [Plastics Today]. CFRP parts were produced by the HP-RTM process with a fiber content (fabrics with oriented CF) of around 54% by volume. The low-viscosity PUR ensures rapid filling of mold and quick cure to result in cycle times of only a few minutes.

Another arrow in the CFRP-HP-RTM quiver? Apparently so.

Bigger & blowing strong

wind mills (sept 29)

News on large offshore wind farms in Europe have been making waves very recently. The world’s largest offshore wind farm across the Irish Sea is expected to be completed in 2018. It will generate 660MW of power from 87 wind turbines and provide electricity to 12.5 million Europeans [Christian Science Monitor]. The individual turbine capacity will be a combo of 7MW (47 turbines from Siemens) and 8MW (40 turbines from Vestas). The second largest UK offshore wind project announced last week is a 336MW wind farm off the east coast of England to be built by RWE AG and three other partners. Siemens will provide 56 turbines with unit capacity of 6MW [Bloomberg Business]. The first working day of November carried news of the first floating wind farm in the UK to be operational in 2017. It consists of five floating 6MW turbines attached to the seabed by a three-point mooring spread and anchoring system which will then be connected to an array of cables and an export cable finally transporting the produced energy from the wind farm to the shore [Inverse]. Carbon fiber to a significant extent and possibly glass/carbon hybrids would figure prominently in the blade construction depending on the manufacturer’s design.

In spite of Britain’s recent subsidy cuts to renewable energy, offshore wind has apparently been let off the hook.

Potential breakthrough ?


Efforts to find a commercially viable alternate precursor to polyacrylonitrile (PAN) was been work-in-progress for the past few years in both the U.S. and Europe. The European Union (EU) constituted a consortium of 13 partners in 2013 to work on a polyethylene-based (PE) carbon fiber precursor. Test production has reportedly commenced at the pilot plant facility in Germany and is expected to run through 2017 -this will then transition to the industrial phase with a 250 tonnes/year plant in 2018 followed by the commercial phase in 2020 through a 1,000 tonnes/year production plant [Plastics Today]. The project envisages a 29% reduction in carbon fiber cost by 2018.

With all forecasts pointing to a quantum jump in use of CFRP composites in automotive in the next decade, the timing on development and commercialization of a PE-based precursor could not have been opportune.

In September, ISO published ISO 19095 – a new series of Standards that present guidelines for evaluating the adhesion interface performance of plastics-metal assemblies. The methods set out in this Standard are intended to ensure that the integrity of the joint is realized through the interface. The adhesion interface performance is tested on tensile strength, shear strength, peel strength, bending strength, impact strength and sealing properties [Plastics Today].

Best of both worlds


The use of structural adhesives is an important link in the lightweighting chain for the automotive and aerospace industries. The extent of adhesives used in a car is poised to register a 35% increase from current levels of around 15 kg per vehicle. Technological advances in structural adhesives, especially hybrids have gained momentum in recent years. The focus has been on developing adhesives that can cure rapidly and attain handling strengths fast enough to enable the bonded components to be load-bearing and also withstand stresses. While one-part cyanoacrylate adhesives are well known for their rapid cure, the bonded joints lack the ability to bear heavy loads and suffer from inability to provide high peel strength and shear – key requirements of adhesives in general, more so in the structural category [Design News]. Epoxies are good structural adhesives in view of their polar nature – but require long fixture times ranging from 15 to 120 minutes. A cyanoacrylate-epoxy hybrid (with a cationic catalyst for the former) introduced by Henkel is a two-part formulation mixed in a 1:1 ratio. The cationic catalyst initiates cure of the epoxy (which is cationic curable) and the cyanoacrylate cures on exposure to ambient moisture. Room temperature curing results in a 3 to 5-minute fixture time. This hybrid adhesive is the best of both worlds – fast fixture time and substrate versatility of the cyanoacrylate with the inherent advantages of structural epoxy – high bond strengths and ability to fill gaps.

Lends credence to the philosophy of combining two materials with differing chemistries to provide industrial solutions in bonding technology.

Drones – growing global market



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The market for military drones is expected to almost double and hit $10 billion by 2024. The global defense and security market for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is expected to expand at 5.5% annually through 2020 [Agence France-Presse]. Operators are moving to expand their missions beyond visual surveillance and reconnaissance and are introducing sophisticated intelligence and electronic warfare systems, as well as a wider range of munitions. As technology advances, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) are likely to be pressed into service, featuring stealthy characteristics and advanced payloads and weaponry and operate alongside manned aircraft, possibly replacing them eventually. Lightweight advanced composites will be the direct beneficiary as they are essential in increasing UAV flight time. Reinforcements would primarily be glass fiber and carbon fiber, especially the latter.

