Category Archives: Aluminum

Composites on sedate growth, albeit global economic headwinds

Hello everyone,

Here we go again with another post, as it is back to business for many after the summer sojourn.

Growth, albeit tepid


The global economy continues to face headwinds midway through 3Q 2016. The Brexit vote caught financial markets by surprise with equity prices declining worldwide in its immediate aftermath. In July, the World Bank downgraded it’s 2016 global growth forecast to 2.4% from 2.9%, based on sluggish growth in advanced economies, stubbornly low commodity prices, weak global trade and diminishing capital flows [The World Bank]. The U.S. GDP growth in 2016 is expected to be around 2.0%. The European Union is projected to have a GDP growth of 1.5% this year. China is forecast to grow at 6.7% while India’s robust expansion is expected to hold steady at 7.6%.

Geopolitics continue to wreak havoc on crude oil prices. High inventory levels have not been balanced by increased demand, thereby leading to continued depressed pricing. Oil pundits and economists alike remain flummoxed by the whipsaw trends.

In this context, I am reminded of the “change is the only constant” oxymoron.

Cool, stronger alternative


Composites continue to storm the metals bastion through technological advancements in materials and processing techniques. Composite cooling fans for large trucks, buses, off-road construction vehicles and mining, oil and gas industries are now a reality, replacing blades hitherto made out of thermoplastics and metal. Engines and their cooling systems are exposed to abrasive materials and are subject to extreme high and low temperatures. A thermoset molding compound with high glass content incorporating a tough resin was successfully developed and tested in the U.S. A key aspect in the development was designing the shape of the fan’s leading edge to get the most air movement, but in an acceptable geometry that could be molded [Plastics News]. The fan used eight blades measuring from 68 to 100 inches in diameter and passed wind tunnel tests.The combination of high strength-weight ratio, coupled with corrosion resistance and ability to be mass produced, enabled composites to be a success for this demanding application [IDI Composites International].

Confluence of pluses


The use of 3M hollow glass microspheres in SMC and other molding compounds is well known. Following successful introduction of polypropylene filled glass microspheres in 2015, an Italian compounder has now introduced polyamide6 grades with the same glass microspheres [Plastics Today]. Available in various configurations, the new grades provide reduction in weight, good strength and shock resistance, shorter cycle times and exceptional dimensional stability of the molded parts. The glass microspheres can be used alone or in combination with chemically bonded glass fiber, which allows for modulation of the material properties, in order to achieve required goals in terms of lightness, mechanical performance and price. This augurs well for use in automotive applications in consideration of the new limits on CO2 emissions set at 95 grams/km starting from 2021.

The nano revolution


Advanced composite materials such as CFRP used in the Boeing and Airbus passenger jets reduce overall weight of the plane by almost 20% vis-a-vis aluminum. While aluminum is known to withstand relatively large impacts before cracking, the layers in composites can break apart due to relatively small impacts. Polyether sulfone (PES) resins are known to be used to impart impact resistance to thermoset epoxy resin-based composite structures. New research has shown that carbon nanotubes can be used to fasten layers of composite materials together. The nanotubes are atom-thin rolls of carbon that are incredibly strong despite their microscopic stature [Plastics Today]. The carbon nanotubes were embedded in a  polymer matrix and pressed between layers of CFRP. Resembling tiny, vertically-aligned stitches, the nanotubes reportedly worked themselves within the crevices of each composite layer, serving as a scaffold to hold the layers together – displaying 30% higher strength (in a tension-bearing test) and withstanding greater forces before breaking apart. Currently, the plies of horizontal carbon fibers in a composite are held by the matrix and strengthened by Z-pinning and 3-D weaving that involve pinning or weaving bundles of carbon fibers through composite layers which ultimately does damage the composite. At 10 nanometers in diameter, carbon nanotubes are nearly a million times smaller than carbon fibers and have 1,000 times more surface area, enabling a better bond with the resin matrix. This development has positive implications for aircraft structural performance and strengthens confidence in CFRP’s damage tolerance.

Flights of fantasy when it comes to composites technology? You could say that!

Persevere to succeed


Ever since carbon fibers found increasing use in aerospace and industrial applications, there is a continuous quest to recycle CFRP composites, considering the high cost of the reinforcement. The most recent method to recycle nearly 100% of the fiber involves soaking the composites in an alcohol solvent that slowly dissolves the epoxy resin. Once dissolved, the carbon fiber and epoxy can be separated and used in new applications [Plastics Today]. This technique was successfully tested with vitrimer epoxies. Vitrimers are derived from thermosets and consist of molecular covalent networks and can flow like viscoelastic liquids at high temperatures. They contain dynamic bonds that can alternate their structure without losing network integrity under certain conditions. Alcohol has small molecules to take part in the network of alternating reactions that effectively dissolve the vitrimer.

Another technique that has potential success to commercially recycle carbon fiber from CFRP composites – expect more in the not so foreseeable future.

A step ahead in the learning curve

CNG tank

When it comes to composites use for CNG storage, manufacturers always come up with technologies that are one up on their earlier developments. Luxfer has launched it’s second generation CFRP cylinders for Alternate Fuel (AF) containment. The cylinders provide a 9% volume increase of CNG in terms of diesel gas equivalent (DGE) and a 15% weight savings compared to their earlier version [NGV Journal]. When compared to conventional competitive hybrid carbon-glass fiber cylinders, the DGE volume improvement reportedly increases to 14% and the weight saving grows to 30%. The latest design features a new polymer liner and patented boss design that provide the highest level of liner performance and gas retention. Feedback from customers in the refuse truck, class-8 heavy-duty truck and medium-duty truck sectors have been positive thus far.

Relentless pursuit

Double decker bus

The world’s first Euro 6 double-deck natural gas-powered bus is undergoing field tests ahead of delivery to the British market later this year. While the CFRP fuel tanks for single-deck buses were placed on the roof of the vehicle, space constraints in the double-deck buses necessitated positioning majority of the CNG tanks in a new compartment behind the upper passenger area. In addition to being quieter than the diesel models, the natural gas bus will (expectedly) produce much lower carbon emissions [NGV Journal].

The UK continues to be in the forefront when it comes to relentlessly pursuing ways and means of reducing carbon footprint.

Versatility prevails


Cycle time reduction is a key aspect that is linked to the fortunes of increased composites usage in automobiles. Epoxy resin producers have successfully developed  fast-curing resins in recent times. Polyurethane (PU) resin producers have not been far behind. The composite front transverse springs for the Mercedes Benz NCV 3 Sprinter uses dry glass fiber textile preforms  and PU resin molded by RTM with benefits of cycle time (compared to epoxy), whilst simultaneously achieving a 65% weight reduction over steel, in addition to superior fatigue resistance and metal insert reduction [Plastics News Europe].

Drill, drill, drill!

669130_power_plant_1 (1)

The success of shale gas production by fracking in the U.S. is legion. It has virtually turned the oil industry supply scenario on its head and the U.S. is been dubbed a swing producer. Earlier this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released the International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO 2016) and Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO 2016) that shows significant increase in shale gas production through 2040. Per the report, shale gas production increased from 10 billion cu ft per day (Bcf/d) in 2010 to 42 Bcf/d in 2015. The report predicts that production will continue to increase to 168 Bcf/d by 2040 accounting for 30% of global natural gas production [Daily Energy Insider]. Six countries comprising the U.S., Canada, China, Argentina, Mexico and Algeria are expected to account for 70% of global shale production by 2040. This naturally begs the question of how much new capacity of propylene plants will be set up via the propane dehydrogenation route to compensate for surplus ethylene (and hence polyethylene) and deficient propylene (and hence polypropylene)? After all, reinforced polypropylene continues to be in great demand for a variety of industrial applications.

Points to ponder and plan for the future.

Chemistry spinoffs


Polybenzoxazine is a new polymer that exhibits some similar properties to polytetrafluoroethylene (popularly known as Teflon). It offers unusual properties that one would not find in other thermosets. The monomer is reportedly synthesized from phenol, formaldehyde and a primary amine. The resin offers some huge benefits such as near-zero volumetric changes or expansion, shrinkage and di-electric constant better than epoxy, very high modulus and a surface similar to Teflon, sans fluorocarbons [Plastics&Rubber Weekly]. The resin has excellent thermal stability and flexural strength, apart from being non-igniting and is considered a good bet for aerospace applications.

A new commercially viable polymer matrix on the horizon? Apparently so.

Space propulsion ahoy!


