Winds of Change – Blowing strong for Polymers & Composites

Hello again,

The stock market crests and troughs have left most of us bewildered and bemused as to what factors really drive the rollercoaster trends. Undoubtedly, the eurozone has been the focus in recent times. The G20 leaders ended their summit with a communique that spoke of plans to boost growth and rebalance the global economy. Political rhetoric ?


GDP grew in most countries in Europe in H1 2011 in spite of marked differences in performance, with Germany being the most sprightly. But sluggish growth and the prospect of renewed recession means  joblessness could be rising again in Britain & Germany [The Economist].

The U.S. economy on the other hand continues to flummox economists with the common man swinging between despair and hope depending on the  tidings of the weekly stats. The latest weekly update indicates light at the end of the tunnel -however seemingly distant it may be. A faint glimmer of hope that manufacturing activity is witnessing a renaissance ? Let’s hope so !


At its October meeting, the American Concrete Institute Committee 440 (FRP) updated design examples for the design guidelines for FRP rebar reinforcement of concrete, test protocols for durability assessment of FRP products in concrete and a state-of-the practice document on use of stay-in-place structural formwork used for bridge decks [ACMA]. Such updates should be beneficial to the construction sector at large and provide a greater degree of confidence to designers and architects worldwide.


With global demand for carbon fiber on an upward trajectory; developments on PAN precursor continue unabated.Latest studies indicate positive results in coating modification of PAN fibers with boric acid to enhance the controllability of the oxidation stabilization process. Microscopic analyses showed that the coating was effective to avoid skin – core heterogeneity on the cross section apart from boric acid tending to act as a cross-linking agent leading to formation of uniform oxidized structures favorable for enhanced tensile properties of carbon fiber [Sciencia].

Do such positive results ring a bell for composites veterans….similar to what the glass fiber industry witnessed for decades on  progressive enhancement of mechanicals through sustained  development work ? Therein lies the challenge for researchers in the field of composites.

Metals, in general and stainless steel, in particular  are not about to give in to composites that easily! Recent studies indicate that implantation of Titanium ion avoids intergranular corrosion and mitigates pitting on 316SS as the outer surface becomes completely amorphized, thereby avoiding localized corrosion [Sciencia]. This should be great news for designers as they now have more options in the choice of materials…no wonder Material Sciences is attracting so much attention and drawing students in droves.

Hitherto, the use of fragrance in plastics has been limited, as traditional technologies using EVA particles find it difficult to withstand temperatures of 200C plus. Not so anymore… spherical particle technology offers more robust ways to add complex fragrances to thermoplastics at 280C processing temperatures without issues [Compounding World]. Better still, this innovative technology controls the release of fragrance from the finished polymer for in excess of 18 months.The spherical particles are reportedly a co-polymer produced by polycondensation of methyl pyrrole and squaric acid.

Will plastics with a ( sweet smelling) fragrance be a commercial reality ? Let’s hope so…the script has been written !


Though financial turmoil weighs on the global economy, chemical makers are more cautious than earlier this year, but there are no signs of a major downturn [Chemical Week]. Some of the demand slowdown reflects inventory adjustments as lower energy and feedstock costs and uncertainty push buyers and consumers to more defensive positions. Though inventories are being squeezed, producers say underlying demand and orders are holding, albeit at a more subdued pace than early 2011. An analysis of PP, PE, styrene, PC, thermoset resin price trends reflect the aforesaid market sentiments.

The potential opportunities that polymers & composites offer the automotive industry are widely recognized. The thumb rule is that a 10% reduction in vehicle weight increase fuel efficiency ( and reduces reduces emissions) by 6-8%. The increased interest in multifunctional components  is calling for new material solutions that can accommodate actions such as thermal/vibration energy harvesting (an efficient energy harvesting system is estimated to have the potential to generate 10% fuel saving), active NVH control or conductive surfaces to remove physical wiring. These new materials are either polymeric in structure or need to be embedded in a polymer matrix to be  turned into cost-effective and usable components in automotive parlance [Injection World]. Future structural applications could witness a glass fiber-reinforced polyolefin with a steel tubing structure or developing TPO combined with SMC for car doors and liftgates [Plastics News].


The automotive glazing market is poised to witness a major shift to Polycarbonate (PC) from traditional glass resulting in a weight saving of around 20%. A new hard coat system that will further improve the scratch resistance and UV protection of PC is a major reason for the successful switch in many European & Japanese cars from 2012[Teijin]. The glazing concept is likely to extend to high gloss or transparent body components in vehicles in the next five years. PC’s growing popularity received another shot in the arm with Shell announcing its low cost, greener process for making Diphenyl carbonate (DPC) – a key intermediate for producing PC [Chemical Week].


For the wind energy sector, the winds of change appear to be blowing stronger than ever ( pun intended). According to a recent study, the market for advanced composites is set to grow @16% per annum through 2020… the difference being, that, while aerospace has been the biggest consumer of new structural materials; wind turbines will replace the industry as the leading advanced composites market, owing to the growth of global offshore installations. By 2020, wind is expected to account for $15.4 billion in advanced composites compared to just $6.3 billion for aerospace [Aviation & Aerospace News].

Little wonder that the CF market is headed for a golden decade and flying sky high (Boeing 787 and Airbus 350) whilst simultaneously funneling winds of change in the ocean through massive turbines.

Are composites in general and CFRP in particular having the best of both worlds ? Apparently so, if one were to go by number crunching stats on commercial demand ! Raw material producers (fibers, resins) and processors should be laughing all the way to the bank from 2012-13.

Amidst the prevailing economic uncertainty, are we composites professionals not (justifiably ) entitled to bask on the bright prospects in the coming years?

The seeds of growth have been sown….it’s time to think of reaping a rich harvest !

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

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