Thanks (??) to geopolitical turmoil, composites are poised for great growth in the UAV sector. Aah…if only world peace were a reality!

Perhaps the news that made major headlines since my last post was on auto majors venturing into Electric Vehicles (EVs) and Hydrogen powered Fuel Cell vehicles (FCVs), low gasoline prices not withstanding. Despite many pooh-poohing the hydrogen FCV concept as Utopian and cost prohibitive to be commercially viable, FCVs (and EVs) are the future (read next decade) when costs are bound to drop through technology breakthroughs and planned infrastructure (more refueling stations). The collaborative efforts in Japan and the creation of consortiums in Europe from diversified groups have begun in right earnest and the positive end results are just a matter of time. Recall how wind energy went through a similar cycle in the initial stages and how costs have dropped dramatically the past year. Patience is definitely a virtue – more so when it relates to technology breakthroughs.

Whilst both EVs and FCVs use composites, the more extensive use of CFRP in the latter (including the hydrogen storage tanks) makes it a wee bit more exciting!

Our next post will be published in January 2016.

Till then,


S. Sundaram



Composites growth in tandem with global GDP – albeit a touch aided by lower energy costs

Hello everyone,

As we head into the final month of Q3 2015, the stock market is agog with frequent mention of the “September swoon”. Crude oil has been trending parabolically and the world is preparing for oil prices to be “lower for longer”.

Agony and ecstasy


Economic turmoil has roiled the world and the downturn in China has lent credence to the “if China sneezes, the world catches a cold” syndrome. The battle for oil supremacy continues – though there are no real winners when it comes to the double dip in oil prices as it hurts the economy of all oil producing nations alike, albeit in different degrees. The supply glut is expected to persist through 2016 if one were to go by the statements of industrialized nations and oil majors. Globally, the trend is veering towards a command-and-control economy.

Northward growth


Per International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy is expected to expand by 3.3% this year compared to 3.4% in 2014. The U.S. is forecast to grow by 2.5%, up from 2.4% in 2014; the eurozone by 1.5%, up from 0.8% in 2014; China by 6.5%, down from 7.4% in 2014 [BBC News].

Live-and-let-live motto


Oil price swings did not act as a deterrent to automobile sales in the first half of 2015. Car sales in Western Europe accelerated to an 8% y/y increase. Passenger vehicle sales in North America were almost on a tear and advanced by 5% y/y through July, with full-year volumes likely to surpass 20 million units for the first time on record [Scotia Bank]. Though gasoline prices have not proportionately followed that of crude oil, the focus on lightweighting continues to be a relentless pursuit for the automotive industry. Unsurprisingly, the steel and aluminum industry announced new stronger and lighter grades of the respective metals in August. Novelis says it has developed a new grade of weight-saving aluminum sheet designed to replace steel in bumpers, doors and other safety-critical areas of vehicle bodies and which is 2-3 times stronger than the grade currently in high-volume production [Automotive News]. Steel makers’ collaborating with automakers is at an all-time high. The latest ultra-high strength steel to develop lightweight vehicles is more formable and saves the cost of converting factories from spot welding to riveting and bonding. It is a live-and-let-live approach of using a judicious combination of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber by automakers. Case in point is the next version of the BMW 7-series sports sedan and the Audi R8 sports car that use a combination of all three materials.

Constant innovation

VW Volkswagen Lightweight car

The versatility of polyurethane (PU) foam cores in sandwich construction is well known and a proven concept. Mass production of the roof module of a car has been achieved using honeycomb sandwich structure with Class-A film. It features a paper honeycomb and two surrounding glass fiber mats which are sprayed in an impregnation process with a low density, thermally activated PU foam (from BASF) and pressed together with a solid-colored Class-A film [Plastics Today]. It was possible to produce a roof module that was 30% lighter than its predecessor, in a single operation, while retaining the same strength and flexural rigidity. The process displayed uniform wetting of the glass fiber mats without any drip, resulting in good adhesion. Once the semi-finished product was impregnated, it was pressed into shape in a heated mold along with the Class-A film. The PU system foams up slightly at the edge of the sandwich and creates a solid material composite between film, reinforcing glass fiber mats and the paper honeycomb core. There was flexibility in adjusting the PU reactivity to achieve longer spray time of 120 seconds coupled with short demolding times of 60 seconds. Unlike conventional composite parts where the individual layers are glued together in a multistage process, the current process involves a single manufacturing step.

This is yet another example of reduced cycle time in composites to gain greater favor in automotive production.