Despite satellite launch costs falling like ninepins over the years, weight savings have always been welcome with open arms for this application. CFRP composites have been successfully used for satellite components as they enable almost 50% weight saving compared to steel and more than 30% compared to aluminum alloy. Low outgassing cyanate ester thermosets are generally used as the matrix in CFRP composites for satellite components [Plastics Today]. Mitsubishi Electric is doubling its satellite component production in Japan which is expected to be on stream by October 2017. It is likely to use it’s proven proprietary VARTM technology.

The euphoria in the automotive sector at the beginning of the year has waned in this quarter due to a combination of factors – tepid business climate, uncertainty (think oil!), slowing U.S. economy and the Brexit fallout. It was a mixed bag for vehicle auto sales in July. The orders for Boeing’s Dreamliner and Airbus AB350 have not exactly been on fire recently for a variety of reasons – the order books through 2021 and beyond are full though, thanks to the backlog.

Optimism – the elixir

Hope image

The global economy is predicted to perk up in 2017 and take wings from 2018. Remaining optimistic is the elixir of life. After all, what goes down must come up – as has oft been proven.

The composites industry ploughs on, though not a lonely furrow!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites


Composites stay afloat with continued growth forecast in wind energy, automotive and aerospace markets

Hello again,

It was a tumultuous 2015 that we just bid adieu to while simultaneously ushering in 2016 with considerable hope and an eerie dash of cautious optimism. Economic trends are apparently coming to full boil this year as geopolitics take center stage.

Crystal ball gazing


Crude oil prices do not appear to be bottoming out even at $30/barrel. The jury is still out whether it could hit $20 as also an outlandish $10 – the bigwigs in investment banking have their own theories and logic to back their assessment. Economists are divided in their opinion and there are several schools of thought -ranging from being overly optimistic to downright pessimism. The Cassandras, no doubt are having a field day. Whether the glass is half full or half empty is in the eye of the beholder.

The fact remains that any amount of crystal ball gazing at this juncture would probably only intensify the fuzzy picture. Going with the flow appears to be logical.

Slow and sure rebound

Global economy

In early January, the World Bank made a downward revision to the global growth forecast for 2016 to 2.9% (from the 3.3% forecast in June 2015) due to economic headwinds. China is expected to grow at 6.7%. U.S. growth projection has been trimmed to 2.7%. The EU’s (European Union) major economies like France, Germany and the UK could witness growth rate of 1% [Market Realist]. For the Eurozone’s 19-member economies as a whole, the GDP growth is forecast at 1.5%. The world economy grew 2.4% in 2015 – less than the 2.8% projected forecast and slower than the 2.6%  expansion in 2014 [Bloomberg Business]. In spite of news of growth of the U.S. economy, it is somewhat of a paradox that its manufacturing sector shrank for the second straight month in December 2015 with the industry’s key index ISM hitting 48.2% – the lowest since June 2009, and falling below the 50% threshold for the sixth consecutive month [CNN Money]. The strength of the U.S. dollar in the wake of dipping crude oil prices currently adds to the woe of America’s manufacturing.

Nevertheless, it is the U.S. and UK that are expected to lead global growth in 2016.

Fast and furious growth


North America and Western Europe were the key drivers of the improvement in global car sales in 2015 with volumes advancing 7% – the strongest gain in nearly two decades [Scotia Bank]. Little wonder that the thrust on lightweighting and cycle time reduction continues unabated in this sector. A new press-forming technology for the fast and efficient production of thermoplastic composite components for both the automotive and aerospace sectors combines, compacts, processes and melds plastic, glass and composite materials far more efficiently and with greater precision than can be achieved with conventional injection and compression molding processes. A novelty of sophistication in compression molding is reportedly possible by integrating active thermal management technologies into the mold face by enabling heating and cooling levels to be continuously adapted for each mold area and process stage, in real-time [Plastics Today]. Composite components can be rapidly formed using a one-shot stamp-forming process by dynamically controlling the heat applied to each mold area and achieving one minute Takt time (average time between start of production of one unit and start of production of the next unit).

Improvements abound


A new grade of Polyethersulfone resin from Solvay improves the toughness, heat resistance and processing consistency of a carbon fiber reinforced thermoset resin prepreg. The resin reportedly increases the impact strength of thermoset composites by nearly 40% and provides a step-change improvement in heat resistance. The polyethersulfone micropowder is compatible with a range of epoxy resin systems and disperses rapidly, thereby improving processability and consistency in high-volume composite production [Plastics Today]. Apart from being widely used in commercial and military aircraft applications, the resin also has potential in the automotive market segment.

In spite of gasoline costs being at an all-time low thanks to depressed crude oil prices, the focus on environmentally-friendly technologies such as hydrogen powered fuel cell vehicles has seen an upward trend with a spate of announcements from leading auto producers close on the heels of Toyota’s Mirai. Considering that water vapor is the sole emission, fuel cell technology has been touted as the future with Japan and Europe taking the lead in creating the requisite infrastructure (read fueling stations) to popularize the hydrogen-powered vehicles. Hyundai’s hydrogen-powered crossover concept car has a CFRP chassis  made of molded parts by vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) using acrylic thermoset infusion resin. The 3D beam design combines woven carbon fiber braided tubing around a low density polyethylene preform that foams and expands during infusion. The patented design and process can be used to form both straight and curved components to create complex-shaped assembled structures [Plastics Today]. The CFRP components of the chassis and frame are robotically bonded with a structural adhesive, sans mechanical fixtures. The composite chassis rivals steel in strength and stiffness with a 60% weight saving to boot, whilst also meeting crash safety standards.

Blowing strong – en core in 2016


Advancements in technology and improvements in operational efficiency have resulted in the average purchase price for wind power in the U.S. falling to an all-time unthinkable low of 2.35 cents/KWh according to the U.S. Energy Department [The Telegraph]. At this level , wind competes with coal or gas even without a carbon tax. A study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that the global average for “levelized cost of electricity” (LCOE) for onshore wind fell to $83/MWh last year compared to $76-$82 for gas turbine plants in the U.S. or $85-$93 in Asia or $103-$118 in Europe. While the official numbers are awaited, global wind power installations were anticipated to reach 63.7GW in 2015 – up 30% from 2014. Vestas, Gamesa and Nordex, three of Europe’s publicly traded wind turbine-makers, all doubled in value in 2015 after record industry installations [Bloomberg Business]. Fiber reinforcements and resins have also played a major role in blade technology enhancements that have led to a progressive increase in unit turbine capacity (MW) and blade length over the years without sacrificing performance.

GFRP and CFRP composites are the principal gainers when it comes to onshore and offshore wind energy.

Leading from the front


BMW has been in the forefront when it comes to use of CFRP in automobiles. It has commenced using water assist for its HP-RTM processing of the curved section of the CFRP roof carrier of the new BMW 7 series. The water assist technology equipment from Maximator GmbH consists of a water treatment unit and a pressure unit [Plastics News]. The special water injector with multiple integrated monolithic valves is larger and heavier than injectors conventionally used with water assist injection molding. The earlier version of the component had a foam core with carbon fiber braiding applied prior to impregnation by epoxy resin. In the new water assist version, a plastic tube replaces the foam core and is held under water pressure. The water is removed only after the resin has cured in a HP-RTM compression mold. The high temperature utilized in the HP-RTM process coupled with use of pure demineralized water and specific metal alloys prevents incidence of corrosion. The hastened curing process and consequent reduction in cycle time was achieved by heating the water.

Another success story of a collaborative effort between press manufacturer, toolmaker and epoxy resin producer.

Riding (past) the rough tide


There was news to cheer about in the marine sector where glass fiber (GFRP) is used extensively in a variety of boats. According to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), powerboat sales were up by 8% in 2015 with a 6-8% growth forecast for 2016. The reasons attributed to this growth are a steadily improving economy and several product innovations. Most powerboat segments experienced growth through Q2 2015 (compared to the same period in 2014). Jet boats were up 18.1%, wake sports boats up 12.1%, deck boats up 11.3%, personal watercraft up 8.2%, pontoon boats up 6.6% and bass boats up 5.3%. Other GFRP outboard boats (including center console boats, sport fishing boats and flat boats) were up 11.1% [IBI Plus International Boat Industry].

With the number of powerboat sales back to pre-recession levels, is it a case of “happy days are here again” for the marine sector?

Composites challenge metals


It is a known fact that the Airbus A350-900 utilizes composites for the wings and fuselage frames. The quest to save weight in aircrafts is perennial. Carbon fiber reinforced PEEK has been used to replace aluminum in a fitting for the aircraft door of the A350-900. The injection molded component has received regulatory approval and entered serial production. Substitution of metal with composites results in brackets that are 40% lighter and equally less expensive in production [Plastics News]. The composite structure uses an outer skin along with a bracing structure on the inside. The reinforced PEEK bracket connects the outer skin to points on the internal bracing structure. The two components form a box-like structure to exploit the maximum geometrical moment of inertia (MI). Whereas aluminum requires a special coating to prevent corrosion, the reinforced PEEK withstands moisture that accumulates inside aircraft doors. In addition, the composite has up to 100 times longer fatigue life and up to 20% greater specific strength and stiffness compared to aluminum under the same conditions.

In my September 2015 post, I had mentioned the live-and-let-live motto of the automobile industry being the future norm when it comes to using a combination of materials. The BMW 7 Series boasts of  the first ever volume-production automobile using a CFRP composite, aluminum and super-high-strength steel to increase the rigidity and stiffness in the passenger cell, whilst simultaneously reducing vehicle weight [Plastics Today]. The carbon fiber core body with hood and doors in aluminum results in a weight saving of 130kg. The design enables a 50:50 axle load distribution and also allows the lowering of the center of gravity.

Walking the (green) talk


Since 2012, there has been a tectonic shift when it comes to embracing renewable energy and recycling. Global awareness of the ills of fossil fuel and ocean waste has been on the increase and the clamor for taking action has gone up several decibels, with Fortune 500 companies walking the talk when it comes to practical implementation on this aspect. Adidas launched a new concept shoe in Q4, 2015 made with ocean plastic waste and nets typically used to catch fish. The concept shoe consists of an upper section made with ocean plastic content and a midsole which is 3-D printed using recycled polyester and gill net content [Plastics News]. In June 2015, Adidas had introduced a shoe made almost entirely from recycled ocean waste.

Impossible is nothing – Adidas lives up to its slogan.

 The show must go on


Global trade headed south in 2015 with most countries witnessing a dip in exports. Amidst the uncertainty, what stands out is the the continued emphasis on product development and collaborative efforts on the part of organizations in the multi-pronged approach to lightweighting solutions in composites in the automotive, aerospace and renewable energy sectors.

With wind energy poised to enjoy an equally good outing in 2016 (as in 2015), this sector along with automotive and aerospace is expected to drive composites usage this year. Global car sales are again expected to strengthen this year before tapering off in 2017. Demand for multi-axial fabrics in onshore/offshore wind and marine market segments along with prepregs for aerospace coupled with LFRT (and chopped fibers) for automotive will keep the reinforcements (glass and carbon) market afloat this year in spite of economic headwinds.

Mergers and acquisitions will figure prominently in 2016 as the industry consolidates – a natural corollary in times of economic turmoil and when the “survival of the fittest” (in the business sense) adage is at play.

Its all for the greater good, in the ultimate analysis?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Composites’ competitiveness to the fore

Hello everyone,

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

Timely reminder of the Adidas slogan… impossible is nothing.

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Aerospace & Automotive Sectors….. the show goes on

Hello again,

Its back to business………..

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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



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

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

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

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



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

 Is this the path to making intelligent CFRP composites ?



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

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



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

 A quantum leap of faith ?



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

Re-writing the rules for manufacturing hubs ?

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Paradigm shifts – flexible approach in adaption is the key

Hello all,

At the first G20 Finance Ministers & Central Banks Governors’ meeting in Moscow in mid-February, delegates “agreed” that tail risks to the global economy have receded, coupled with improvement in financial market conditions. The caveat was the recognition that important risks remain and global growth was still too weak – a statement that is all too obvious and a stark reality !



Fears of a currency war were stoked at the G20 summit and the currency market was thrown into turmoil that same week with the G7 members issuing a joint statement warning against using domestic policy to target currencies. Following Moody’s Investor Services stripping of UK’s Triple-A rating in late February, the pound was in for further trouble in the beginning of March as it tumbled and fell below a key level of the U.S. dollar following a weak Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI) for the manufacturing sector, leading to speculation of the likelihood of further Quantitative Easing (QE) by the Bank of England [CNBC].

An open-ended QE in the footsteps of the U.S. and Japan ? With the euro on an eight-month high against the  greenback, has the race to the bottom begun ?



GFRP composite profiles are evolving as energy-efficient facade panels for buildings. Existing facade panels, made of aluminum profiles with embedded polyamide thermal breaks have thick wall constructions and meet only the lowest limits of building regulations. The new GFRP pultruded composite panels with vinyl ester resin replace the polyamide thermal breaks and part of the aluminum. It has the requisite aesthetics, displays lower thermal conductivity and better insulation, whilst simultaneously maintaining mechanical properties in view of the aluminum/composite combination [Pipe and Profile Extrusion].

Competing materials can be complementary.. that’s the name of the technology game.

Manufacturing of thermoplastic composites based on textile preforms made from hybrid yarns is well suited for the production of FRP in medium and large scale production runs. The consolidation of thermoplastic FRP is currently complicated by the high viscosity of molten material. Woven multilayered and Z – reinforced non-crimped fiber preforms can facilitate FRP withstand three-dimensional loading and impact stress [Sciencia]. Such preforms with Z-directional reinforcement improve the FRP delamination behavior and out-of-plane characteristics. This concept holds immense potential in a wide range of composite applications.

Z may be the last alphabet……but allow the designers’ imagination to run riot on its geometry and possibilities are endless for improvement in mechanical properties of composites. Last, but not the least (effective) ?



A new polyurethane based glass fiber sandwich material has been developed for an enclosure that houses a diesel train’s engine, thereby saving weight and cost over its steel and aluminum counterpart. The enclosure, normally located underneath the passenger compartment must withstand high mechanical loads to support all that weight as well as protect the engine from impact apart from also providing chemical resistance to prevent oil leaks and conformance to strict European fire protection requirements [Design News]. Parts are made with a honeycomb core and manufactured  directly in their final complex three-dimensional shape using a much faster combined spray and press process. The new material’s honeycomb core is covered on its top and bottom with glass fiber mats, then sprayed with polyurethane containing a flame retardant and (optionally) chopped glass fibers. The component is then placed in a compression mold while still moist and pressed at  a temperature of 130°C. The polyurethane foams and binds the components together. The parts can be removed from the mold after two minutes and deburred [Bayer Material Science]. Other potential applications for the material are roof segments, side flaps and wind deflectors for automobiles and commercial applications.

A new form of sandwich construction that breaks away from traditional glass fiber reinforced epoxy/polyester resin facings and rigid foam cores – technological breakthrough at its best.



Is wind power competitive with fossil fuels ? This has been a raging topic awhile and technological advances resulting in bigger, smarter wind turbines are taking the wind out of naysayers’ sails. Lending credence, aside other factors was the latest research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (in February) that electricity could now be supplied from a new wind farm in Australia at AUS$ 80/Mwh compared to $143 for a new coal plant or $ 116 from a new baseload natural gas plant [Think Progress]. Both EWEA and GWEC concur that onshore wind power is competitive once all costs that affect traditional energy sources – such as fuel and CO2 costs, effects on environment and health are considered. Factoring CO2 costs alone, if a cost of € 30 per tonne of CO2 emitted was applied to power produced, onshore wind energy would be the cheapest source of new power generation in Europe [Renewable Energy World]. The approach is to increase the swept area by 23-37% (by increasing rotor diameter) with a view to increasing energy yields by up to 31%. Increasing the size of wind turbine blades  and making the tower taller, allow a turbine to capture more wind, especially at low speeds.

Longer blades translate into more glass/carbon fiber….the whoosh sound transforms to music to fiber producers as they sharpen their pencils to draft new plans to augment capacity in due course !



Technical textiles (fabrics) are gaining in importance globally and their uses are becoming even more diverse. Sewing threads are hence challenged not only to sew material together, but to produce a seam that will not breakdown in the extreme environments that fabrics encounter in service. For sewing situations requiring heat resistance between 555°C  to 815°C, glass fiber threads are ideal. For higher temperatures, these may be twisted with stainless steel [Innovation in Textiles]. For lubrication, they can be coated with PTFE. For high temperature applications, aramid/steel sewing threads with a steel core is recommended. For certain high performance thermal engineering, sports surfaces and filtration, a 100% stainless steel sewing thread is available. Carbon fiber is also used for specific end uses. Sewing threads made from 70% alumina and 30% silica have a melting point of 1880°C and are useable up to 1300-1400°C. Very fine continuous filament pure fused silica is used to produce one of the strongest and most temperature and chemically resistant threads. A PTFE encapsulation enhances the thread resistance to build-up of contaminants and repeals attack by most acids and alkalis, whilst improving handling characteristics and abrasion resistance. The thread will not support combustion and will resist temperatures up to 1093°C.