Aerodynamics & fuel economy


Boeing has been successful in upping its monthly production of the 787 Dreamliner from 10 to 14 in August and predicts deliveries of 130-135 for the year. Airbus has commenced building the first wings for its new A350-1000 and currently holds the mantle of the largest CFRP composite wing at 105 feet for each wing [Puget]. This is likely to be rivaled and superseded by Boeing’s planned 777-9X wing which will be 106 feet long – extending to 117 feet with a unique folding wingtip. Both the Airbus and Boeing wings are relatively long and thin made possible by the structural strength of carbon fiber composites.

Fuel efficient aerial dream machines? You can call them that.

What waste?

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The quest for commercially viable technology breakthroughs in recycling carbon fibers and composites is perennial. At the forthcoming Fakuma International Trade Fair for Plastics Processing in Germany, Cannon will reportedly present its innovative EU-funded project CRESIM (Carbon Recycling by Epoxy Special Impregnation) aimed at the development of proper processing methods for the manufacture of CFRP parts using recycled carbon fiber through  closed loop manufacturing. The project addresses waste reuse by demonstrating a new innovative manufacturing process that potentially reuses up to 100% of the carbon fiber waste and scraps from different industrial sectors, thereby providing an opportunity for greening the production process and making efficiency gains [European Plastic Product Manufacturer].

Recall the Adidas slogan – impossible is nothing? The above just about sums it.

A glass fiber reinforced polyphthalamide (PPA) injection molding compound with high burst pressure and impact strength essential to withstand alternating stresses in dynamically stressed casing components in the automotive industry, has been introduced by Evonik. The molding compound also has good flow characteristics resulting in the molded parts having smooth defect-free surface [Plastics Today]. PPAs are semi-crystalline thermoplastics with high temperature stability and outstanding chemical resistance that can effectively replace metals in several applications.

Quick and efficient


Additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) has taken the world by storm in drastically shortening the concept-to-commercialization cycle. If you think additive manufacturing and the aerospace sector make strange bedfellows, you may want to think again. SABIC‘s lightweight polyetherimide (PEI) flame-retardant resin coupled with Stratsys‘ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) has addressed one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing for the aerospace sector – the ability to produce small volume parts quickly and effectively [European Plastic Product Manufacturer]. The additive manufactured PEI (SABIC’s ULTEM) affords greater design flexibility, lower cost production runs and accelerated cycle times compliant with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and OEM flame smoke toxicity (FST) regulations. SABIC’s PEI has been certified to Airbus material specifications and the resin has been used to additive manufacture more than 1,000 flight parts in the A350 XWB aircraft fleet. The 3D-printed parts replaced traditionally-manufactured parts to increase supply chain flexibility. This success story has shown that additive manufacturing technology is making metal replacement development easier for OEMs than trying to upgrade a metal component to a traditionally-manufactured plastic replacement. It makes the whole cycle faster and less expensive. SABIC has an extensive range of carbon fiber(CF) reinforced PEI – can we expect a slew of 3D-printed CF reinforced PEI aircraft components in the future?

A beginning has been made. The first step has been taken. Could this just be the tip of the iceberg for additive manufacturing to make a big splash in composites usage in the aerospace and automotive sectors?

Blowing strong


According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 1,994 megawatts (MW) wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in the first half of 2015 – which is more than double the installations in the same period last year. Looking forward, more than 100 wind projects are under construction in 24 states, representing more than 13,600MW of total wind capacity. There are now 67,870MW of installed onshore wind capacity in the U.S.[Renewable Energy World]. Wind energy pricing is at an all-time low according to a new report released by the Department of Energy (DOE). The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged under 2.5 cents/kWh for projects negotiating contracts in 2014 [Windpower Engineering & Development]. Wind projects built in 2014 had an average installed cost of $1,710/KW, down almost $600/KW from the peak in 2009 and 2010. In Europe, 584 offshore wind turbines were installed, adding 2.3GW capacity to the European electricity grid in H1 2015, per data released by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). In total there is now 10GW of connected offshore wind [The Guardian]. The average turbine size increased from 3.5MW in 2014 to 4.2MW in the first half of 2015. Commercial orders for 8MW turbines are trickling in. In August, the U.K. authorized the Forward consortium of four European utilities to build the joint-largest offshore wind project in the world. The two 1.2GW wind farms total almost four times the capacity of the largest operational project [Bloomberg]. The U.K. is banking on offshore wind to help meet its renewable energy and carbon targets and had about 4.5GW of capacity out of a total of 8.8GW at the end of 2014.

The turbine blades, whether onshore or offshore continue to rely on composites. The trend in using a carbon fiber/glass fiber hybrid in offshore to reduce cost is gathering momentum.