A case of “horses for courses” in choice of appropriate sewing threads for (textile) fabrics/applications ?



We receive news from newspapers, the web, TV, phones. Welcome to receiving news on Wi-Fi ready GFRP trash bins that have been introduced in the city of London under a 21-year contract with the authority ! The newspaper recycling bin which doubles as an open-air information system is made of glass fiber with toughened glass at either end and designed to withstand extreme pressures. The plastic surround is made from recycled materials and has an LCD screen on which news, weather and sports reports can be shown [Forced Green]. The pods can receive feeds within 3 minutes of being advised of a breaking news event. Its not just a place for trash – there are separated areas for paper and cans. Nearly 100 of the “hi-tech” bins have been installed in London, with a similar number planned in Wall Street (New York) where one has already been installed. Hong Kong and Singapore are next in the list of proposed installations.

The English obviously have a flair for innovation… this one should be as famous as their pubs, breakfast and tea !

Breaking news…. GE has snatched the wind installation crown from Vestas as it installed more wind turbine MW capacity by a significant margin. Vestas had been the numero uno since 2000 [Financial Times]. GE breezed past Vestas, riding on the >8GW installed in Q4, 2012 in the U.S. of the ultimate 13GW. Recall how Toyota recently regained the # 1 spot from GM in the automotive sector.

Just goes to show that the top spot in any sector is always up for grabs in a competitive world. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown ?



Polypropylene (PP) prices jumped another 6 cents/lb in February in North America – a 22% increase since the New Year [Plastics News]. Propylene availability continued to be the main reason for the steep hike in PP price. The increasing use of natural gas based ethane as feedstock (in lieu of conventional naphtha) has diminished propylene supply. This trend is likely to continue at least till 2015 when the propane dehydrogenation route for propylene becomes a commercial reality through two plants proposed to be constructed. North American PP is expected to lose 12% of its demand to HDPE and polystyrene.

What does this portend for LFRT that uses PP in automotive applications ?

The European Union’s end-of-life vehicle (ELV) requirements is pushing European automakers to adopt revolutionary materials. SABIC has developed a post-industrial recycled (PIR) grade of a blend of polyamide (PA) and  modified polyphenyl ether(PPE) polymers for the bumpers of Renault’s 2013 Clio IV model that can withstand the temperatures used in automotive paint lines whilst also demonstrating strong chemical and impact resistance. The new PIR grade which is sourced from body panels, meets the required automotive quality and performance standards & reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 47% over the life cycle of the fender, compared to steel.

The principal reasons for success in increasing use of polymers and composites in automotive applications stems from a single-minded approach in adhering to regional regulations in recycling, environmental norms whilst conforming to safety and mechanical properties of various components.



If you are an iPhone buff + a tea/coffee addict (and there are several in this category!), brace yourself for a novel invention. A Netherlands firm has designed and conceptualized the UpperCup (aka, a coffee holder) – a device that enables users to text/sms confidently with both hands without having to worry about the hot beverage picked up from Starbucks! The user just slips the hot beverage in the holder which is housed along with the iPhone case and does not have to scramble to search for a place to keep the cup down, before texting [Khaleej Times]. The product is expected to be a runaway success. Caution has to be exercised when taking incoming calls – the hot coffee can spill on the phone or in your ear!

Steve Jobs must be having the last laugh at this invention that his iPhone has created. Is Samsung listening ?



World aluminum demand is strong and increasing at 6% per annum. Currently at 40 million tonnes, the demand is poised to touch 70 million tonnes by 2020. Four of the top ten aluminum producers in the world are from West Asia (Gulf region) and will account for 15 % of the world’s production by 2014. Gulf production is expected to increase to five million tonnes by 2014 [Khaleej Times]. North American and European regions are  curtailing aluminum smelter capacity due to increasing cost of operations, driven by higher energy cost.

Following the footsteps of gold, copper the red metal treaded an eight-week low in late February and is at risk of testing the October 2011 lows [CNBC]. With about 40 lbs of copper used in every car, global auto sales trends could be important in gauging where copper prices are headed. The world is watching China and the U.S. closely for trends.



Tokyo University, in collaboration with a group of leading Japanese corporations, has developed two types of low cost, high performance CFRTP prepregs for the mass production of ultra-lightweight cars that can be manufactured with fast molding cycles and are recyclable. The first product is a  discontinuous CF reinforced isotropic prepreg suitable for complex parts and the second, a continuous CF reinforced prepreg for primary structure parts such as frames. The matrix resin is primarily polypropylene (PP), though polyamide (PA) can also be used. The specially surface treated CF and modified resins provide high strength, energy absorption, formability and recyclability. Molding cycle time is under a minute. The CFRTP prepregs reportedly reduce vehicle weight by 40-70%. Their most notable feature is the ductile fracture behavior without significant delamination [Plastics Today]. It is estimated that 100kgs of CFRTP parts will equip 10 million passenger cars by 2030, thereby resulting in a potential CF demand of 1 million tonnes.

Current and potential carbon fiber wannabe manufacturers would be salivating at the prospects, though it is still a decade + away.



In my February post, I wrote about the new generation bio-polymers that would result in landfills not being an option. A world without landfills ? Not an Utopian concept, as San Francisco could possibly lead the way in becoming the first zero-waste city in the U.S. A waste-management company is working to ensure that all discarded items will be successfully recycled, reused or composted thereby rendering obsolete the need for landfills [CNBC]. The plan…soda cans to be crushed into huge blocks and sold to make more soda cans, used construction materials to be reworked and sent to new job sites and previous night’s dinner to be composted and turned into a soil nutrient that can be sold to farmers to enhance crop growth in vineyards and elsewhere.

It’s smarter to put waste back into commerce – that is the company’s motto. The future of garbage is …… no garbage, making the world a cleaner, better living place in the long run.

Tailpiece…. is Coca-Cola developing a beauty drink with a French drugmaker, that reportedly can strengthen hair, improve skin and help with weight loss [The Daily Meal] ? Per the Wall Street Journal, the drink will be a blend of mineral water, fruit juice and nutrition additives.

Readers may want to research this topic further ?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Northward trend in prices and demand….. the 2013 scenario

Hello everyone,

Welcome to another post……..



At the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last month, participants were informed that the global economy is likely to face fewer headwinds in 2013 (compared to 2012) with prospects of a modest 3.5% GDP growth. Such a forecast from the International Monetary Fund which, in the same breath, described the recovery as fragile and timid, was indeed positive news. Little wonder that the theme of the WEF meet was aptly titled “Resilient Dynamism”. The outlook for emerging markets is higher at 5.5% compared to that for the developed nations at 1.5%. Riding on growing domestic consumption, China is expected to grow at 8%.

More than a faint glimmer of hope ? You bet.



The stock market has obviously been on a tear with a raft of positive economic news in the U.S. driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average to a five-year high at the end of last week [Wall Street Journal]. Corporate earnings have been stronger than expected, the domestic economy is showing signs of improving and the construction sector is on the resurgence. The recent bullishness has also spread overseas with Japan’s Nikkei Average stringing together 12 consecutive weeks of gains and now at its highest level since April 2010. The contraction of manufacturing in the eurozone slowed down last month amid signs that the worst may be over [BBC News].

Events lending credence to the “what goes down must come up” adage ?

German machine builder Krauss Maffei has delivered machinery to produce the world’s largest long fiber  two-piece roof made of polyurethane by the RIM process for agricultural machinery that includes a long-lasting in-mold painting to boot [Plastics Today]. The superior mechanical properties and premium quality surface finish for ultra-large lightweight components could find applications in the automotive and commercial vehicle industry. Cycle time for the double shuttle mold carrier system can be around 9 to 10 min. for one of the two elements of the roof, with the ability of the upper plate of the top mold to be swiveled out by 90 degrees when the mold carrier is completely opened.

Layer-wise method is a new approach for predicting the tensile strength of discontinuous fiber reinforced composites with arbitrary fiber orientation angles. This technique assumes the discontinuous fiber-reinforced composites are identical to laminates that are composed of UD plies and have the same distribution of fiber angles over the entire laminate. The effect of fiber length on tensile strength and failure mode was studied on discontinuous carbon fiber reinforced polypropylene composites – the simulated results agreed well with those of  experiments [Sciencia]. An analytical model that was evolved based on micro-mechanics now has the capability to correctly evaluate the strength and fracture mode as effectively as the layer-wise method.


wind mills (sept 29)

The jury is out on wind energy stats for 2012. Offshore wind power installations in Europe rose by 33% in 2012: 1,166MW versus 874MW in 2011, according to the European Wind Energy Association. This is expected to increase by another 20% in 2013 as developers build bigger farms in deeper waters. EWEA forecasts grid connections to total 1,400MW this year and 1,900MW in 2014. The U.K. led installations in 2012 with 234 of the 293 new turbines, totalling 854MW [Bloomberg]. A total of 10 European nations now have 1,662 wind turbines connected in 55 wind farms at sea totaling 4,995MW, with the U.K. accounting for 59% followed by Denmark with 18%. The UK. wants to cut the cost of wind from $210 per MWh currently to $161 by 2020 in its quest to install a staggering 18,000MW offshore by the end of the decade [Fast Coexist]. Companies are developing blades 100 meters in length and carbon fiber seems to be the current option. Onshore wind energy in the U.S. led the way in renewable energy sources, with 164 new units totaling 10,689MW in 2012 in new generating capacity [North American Windpower]. Wind pulled ahead of natural gas which installed 8,746 MW of new capacity according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Authority [Think Progress]. At a tower height of 170 meters, the structure will be 270 meters tall.

Big is beautiful ? Nay, awesome in the offshore wind energy context ! No wonder, carbon fiber producers are rubbing their hands in glee at the potential.



Increase in styrene monomer price resulted in major resin producers announcing price hikes of unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resin in January. Polypropylene prices increased by $0.15/lb in January in North America with further increase likely this month [Plastics Today]. Polycarbonate prices climbed by 3% while nylon declined by the same margin [Plastics News].



Is platinum likely to have the edge over gold in 2013 ? Very likely, as currently both are trading around $1,680/ounce. Rising labor and electricity costs have resulted in closure of several mines in South Africa ( the biggest producer of platinum) leading to supply constraints. The prediction is that platinum will breach the $2,000 mark this year, ahead of gold [CNBC]. Glass fiber producers who are planning to expand existing capacity and/or set up greenfield plants would be well aware of the need to factor this aspect when they lease/purchase the precious metal.



Large diameter pipe demand in the U.S. is expected to rise 6.2% annually through 2016 from the repair and replacement of wastewater infrastructure. Both storm and sanitary sewers will continue to drive the demand for large diameter pipes for water and wastewater, accounting for one half of total demand [Plastics Today]. The need to expand oil and gas transmission lines, especially near shale plays will spur growth, according to a Freedonia Group report. While steel and HDPE remain tied at 31% apiece as the most widely used material; corrugated HDPE is expected to replace concrete pipe in many drainage applications, primarily due to ease of installation & lightweight. HDPE is projected to grow annually at 6.9 % and PVC 5.7%, through 2016. Large diameter pipes are in big demand in Europe and South America as well. Weholite HDPE pipes have a unique profiled-wall structure that enable fabrication of pipes up to 3,500mm diameter. The pipe’s smooth surface enhances flow rates compared to steel or concrete.

A leading German automotive supplier ZF who is already producing automotive brake pedal systems in glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics is currently developing a prototype of a long glass fiber reinforced transverse leaf spring within an axle system. The flexibility inherent within the plastic in the composite leaf spring eliminates the need for metal coil springs, thereby reducing complexity within the axle, whilst simultaneously reducing weight by 12-15% [Plastics News]. The company is also reported to be developing a lightweight suspension strut wheel carrier that would use a hybrid mix of materials, including plastics, which would be half the weight of a traditional steel and aluminum strut.



There is continuing work on recovery of glass fibers from GFRP sheets containing  styrene cross-linked unsaturated polyester resin, calcium carbonate (as filler) and glass fibers. This time around, pyrolysis was carried out in a helium and steam atmosphere to recover glass fibers and valuable organic pyrolysis products. Glass fibers were separated from calcium carbonate and calcium oxide by dissolving calcium salts in hydrochloric acid. Residual organic material was burnt later. Best results were obtained at a pyrolysis temperature of 600C and 700C, resulting in a large liquid fraction rich in styrene, leaving little organic residue on the glass fibers. Degradation of the polymer matrix was incomplete at 500C. At 900C the glass fibers were destroyed in the presence of calcium oxide, leaving calcium silicate as a product [Sciencia].

Would there be a SMC/BMC/DMC consortium in the making, to pool resources to render this a commercial success? Time will tell.

The global thermoset resins market is forecast to reach 95.5 million tons by 2016, primarily supported by the unsaturated polyesters (UP), phenol formaldehyde (PF) and epoxy/polyepoxide resin market segments [Plastixanz]. UP and PF account for 30% of the thermoset resins market. Europe is expected to be the fastest growing region for epoxy/polyepoxides with a CAGR of 12.5% followed by the Americas at 10.2%.



Drop-ins are materials produced from monomer building blocks from biomass feedstocks that can directly replace conventional petroleum-based products. The carbon content of plastics produced on the basis of these biomonomers originates from renewable sources, such as plants or biowaste. So what does this imply ? Potentially, all grades of PE, PP, PVC can currently be made via biobased routes as also polyamides and polyesters [Plastics Today]. The feedstocks used to produce bioplastics currently are from food crops – mainly starch or sugar derived from potato, sugarcane and beetroot. The coming years will see a shift from the so-called first generation feedstocks to second-generation feedstocks such as cellulosics. Cellulosic feedstocks consisting of crop residues, wood residues, yard waste, municipal solid waste & algae sidestep the conflicts in arable land use. They can be converted to sugars by enzymatic hydrolysis and biomass pre-treatment. Cellulosic feedstocks are already being used to produce cellulose acetate and and lignin-based polymers. Non-foodcrop based fermentable sugars will become available for energy, chemicals and polymers as biorefineries perform various process steps required to produce different bioproducts. Where biodegradability and/or compostability used to be the characteristic property of bioplastics, more biopolymers are now being developed that instead are built-to-last. Landfills will no longer be an option.

Mind blowing stuff indeed… basic polymers derived from materials other than oil is becoming a reality ! Conquering the last frontier ?



We all know that GMs Corvette was one of the earliest vehicles to use GFRP body in the 1950s. Almost 60 years later, the 2014 Corvette will come with a CFRP bonnet ( replacing the current SMC version with a weight reduction of 50% ) and roof [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. The weight reduction helps to lower the Corvette’s center of gravity, thereby improving performance. The CFRP panels come to the assembly plant ready to be painted as in the case of current SMC panels. This facilitates bringing the carbon fiber on line seamlessly.

Classic case of how technology changes with time and manufacturers embrace the same without shirking…can there be a better example than GM ?

China became home to the world’s longest high speed rail line in December 2012 with the opening of the 2,298 kilometer stretch of metal bisecting the country between Beijing in the north and Guangzhou in the south [Wall Street Journal, China].China already boasts of several firsts in numerous fields. Hence, no surprises on this one.

And the award goes to ……..


February is a big month for the entertainment industry. The Grammy Awards are due in the second week followed by the Oscars in the last week. As the world awaits the verdict, it is fair to state ….may the best in each genre bag the award.

The weather had been unpredictable for the major part of 2012 and this January, with bitter cold spells, lots of snow and even temperatures well above the freezing mark in some instances. At  the annual Groundhog day late last week; groundhog Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow, which signaled the advent of early spring….well before mid-March.

It is quixotic…. while we rely on breakthroughs entrenched in a swathe of hi-tech for scientific advancements on one side, we also turn to folklore to predict the advent of change of season that some meteorologists may find baffling.

In this fast paced world, I guess we need a healthy mix of both to keep the positive thoughts flowing and remain optimistic of the outcome.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Relentless pursuit of Innovation……..antidote to beat the economy blues

Hello all,

As cities in the U.S. battle back to normalcy in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, our hearts reach out to those affected………


Designated by the United Nations as the “International Year for Sustainable Energy for All”; the World Energy Forum was held in Dubai in the Middle East in late October. Despite increasing levels of investment in alternate energy sources and a more diversified global energy mix, fossil fuels continue to account for most of the world’s energy production. Representatives of various nations deliberated on the development of oil, natural gas and coal in the global economy as well as the accompanying environmental obstacles and ways that governments and industries are working to reduce negative externalities [AME Info].