Chemistry at work


Extensive use of Sheet Molding Compound (SMC) composites in automotive applications has been prevalent since the 80s. Progressive developments in reduction of the specific gravity have evolved over the years through recipe changes involving chemistry. The successful use of chemically (silane) treated glass microspheres (from 3M) by CSP in lowering the specific gravity of SMC to 1.2 has paved the way to allow significant weight savings in composite body panels for the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette. A total of 21 composite body panels including doors, decklids, quarter panels and fenders have been developed for the Corvette. The low-density SMC is reportedly cost competitive with aluminum with considerable savings on the tooling cost vis-a-vis aluminum [Plastics News].

The trend in use of biotechnology for recycling of carbon fibers is embryonic. Around 3,000Tonnes of CFRP waste is generated in Europe alone. The Hohenstein Institute in Germany has reported success in using suitable microorganisms  to break down the epoxy resin matrix in CFRPs and returning it to the materials cycle as a metabolite. Simultaneously the carbon fibers are extracted without damage so that they can be reclaimed for use in new products [Innovation in Textiles]. This biotechnology route could supplement the existing multi-stage pyrolytic process for recycling carbon fibers.

Recycling trendsenvironment-1445492-m

A discerning global trend is the focus on a green environment and emphasis on recycling/conversion of all forms of waste to usable products. Typical examples are denim wear and sneakers from ocean plastic waste, ultra-clean fuel from unwashed waste plastics, to name a few. The fact that leading brand names such as Adidas and others are involved in such green projects underscores the relevance in today’s context. Believe it or not, the next great renewable energy source is tipped to be algae biofuel according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It is the newest and seemingly most viable form of clean energy, besting even solar. Algae, found throughout the oceans employ photosynthesis to create energy using sunlight. Some types of algae produce oils that they use to store energy – implying certain algae can be grown and harvested to produce biofuel, a net carbon-neutral process [Yahoo Finance].

When it comes to technology, we are living in a world where breakthroughs are imminent – be it graphene which is being touted as the material of the future (read next decade when it should be commercially viable) or biofuels where aviation tests have already shown promising results.

Millennials are bound to reap the benefits from such exciting technology breakthroughs that have the potential to fructify commercially in the coming decade.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Composites march to the beat of revolutionary concepts in approach to design

Hello again,

Welcome to another post on developments in polymeric composites and interrelated news on the global economy.

As we approach the end of H1 2015, it has obviously been a roller coaster ride thus far.

Dare to predict?


The oil market wears the look of a burst bubble as also base metals, with copper retracting by more than 12%. Precious metals such as platinum have fared no better (much to the glee of glass fiber producers). Oil price swings (a case of politics playing spoilsport?) continue to confound experts and even crystal ball gazing at this juncture would be dismissed by many as a futile exercise. Naysayers continue to have a field day.

Uncertainties aside, it is important for the show to go on. Right?

Road to recovery


In early June, the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) cut its global economic forecast for this year to 3.1%, but says it expects lower oil prices to ensure a gradual recovery even if weak investment remains a worry [International Business Times]. Global GDP is now projected to grow at 3.8% in 2016 with China’s heady GDP expansion rate of recent years tapering to 6.8% in 2015 and 6.7% in 2016 from 7.4% in 2014. Credit Suisse expects the U.S. GDP to grow at 2.2% in 2015. The Japanese economy is expected to grow at 0.7% this year (better than the flat growth of 2014), buoyed by strong foreign demand for its goods [Business Insider]. Cheap oil has had a dramatic effect on European consumer spending in 2015. The combination of savings from cheaper fuel, a more functional financial system, monetary easing and a cheaper euro is expected to keep the region’s economic trajectory on course in H2 2015.

The fact remains that the global economy is on the mend and growth, though tepid, is being observed in most regions. Oil price continues to wreak havoc, but we are slowly getting used to taking it in our stride.

Trade shows – one too many?


The number of global trade shows in composites has witnessed a major jump in recent times. Visitors continue to stream in at most shows that hold relevant technical conference sessions/tutorials in tandem. The quest for knowledge in keeping abreast of the latest developments, remains unabated. Organizations revel in showcasing their latest wares, while extolling the numerous benefits that accrue through use of their raw material(s), machinery, simulation software and/or processing techniques for novel applications backed by sane analysis of the commercial viability through Life Cycle Assessment. One never ceases to be amazed by the plethora of offerings at these trade shows.

For sure, it augurs well for the composites industry at large.

Total rethink in designing


Demand for new cars and light trucks in the U.S. in May was more robust than anticipated. At 1.63 million, total sales was more than the 1.59 million units projected [J.D. Power]. The auto industry’s focus on lightweighting to boost fuel efficiency is nothing new. This has resulted in quite a bit of aerospace technology creeping into products with manufacturers employing a healthy mix of carbon fiber, glass fiber, aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steels. Ford recently showed how carbon fiber body panels enabled creation of “negative space” – open spaces through the body of the 600HP-GT vehicle to enable air to flow through it rather than around it [Design News]. The full carbon fiber driver/passenger cell has aluminum front and rear subframes with structural carbon fiber body panels. A concept car called the Fusion MMLV (multi-material lightweight vehicle) uses numerous carbon fiber and aluminum parts that would normally be made in steel. This includes carbon fiber brake rotors and seat frames, glass fiber epoxy front springs, carbon fiber wheels. Enough weight was taken out that resulted in an engine downsize from 1.6 liters to 1 liter. The focus is obviously not just on weight savings, but a reduction in rotating mass.

When the lightweighting concept extends to revolutionary approaches in basic design, the results can be phenomenal. In fact, this approach, in recent times, has begun to gain ground progressively.

Offshore blowing away onshore


Renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular is growing by leaps and bounds. A record 4.2GW of offshore wind turbines is anticipated to be installed in 2015, per a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. This is double the 2.1 GW installed in 2013, with Germany expected to lead installations in coastal waters with more than 2.3 GW this year, followed by 1 GW in the UK [Bloomberg Business]. Offshore wind power is increasing year-on-year and expected to reach 48GW by 2020, growing at a compound annual rate of 53% and aided, in part, by dipping technology costs. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is now at around $179/MWh – down from $202 in H2 2014, in part due to currency fluctuations. Onshore wind power costs about $85/MWh. Siemens has recently come out with interesting stats. An offshore wind farm with 80 turbines produces 53 million MWh of electricity during its intended 25-year service life. It emits 7 grams CO2/KWh. In comparison, energy from fossil sources burdens the climate with an average of 865 grams/KWh. In other words, a wind farm saves 45 million tons of CO2 during its entire service life. This will result in continued increase in demand for industrial grade carbon fiber and, to a certain extent, glass fiber. Larger blades in offshore wind turbines entail lower weight and, consequently, a preference for carbon fiber, due to the density factor.

Considering the spate of expansions on the anvil by existing carbon fiber producers and new entrants waiting in the wings, there should be no dearth in availability of the reinforcement.

CFRP steps in…and how!


The extensive use of carbon fiber composites in the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350/380 models has prompted identification of more components to replace metals in aircraft applications. A proprietary fusion-core technology features the development of a carbon fiber reinforced PEEK fuel housing that allows for undercuts in injection molding. The end result – a 30% cost saving and 50% weight saving in the production of the complex fuel housings for the global aircraft industry [Plastics Today]. The CFRP composite offers superior fatigue performance and enhanced manufacturing speeds vis-a-vis traditional aluminum for this application and also meets all engineering requirements including stiffness, effective flame, smoke and toxicity performance (FST) and resistance to aggressive chemicals, including jet fuel and hydraulic fluids. Conventional injection molding technology cannot be used for the complex inner geometry of the fuel housings – this necessitated utilizing a near net-shape process for the fusible core that allows for 80% time saving versus machined parts. Secondary treatments for corrosion protection such as anodizing, are eliminated; lead times are reduced by 50%.

Broadened horizonsprecision-1-529519-m

The ability to process pre-impregnated unidirectional (UD) fabrics/tapes made from high performance thermoplastics such as PPS and PEEK to ensure high levels of process control has reportedly resulted in the successful development of a high-temperature contact heating table that can achieve processing temperatures of up to 425°C. UD tapes are placed precisely on a moving table in layers and spot-welded using ultrasound [Plastics Today]. The orientation of the tape and the fibers can be set in variable ways by rotating the table and adjusted optimally to any load. The fabrics are then processed further and consolidated in a two-step heat transfer press process. The contact heating table heats up the fabrics before they are pressed to make laminates with the best quality and reproduciblity. Individual layers are bonded without air pockets and temperature distribution ensures homogeneity [Fraunhofer]. The potential of this process in aerospace and automotive sectors is significant.

Viable option in GFRP


The powertrain system that includes the engine accounts for a large proportion of the weight of an automobile. The recent development of the cylinder block (engine component) in glass fiber reinforced phenolic composite in lieu of traditional aluminum has been encouraging with a weight reduction of 20% and comparable costs. To ensure a robust engine design, metal inserts were used to strengthen wear resistance in areas subject to high thermal and mechanical loads, such as the cylinder liner [Plastics Today]. The geometry of the parts was also modified to ensure that the composite is exposed to as little heat as possible. Sufficient rigidity, resistance to oil, gasoline, glycol & cooling water and good adherence to metal inserts were some of the criteria that enabled zeroing in on  phenolic GFRP with 55% fiber loading. Use of carbon fiber was also a technically feasible, though not an economical option. Test runs on the new engine showed lower running noise, lesser heat radiation to the environment and proven reduction in elimination of numerous finishing operations associated with conventional metal engines.