Increased political support and private investment have made natural gas a viable automotive fuel alternative with large growth potential. At an average price per gasoline gallon equivalent in the $1- $2 range, the fuel is plentiful and affordable in the U.S., thanks to the huge success of  fracking technology. It burns more cleanly than gasoline, cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 30% and particulate matter by 95%. Currently, the fuel tank on a CNG vehicle is its most expensive single component. 3M‘s CNG tank solution reportedly combines its proprietary liner advancements, thermoplastic materials and damage resistant films to transform the pressure vessel industry. Using silica nanoparticle-enhanced epoxy resin technology, 3M plans to create CNG tanks that are 10-20% lighter with 10-20% greater capacity at lower cost compared to standard tanks while rendering them more safer and durable [Plastics Today].

The abundance of natural gas at low price has led to a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. When energy costs are affordable, factories can once again hum with greater activity.


In the relentless pursuit of energy efficiency in automobiles, the goal for design engineers is metal replacement. Per industry estimates, a weight reduction as high as 50% can be achieved with plastic-for-metal substitution. Direct replacement of die-cast aluminum in mechanical water pump housings with polypthalamide (PPA), a semi-aromatic polyamide (nylon) is now possible [Design News]. Polyamide 66 reinforced with 50% glass fiber with higher stiffness and heat ageing resistance for continuous use over 3,000hours at 220C has been an effective substitute for metal in the engine compartment. Other advantages claimed are low system costs arising out of lower processing temperature, cycle time reduction, lower energy consumption and ease of welding.

This is just another example of plastics encroaching the domain of metals in “under the hood, close-to-engine components”.

Nanotechnology is progressing by leaps and bounds. Ever come across the application of polymer-based nanocomposites containing epoxy and carbon-based nanoparticles (carbon nanotubes and graphene) as a functional coating for glass fibers ? Recent tests have shown both mechanical and electrical properties of glass fibers are significantly enhanced after nanocomposites coating. Further, when graphene is used as nanoscale filler in nanocomposites, the coating functions as a barrier layer to prevent glass fibers from environmental attacks [Sciencia].

The word “nano” has not only revolutionized  materials technology, but extended its usage to all walks of life. Even Apple could not resist tagging it as a subscript with the iPod !


Beauty and brains are an ideal (and oft desired) combo! In composites parlance, this translates to high mechanical properties and aesthetics (surface finish) not only desirable, but essential in most molded products. Wavelet Texture Analysis (WTA) is a recent technique that has been used to automatically classify the surface finish properties of two FRP construction types (clear resin and gel coat) into three quality grades. Samples were imaged and wavelet multi-scale decomposition was used to create a visual texture representation of the sample, capturing image features at different scales and orientations. Principal component analysis was used to reduce the dimensionality of the texture featured vector, permitting successful classification of the samples using only the first principal component. Feasibility of this approach as the basis for automated non-contact classification of a composite surface finish using image analysis has been validated [Sciencia].


Fiber & resin producers and processors acknowledge the need for faster cycle times in automotive mass production. BASF and SGL are jointly working on  a cost-effective Thermoplastic Resin Transfer Molding (T-RTM) process as well as Reactive Injection Molding (RIM) that permits shorter processing cycles than conventional thermosetting RTM. To achieve good wetting of the carbon fiber and shorter cycle times in T-RTM or RIM, low-viscosity highly reactive caprolactum ( precursor for polyamide) is contemplated in order to obtain optimal bonding of the polyamide to the fiber through suitable fiber surface treatment [Plastics Today].

The key to technological breakthroughs is to start from first principles. Right? History is replete with pathbreaking  success stories of similar innovations that have revolutionized the industry.

Improvements in tensile strength by as much as 500% has been reportedly achieved by laterally cross-linking a polyurethane (PU) co-polymer with an extra MDI – a more rigid polycarbonate diol replacing conventional polytetramethylene glycol as the soft segment. The impact of possible molecular interaction between polycarbonate soft segment and lateral cross-linking results in a structural change. Shape recovery was over 90% [Sciencia].


Materials technology never ceases to amaze us.General Motors (GM) is using a blend of chopped carbon and glass fibers coupled with  proprietary nanoclay technology in a SMC application for the 2013 Corvette. Two blends of 15% by volume of chopped CF with 30% GF as well as inverse ratio in a nano-based resin system were tested. There was a 36% mass savings over traditional SMC for the parts involved that included floor, rear surround and wheel housings. Total weight saving was 15 lbs before addition of any hardware to the components. The shape (more corkscrew than platelet) of the nano clay structures contributed significantly to the strength of the parts [Plastics Today].

While on the subject of the automotive sector, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) recently touted the results of a life-cycle analysis that shows lighter weight plastic auto parts not only save fuel, but the fuel savings outweigh any impact from producing those parts. The ACC’s Plastics Division used two parts already in production – a front support bolster on 2010 Ford‘s Taurus sedan (46% lighter than a plastics & steel bolster) and the running board (51% lighter than a steel counterpart) on GM’s 2008 Chevrolet Trailblazer. While considering the environmental impacts of the bolster and running board at each stage of the product’s life cycle; including energy used during their production, product manufacturing impacts, product use and end-of-life treatment of parts; the study showed that lightweighting the running board would reduce energy use by 2.7 million gallons of gasoline over the vehicle lifespan, while reducing the weight of an all-plastic bolster would reduce energy by 770,000 gallons [Plastics News].

This just goes to prove the multifarious spin-offs of weight reduction in automobiles.


The United Kingdom & South Korea have teamed up on the U.K.-Korea Ocean Energy Technology Co-operation Project in the footsteps of another agreement signed earlier this year between Renewable UK and the Korean Wind Energy Association.While the U.K. is the acknowledged world leader in offshore wind energy capacity  with 1,858 MW online (as of June 2012), it also has 2,359 MW under construction and more than 42,000 MW in the pipeline. South Korea has 2,500MW of offshore windpower under development with plans to build a 100 MW wind farm by 2014, a 400 MW project by 2014 and 2,000 MW development by 2019 [Renewable Energy World].

It is heartening to note that fostering of regional co-operation is enabling propagation of wind energy, with the U.K. sharing its expertise and knowledge for the benefit of the Asian giant.


Proponents of wind energy continue to tout its plus points to counter the perennial naysayers. Gas accounts for 48% of the U.K.’s electricity supply. Of the 372 TW hours of electricity it produces per year, 54% is lost as heat. Coal accounts for 28% producing 297 TWh and loses a higher proportion – 66%. Nuclear accounting for 16% of the energy supply with 162TWh, loses 65% and oil, with 3% of the supply, loses 77%. In contrast, renewable energy that accounts for 4% of the U.K.’s electricity supply producing 14TWh, loses less than 1% [Think Progress].

To industry observers, such debates on the pros and cons are obviously endless.

A German company [EPIC Polymers] is commissioning a new 4,000 Tons/year LFT production line in Q4, 2012 using an innovative impregnation technology with focus on high performance plastics such as polyamide (PA) and polythalamide (PPA). The fibers would include long-glass, carbon and aramid as well as tribologically modified grades and electrically & thermally conductive grades [Plastics Today].


In mid-October, European Bioplastics released its annual market forecast. Worldwide production capacity for bio-plastics is forecast to increase more than five-fold from 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 to 5.8 million tonnes by 2016. Chemically identical bio-based versions of conventional materials derived from renewable building blocks instead of from petrochemical sources, are stated to be enjoying robust growth. Leading the field is partially bio-based PET which already accounts for approximately 40% of global bio-plastics production capacity. Second in place is bio-based PE constituting more than 4% production capacity. The preferred locations for new production sites are South America and Asia with Europe and North America serving as R&D hubs [Plastics Today].

Shale-gas boom in the U.S. (due mainly to the success of fracking) is expected to add enough ethane/propane to expand light olefin derivative production between 2014-16 to the tune of 6-10 billion pounds. This could result in the U.S. being a key supplier of polyethylene (PE) to the rest of the world. Industries in Mexico and Latin America are expected to benefit to a great extent through the availability of plastics for different market segments [Plastics News].

As stated in my June post, PE (at the expense of PP) could be a game changer in the coming years – both in terms of increased applications and, possibly price.