A total relook at overall component design rather than mere material substitution in recent developments, appears to be the hallmark of new applications in composites in the aerospace and automotive sectors.

Natural gas to the fore


The shale gas revolution in the U.S. has resulted in an abundance of natural gas. Vehicles being powered by natural gas are on the increase. Consequently, the demand for CNG composite tanks is growing and more fueling stations are being commissioned to factor this upsurge. Momentum Fuel Technologies has debuted a CNG fuel system solution for Class 6 to Class 8 trucks that features lightweight glass fiber composite using 3M nanoparticle-enhanced matrix resin technology. The tanks display 6% increase in burst strength, 25% weight reduction and 27% higher weight/volume efficiency compared to tanks made with conventional resin [Plastics Today]. Adoption rates for U.S. Class 8 NG-powered commercial vehicles is poised to grow from 4% in 2014 to 10% in 2018 and 23% in 2020. A five-fold growth in NG vehicles in the next five years is the forecast.

As natural gas is a low-carbon, clean burning fuel, the upside is a significant reduction in hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Bio-plastics: a quantum leap


The focus on green energy, lower VOC and reduced GHG continues at a frenetic pace globally. Replacement of traditional polymer building blocks with bio-based materials is on the rise. According to a 2015 published report, bio-based production capacity is projected to triple from 5.1 million metric tons in 2013 (2% of total polymer production) to 17 million metric tons (4% of total polymer production) in 2020 at a CAGR of almost 20%. Bio-based drop-ins led by bio-PET (from plant-based materials) and new polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PA) will show fastest rates of market growth. Bio-based polyurethanes (PU) are also showing impressive growth. Most investments in new bio-based polymers is expected to take place in Asia because of better access to feedstock (such as sugarcane) and a favorable political framework [Plastics Today]. This is one more stab at the negative environmental effects of using fossil fuels.

Bio-based resins for the composites industry have already been around for several years, with leading resin producers offering a range of “green resins”. The list, no doubt, is growing.

Winning concept


Ever since the Toyota Mirai was launched as the first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car (using CFRP tanks to store the hydrogen), the battle of zero-emissions has raged between EVs and HFCVs. As matters currently stand, EVs need recharging of batteries after 150 -200 kms whereas HFCVs could be driven 300 kms before needing to fill up again. In essence, the range is almost twice with HFCVs. Though the infrastructure to support HFCVs is patchy at present, it can change over time. Recall how the world scoffed at the first-generation Prius in 1997 – the rest is history [BBC News]. Hydrogen is the most abundant available element in the universe [Toyota] – its potential is huge as a clean energy source. The bottom line is that both EVs and HFCVs will use composites to a great extent – that’s what matters in the final analysis.

Both types of vehicles can co-exist with their USPs and are poised to take off in a big way by the end of the decade. Composites will continue to be the ultimate beneficiary.

Per latest stats from BP, the U.S. has dethroned Russia as the world’s largest producer of combined hydrocarbons – oil and natural gas. This is a clear demonstration of the seismic shifts in the world energy landscape emanating from America’s shale fields [Yahoo Finance].

Another instance of uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and that the numero uno status in any sphere is never a given?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Cautious optimism is the watchword for 2015…..with US steering the global economy

Hello again,

At the outset, I wish all readers a Happy and Prosperous 2015 – an oft repeated start-of-the-year greeting, but one that merits mention nevertheless, for the sheer optimism and hope that it conveys.

Dollar Dominance ?


2014 was another roller coaster year, though the last quarter showed signs of a near return to normalcy, crude oil price fluctuations notwithstanding and shades of justified hope on global growth in 2015.

The International Monetary Fund [IMF] predicts global growth of 3.8% this year compared to 3.3% in 2014 [BBC News] – the fastest growth since 2011. The steep drop in crude oil price implies consumers have more to spend (less pain at the pump) on cars, furniture, appliances, whilst also reducing business costs. Oil price aside, the main source of strength apparently is the buoyant US economy that is expected to register around 3.1% growth in 2015. The 5% growth in Q3, 2014 was the swiftest for any quarter since 2003 and the world’s biggest economy is on an extended win streak [Yahoo Finance]. China is slowing as it transitions from investment to consumption. It was driven by investment and export performance that couldn’t last forever. Goldman Sachs expects several years of declining growth rates for China.  Japan is sliding into a recession after a disastrous Q3, 2014. Russia appears headed for one, while Europe is barely growing and Greece in the news yet again. There are some rumbling sources of potential trouble on prospects of a really strong growth year, but there is a decent chance that 2015 will be another year of gradual post-crisis rehabilitation [BBC News].

Probably a touch of cautious optimism is called for ?