The changes that  can occur in GFRP composites with ageing can affect its application, performance and lifetime. Hygrothermal ageing (accelerated ageing by moisture absorption and temperature change) is a very useful technique to evaluate durability of GFRP in a reasonable time frame. Dynamic mechanical thermal analysis (DMTA) is able to detect all changes in the state of molecular motion in polymeric composites, as temperature is scanned. In one such study, pultruded GFRP rebars were  subject to accelerated ageing in an alkaline aqueous environment at 6C for 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 months to evaluate the changes in glass transition temperature. Five different glass transitions at an average temperature range from 11 to 165C were observed at storage modulus, loss modulus and damping factor traces of DMTA. It was observed that the glass transition temperature changed up to a maximum of 6C compared with that of the control sample and believed to be due to moisture absorption by the rebars. No evidence of  degradation of GFRP was observed after 6 months of hygrothermal ageing [Sciencia].


What happens when leading like-minded majors like Coca-Cola, Ford, Heinz, Nike and Procter & Gamble, all with strong R&D resources; join forces to accelerate the development of and use of 100% plant-based PET materials in their products. These five brands have formed the Plant PET Technology Collaborative (PTC) to support new technologies  to evolve today’s material that is partially made from plants to a solution made entirely from plants. Currently Heinz licenses the technology from Coca-Cola (PET beverage bottles made partially from plants) to select ketchup bottles in the U.S. and Canada [Plastics Today].

The resulting synergistic R&D of the five multinational companies spells success from the word go !


Climate and weather patterns are changing natural water patterns. Industrial pollution is making water a scarce commodity. It is therefore not surprising that water has been rightly dubbed the gold  for investors in the 21st century. In terms of consumption, according to Fortune; globally, agriculture accounts for 71%, industry 16% for a total of 87% of all water used. Thanks to innovative superfine filters, 20 % of Singapore’s drinking water comes from processed sewage. While desalination plants are common in the Middle East, one in America is underway [Yahoo Finance]. It is common knowledge that plastics & GFRP are used to a large extent in transportation and treatment of water. Little wonder that the number of pipe manufacturers (be it PVC, HDPE, GFRP)  is always on the rise and this trend, obviously, will continue for several decades.

Water…the elixir of life ?


The Dubai Mall is the largest retail destination in the world and boasts of numerous applications of GFRP running into several hundred meters of skylighting and tonnes of composites. Dubai  is now home to the world’s largest department store dedicated exclusively to shoes ! The new 96,000 square feet store contains 15,000 pairs of shoes (for men and women) across around 250 different brands. The previous record holder was Macy’s 39,000 square feet shoe store in Manhattan, U.S.[Arabian Business].

So much for the luxury market and the fiscal might of petrodollars !

We shall be back with the next post in early January 2013 !

Till then,

Happy holidays !

S. Sundaram



Polymeric Composites seemingly on a roll….despite market mayhem

Hello everyone,

Is your finger on the panic button ?


The heat is on in more ways than one – the question uppermost in many minds is whether the summer of 2012 has ominous overtones reminiscent of 2008. Should the eurozone prepare an emergency plan? Would events in Greece trigger financial fright in Spain, Italy and across the eurozone, pushing Europe into a danger zone [Financial Times] ? Are we likely to witness printing of the drachma yet again?  The U.S. which appeared to be coasting along, surprisingly witnessed weak job gains in May – speculations are rife that the economy may be slowing, likening it to the third sequel to a summer horror movie, following two summers of a double dip scare [CNBC]. The fact that there have been definite pointers to the slowdown in China’s manufacturing and growth coupled with a lower-than-expected weak growth in India’s GDP in Q1 lends credence to the possibility of a global economic slowdown.

Are we better off in being less indulgent on crystal ball gazing and just embracing events as they unfold so that no shock is greater than it’s predecessor? Seems logical.


The spate of price increases announced by thermoset resin producers in early Q2, was followed by a couple of leading glass fiber producers announcing price hikes  to the tune of 5-7 % with the justified rhetoric of the need to re-invest in capital intensive glass fiber manufacturing. Platinum has a major role in this investment with prices heading south and off it’s 2012 high. Though a tad shy of the $1500 mark, it is expected to end the year at $1700. Another precious metal, gold appears to be having an identity crisis with a fourth straight monthly decline, attributed largely to the liquidity problems and global cash crunch crisis [Yahoo Finance].

If you thought that gold was a safe haven……


Composites account for 53% of materials in the Airbus A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body), aluminum for 19% and steel for 14%. In a classic example of metal substitution, stamp formed clips made in carbon fabric reinforced PPS (Polyphenylene Sulfide) thermoplastic sheet (made by a unique folding process over three axes !) substitute as much as 3.5 million small aluminum parts. The clips are for the upper shell of the A350 and hold the aircraft’s frame to the stringer, over which a CFRP skin is applied [Plastics News]. The patented stamping process cuts parts weight by 40-50%. The 13-meter long four-paneled fuselage segment is also in CFRP.

Flying light while flying high has exponential benefits as travellers would readily agree.


Closer to earth, composite bogie frames (railway sector) made of woven glass fabrics and epoxy resin have been successfully developed by the Korean Railroad Research Institute [KRRI]. Compared to conventional steel frames, a 30% weight saving corresponding to 635kgs  is reported to have been achieved. The bogie frame in railway rolling stock supports heavy static and dynamic loads such as vertical load exerted by the body of vehicle, braking and accelerating loads, twisting load induced by track twisting/turning and traction loads. Reduction of axle load is a key objective as one aspires to develop high-speed and high-capacity trains. The GFRP bogie frame has reportedly passed fatigue tests under a repeated loading of 107 cycles. This development has the potential for 6,000 subway trains with 10 carriages each to be equipped with the GFRP bogie  frame in Korea [Plastics Today].

The GCC countries are forging ahead with railway projects worth $103 billion linking the six Gulf nations and spanning 2,200kms. An era in the making where composite bogie frames can dominate the rail sector as the preferred material of construction ?

Sandvik’s double belt isobaric (constant pressure) and isochoric (consistent press gap) presses enable pressure, heating and cooling incorporation in a single continuous process with short cycles, thereby improving productivity. The presses are used in production of carbon and glass fiber based prepregs and for the compression of glass fiber/carbon fiber mat, web or cross-ply with thermoplastics. Isobaric presses are ideal  for production of thin products and composites. Isochoric presses are used for sheet casting (artificial stones, marble tiles), sheet molding and laminating applications.


An Australian-designed-and built FR-1 concept roadster features a monocoque cockpit chassis “molded out-of-autoclave ” at a temperature of only 70C using an epoxy prepreg with a 200grams/sq met carbon fiber fabric [Plastics Today]. Measuring 2 met x 1.5 met, the chassis weighs only 80kgs while still providing the required high torsional rigidity. Mitsubishi Chemical  exhibited a concept vehicle at Chinaplas 2012 employing a CFRP composite (with epoxy resin) in the body with a low co-efficient of thermal expansion on par with aluminum and weighing just 490kgs. CF reinforced thermoplastics is also under consideration. A glass mat thermoplastic foam is used in the underbody of the car, while an aluminum-plastic composite is used where heat dissipation is required.

Cost may be less of a consideration for concept vehicles when it comes to lightweight materials. However it is the design considerations, choice of materials and processing characteristics that lend to extrapolation of the concept to conventional sedans.

A new high-impact semi-rigid grade of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) as a cost-effective alternative to thermoplastic olefins (TPOs) and thermoplastic vulcanizates (TPVs) can now be used for trim rings and panels for electronic consumer products and transportation equipment as well as interior instrumentation where durability, abrasion resistance and impact isolation are also required. The new TPE is claimed to perform well in part designs that require various screw bosses and gusset-reinforced screw boss designs and also finds use in applications that require rubber-like properties, impact resistance, colorability and good surface finish [Plastics Today].


Chemical coupling has been in vogue for decades especially for non-polar thermoplastics such as PP and PE with the prime objective of improving adhesion. Efforts to improve properties of short glass fiber reinforced PP continue unabated. Asahi Kasei Plastics claims that it’s special short glass fiber reinforced grades have advanced chemical coupling technology that can replace LFRT  with potential use in door modules, motor housings, sunroof frames and can also be an effective high-temperature resistant alternative to polyamide 6 & 6/6 for air-intake manifolds and under-the-hood automotive applications.

The battle lines are clearly drawn between short and long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics – may the better product win depending on the application and performance.