 Polyurethane: one-upmanship on epoxy


Rapid strides continue to be made in new developments in the automotive sector in spite of low gas prices posing a threat to electric vehicles and, to a lesser extent, hybrids. Composite leaf springs are not a novelty – however, it is the combination of resin matrix, fiber reinforcement and processing technique that continuously undergoes technological advancements resulting in improved performance. The suspension of the new Volvo XC90 employs a transverse fiber-reinforced composite leaf spring instead of the usual array of coil springs. The compact design achieves a weight saving of 4.5 kg with additional functional benefits such as smoother ride, improved NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) and increased trunk volume as there are no suspension turrets [Plastics Today]. The RTM process for this composite spring uses Polyurethane (PU) resin from Henkel. Cycle time, that has been the bane of RTM in automotive applications, has been addressed through the use of low viscosity PU resulting in rapid mold-fill, fast fiber impregnation and short injection times. With a curing rate that is substantially faster than epoxy resins, cycle times are shorter, overall.

The quest in achieving shorter cycle times for more widespread use of composites in automotive applications, continues unabated. 

All-round innovation


The Abarth 695 Biposto has been described by its manufacturer as the smallest supercar with the perfect synthesis between street performance and racetrack thrill. Extensive use of carbon fiber results in an overall weight of 997 kg of this two-seater that also uses Polycarbonate (PC) glazing for the front fixed window having built-in sliding panels. SABIC‘s Exatec coating technology reportedly meets European regulatory requirements for transparency, scratch and abrasion resistance for PC-based vehicle windows [Plastics Today]. CFRP composites are used for the front bumper, side skirts, part of the dashboard, under the rear bumper (diffuser), side mirrors and seats.

Tequila time?


Driven by surging Mexican factories, full-year 2014 light vehicle output for North America totaled 17.24 million – up 7% from 2013, according to estimates from Automotive News Data Center. The forecast for 2015 is projected at around 17.4 million vehicles. Mexico’s free-trade agreement covering dozens of other countries have made it an attractive base for exports overseas and to South America [Automotive News]. While US output and Canada production were both up 5% in 2014, Mexico gained a whopping 12%.

Mexico is the new manufacturing destination for several global auto majors judging by the spate of massive investments in that nation in recent times.

 Holy Grail of Designers


The aerospace sector has been in the news recently with the induction of the Airbus A350 and, apparently, orders rolling in for this aircraft rivaling the Boeing 787. As is well known, both planes use composites in excess of 50% by weight. Commercial aircraft use thousands of brackets from the cockpit to the tail of the plane. If made from metal, the total amount of brackets can add a significant amount of weight. Victrex has developed a new Polyaryletherketone (PAEK) -based polymer and an innovative hybrid molding technology that enable overmolding of a PAEK-based composite with fiber reinforced Polyetheretherketone (PEEK) injection molding grades. The hybrid molded composite bracket is able to deliver up to 60% weight savings compared to stainless steel and titanium, while offering equivalent or better mechanical properties such as strength, stiffness and fatigue [Plastics Today]. The hybrid process uses a pre-formed composite like an insert in the injection molding tool and allows the continuously reinforced thermoplastic composite to be pre-fabricated and used in the same way as a metallic insert in the injection molding process. The PAEK-based composite is thermoformed prior to insertion. The new PAEK-based polymer allows for 70% fiber loading and processing temperatures (enabling faster manufacturing cycle times) that are approximately 40°C less than traditional PEEK-based composites and creates a very strong bond between a continuously-reinforced thermoplastic composite and an injection-molding polymer. The PAEK bracket can be produced in minutes compared to the hours it would take for a metal or thermoset equivalent. Overall part cost is reduced through elimination of such steps as edge sealing and X-ray inspections. The PEEK polymers can be either carbon or glass fiber reinforced grades, typically with 30-40% fiber loading.

Just goes to show that even small components in an aircraft merit consideration when it comes to exploring weight reduction possibilities.



Much has been spoken and written about wind energy becoming competitive with conventional electric generating technologies like natural gas and coal. In fact, a recent economic analysis by the leading investment banking firm Lazard using the “levelized cost of electricity”(LCOE) metric indicates that renewable generating technologies are not only competitive with fossil fuels, but are also cheaper than natural gas/coal in some markets [Forbes]. LCOE (referenced in one of my earlier posts), represents the per-kWh cost (in real dollars) of building and operating a power plant over an assumed financial life and duty cycle. LCOE for renewable generation is/can be lower in the near-term future than the “average” price of electricity provided by the electric power grid. In the most recent Annual Energy Outlook, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) began using the “levelized avoided cost of energy” (LACE) for assessing the economic competitiveness of different generating technologies. The LACE metric estimates what it would have cost the grid to generate the electricity otherwise displaced by a new generation project. IEA expects offshore wind costs to drop 45% by 2050, while land-based wind expenses will decline by a relatively smaller 25%. The Department of Energy predicts a 40% price cut by 2030, while the UK (undisputed leader in offshore wind generation) expects turbine prices to drop overall expenses a sizable 17% by 2020 [The Motley Fool]. General Electric and other corporations are pushing for bigger, stronger and more efficient turbines in the > 4.1 MW range. While carbon fiber has been the mainstay for offshore wind turbine blades, glass fiber producers are introducing high modulus fibers to combat the stranglehold of the former. The key is in lighter weight due to longer blades – carbon fiber does have an edge over glass fiber on this score.

Only time will tell.



Stampable thermoplastics that received rave reviews in the 90s when they were introduced, continue to make progress in automotive applications. Faurecia has developed an integral structural floor comprising the front and rear passenger floor and trunk floor in glass fiber reinforced polyamide66 and made by the thermostamping technique. The thermoplastic composite also makes it possible to weld and overmold parts [Plastics Today]. The technology reportedly reduces part weight and costs compared to bonding, while producing a material able to withstand the very high temperatures created during painting that employs cataphoresis (cathodic electrodeposition). To muffle the noise, acoustic components were incorporated into the empty space between the upper and lower layers of the thermoplastic structure. The composite floor is 16.5 kg lighter than its steel counterpart (33% weight saving) and also reduces CO2 emissions by 1.65 gm/km.



When it comes to carbon fibers and CFRP composites, the Japanese have few peers. A 2014 report highlighting the Japanese perspective on automotive sector penetration predicts usage of CFRP parts will broaden from selected parts such as hoods and roofs in the 2013-2016 timeframe, to major structural components between 2017 and 2019 – especially in electric vehicles [Plastics Today]. Carbon fiber reinforced thermoplastics are expected to make inroads in less demanding applications such as interior panels in 2019 and then extending to exterior panels. Between 2020-2025, lower material costs, shorter cycle times and improved yields will see greater adoption in structural components.

Considering the catalytic role played by Japanese companies (carbon fiber producers and automobile manufacturers) in expanding the market base for CFRP composites, obviously they have done their homework right on this prediction!


lighthouse-1318880-m (1)

CFRP composites are extending beyond rebar application in the construction industry. A lighthouse in Spain features a CFRP-GFRP combination. Several CFRP tubular profiles support a set of GFRP floor slabs and their bracings which surround the central tube that leads the stairs to the upper part in the lantern room [European Plastics News]. The structure consists of eight CFRP (epoxy matrix) tubular profiles, 31 meters high. The columns (circular section of 250mm diameter) are positioned in the vertex of an octagon inside a circumference of 4.5 meters diameter in the lighthouse base and 4 meters at its top. Four horizontal octagonal rings in GFRP with a diameter of 190mm are placed at different levels of the lighthouse every 6 meters. Five GFRP composite decks are distributed along the whole height of the lighthouse.

That GFRP and CFRP can co-exist in the design of a single structure – need further evidence?



The impact of the shale gas revolution on ethylene and propylene market dynamics has been dwelt with at length in several of my earlier posts. Less expensive ethane derived from shale gas makes ethylene production highly attractive and is behind large-scale US capacity additions. Companies such as Dow Chemical, Chevron Philips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are betting on increased competitiveness in the US and are constructing crackers to produce ethylene [Plastics Today]. Global ethylene capacity is poised to increase from 167 million Tons/year in 2014 to 208.5 million Tons by 2017. The shift away from naphtha definitely puts propylene availability and price at a risk – but alternate routes are expected to materialize commercially in 2016 to restore parity, to some extent.

Crude oil price is expected to hover in the $60-70/barrel range through 2015 if one were to go by the budget projections of OPEC nations and others. From a consumer perspective, the drop in gas price at the pump was the silver lining in Q4, 2014. Will it continue through 2015?

A surging US dollar has battered most major currencies, with the euro currently trading at almost its lowest since 2006.

Fingers crossed as we wait to see what unfolds this year.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram




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.



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.


refinery-bp-107264-m (1)

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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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].



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.



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).



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,


S. Sundaram



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

Hello everyone,

Here we go again with another post…….



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.



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].



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].



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].



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].



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].


wind mills (sept 29)

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,


S. Sundaram



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.




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.



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 ?



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].


1266636_laboratory_glassware (2)

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].



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.



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].



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.


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,


S. Sundaram



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.



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) !



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].



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.



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.



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.



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.


petrol or gasoline in the US on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

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.



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,


S. Sundaram



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.



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.



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].



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.



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].



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?



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].



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].



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,


S. Sundaram



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].



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.



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.



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.



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.



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].



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.



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].



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].



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).



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,


S. Sundaram




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