Global installed wind power capacity continued to grow in 2011, albeit at a slightly lower rate than in 2009 and 2010. China led the way with a 43% share of global capacity additions in 2011, followed by the U.S. at 17%, India with 5% and Germany at 5%. The Levelized Cost of Electricity(LCOE) is often used as the barometer to estimate cost of electricity the utility way. It is the average cost over the lifespan of the project, initial investment + operation and maintenance costs,not including externalities. The cost of electricity generated from wind is currently at record lows. Several  projects in high resource areas such as U.S., Brazil, Sweden, Mexico display a LCOE (excluding impact of subsidies, but after including cost of capital and maintenance) below $ 68/MWh. The comparison in $/KWh translates to less than $0.068/KWh for wind, $0.067/KWh for coal and $0.056/KWh for gas-fired power. LCOE for wind projects are often based on a 20-year lifetime for wind turbines [Clean Technica]. Although the U.S. lags behind Europe and China in offshore wind power capacity, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to make available $180 million over the next six years to support up to four innovative wind farms off the coasts or in the Great Lakes.

Apparently, offshore wind power (in the >4MW/turbine range) is the future. It makes no difference to composites as, in any case, carbon and glass fibers (possibly in that order of priority) would be used for the turbine blades.


Shale-gas revolution in the U.S. has resulted in record natural gas price lows (as reported in earlier posts). This should translate into more ethylene in the future. Exxon‘s latest announcement [Plastics News] of its expansion plans that involve a new ethane cracker (with natural gas as feedstock) follows that by Dow a few months earlier. Plastics and chemicals are poised for a big boost with the success of shale gas fracking technology.

North American prices for PE, PP and PVC tumbled in May due to a dual combination of uncertain demand scenario & increasing feedstock supplies, in sharp contrast to Q1. The grapevine indicates a further drop in PP price in June.

Volatility in thermoplastics pricing ? That would be an understatement !


Metals such as copper and aluminum are in for a torrid time. Copper prices dipped 12% in May. The fact that China, the world’s largest producer of aluminum has idled almost a million metric tons of production in it’s top producing province says it all. Aluminum prices have also dropped significantly. Norsk Hydro latest announcement last week of closure of a smelter in Australia has added to the metal’s woes [CNBC].

First it was copper and now aluminum, not to mention precious metals (gold, platinum). What’s happening  to the metals’ market ? Composites, however, are known for their “resilience”  and there is less cause for concern on the price front, hopefully.


With increasing use of  CFRP, post-finishing operations can be less of a hassle by adopting faster, flexible technologies such as laser cutting in spite of the challenges faced with the anisotropic and heterogeneous features of  the composite. Tests on the cut performance of a 3mm CFRP sheet using CO2 laser cutting machine (widely used in metal cutting) showed cuts with a minimum heat affected zone (about 540 micron meter) in pulsed mode. In consequence, the CFRP strength remains practically unaffected compared to more conventional mechanical machining [Sciencia].


Plans are afoot to construct a luxury underwater hotel in Dubai to provide travelers closer and better ocean views [Bloomberg Businessweek]. Described as Dubai’s extravagance, the hotel would be surrounded by a coral reef with large windows and an underwater diving center. Rooms would be 10 meters below the surface and the hotel can rotate. Designed as if it were a ship rather than a building, a large disc-shaped structure above the water will have a spa, garden and upper-terrace swimming pool for guests who do not want to be in the ocean.

A penny (nay dollar!) for your thoughts on possible components in composites ? Dream big and deep !

If you fancy something different than the standard Magic Mouse from Apple, try the carbon fiber Magic Mouse (available only in the U.S.) that will set you back $99 [Composites Today].

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



” United we stand “……Materials co-existence a given !

Hello again,

Ouch ! I realized rather belatedly, that henceforth it would be best not to comment on the weather…which almost rendered a U-turn since my last post with many parts of North America receiving several inches of snow in late February and Europe simultaneously witnessing a tapering off – a balancing act, in the ultimate analysis ?


There appears to be a silver lining in the eurozone with the European Commission predicting that the economy will contract by 0.3% in 2012 and signs of stabilization in the latter half of the year [BBC News/Business]. The latest infusion by the European Central Bank [ECB] of more than 530 billion euros  across the European Union should help banks improve their liquidity. The U.S. economy is forecast to grow at 2.2-2.5% this year, going by current trends. GDP in the GCC region is expected to grow more than 4% with Qatar topping the list at 7% [Trade Arabia]. China’s GDP is expected to be in the 8-9% range and India 7-8%….possibly on the lower side in both cases. Overall, global GDP is projected to grow at 3.4% this year.

It is hoped that the global economy, as a whole, will have a soft landing in 2012.

Composites continue to make waves in non-exotic applications. The latest example is its use in carry-on luggage made of a 100% Polypropylene thermoplastic composite that can soon rival Polycarbonate.The advantages claimed are superior impact resistance and stiffness + light weight over even other thermoplastics composites – mainly derived from an engineered polypropylene tape yarn with a highly drawn core for strength properties within a lower melt polymer matrix for composite processing [Composites Today].The icing on the cake is that it is fully recyclable.


And now to the more exotic…. prototype helicopters that deploy carbon fiber reinforced composite materials in both the aircraft structure and the blades are expected to be evaluated by the U.S Army.The light tactical military helicopters reportedly achieve twice the average cruise speed of a conventional helicopter, apart from significant improvements in maneuverability, hover efficiency, high/hot climate performance [Design News]. Cruise speeds of 253mph and dash speeds of 276mph are stated to be practical.

Glass and carbon fiber based non-crimp fabrics find considerable use in aerospace composites.Typically,CF based composites for aerospace applications are very strong in one direction and weak in the other direction. Hence it is common industry practice to manufacture components with layers stacked together and oriented in different directions. An international consortium has developed a new type of carbon fiber composite…a thin-ply,bi-angle non crimp fabric which uses non-woven fabric architecture and delivers three-fold increase in tensile strength over conventional woven carbon fiber fabrics using resin infusion [Design News].

Not surprisingly, geometry (that we learnt at school) still plays a vital role in improving mechanical properties of composites through change in orientation of plies. Fabrics designed with different orientations and resulting composites are all about understanding the fundamentals of geometry.

Old school still rules !  


It is an accepted fact that rising fuel-economy performance is fundamentally changing the way cars and trucks are made in the U.S. and, to a certain extent, Europe. Interestingly, a Q3, 2011 survey sponsored by Du Pont showed that nearly 73 % of respondents opined aluminum would be most helpful in meeting the 54.5 mpg fuel economy by 2025 [Plastics News]. Plastics and carbon fiber composites came a close second at 68% followed by elastomers and fiber-reinforcement (possibly an oblique reference to GFRP) at 60% ahead of two familiar metals – high strength steel (59%) and magnesium (43%) [WardsAuto Industry Study].

Does one need further substantiation of the fact that when it comes to lightweighting in automotive applications; aluminum, plastics and composites are required to co-exist in a “live-and-let-live” scenario ?

While the volatility in Polypropylene (PP) pricing plays havoc with the North American market, development of new applications in PP continue unabated in Asia. Working jointly with the Japan Polypropylene Corporation, Mazda has commercialiazed a technology enabling 20% weight saving in bumpers using  PP-rubber impact modifying compounds of differing molecular weights that forms a two-layer structure when injection molded. Molding cycle time has been halved [Mazda] leading to major reduction in energy consumed in the production process. Molded bumpers are thinner than those with conventional resin with the surface displaying excellent paint film adhesion while the inner section retains high rigidity and impact absorption [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

The Japanese yen (pun intended) for revolutionary, path-breaking innovation remains unabated in spite of a strong currency that  continues to haunt it’s exports. 


PP still continues to be a designers’ delight. Ikea, the international retail furniture giant, has developed 100% recyclable pallets made from PP co-polymer to replace traditional wooden pallets. The plastic pallets weigh less than two pounds, are less susceptible to moisture, maintain stiffness and reportedly decrease costs associated with labor, fuel, packaging and product damage [Plastics Today].

More on non-halogenated flame retardants….. Japanese resin supplier Kaneka claims an industry first with the development of a flame-retardant glass fiber reinforced PET that incorporates a non-halogenated flame retardant which can be used in environments up to temperatures of 150C. Injection molded components of this grade find applications in electronics, appliances/business machines and the automotive/rail transportation sectors [Plastics Today].


Hobas, a leading producer of centrifugally cast GFRP pipes has successfully teamed up with a German recycling equipment manufacturer to design a machine that can crush the GFRP production waste to fine particles. Rotating chains in the recycling machine whip up a whirlwind which accelerates the waste pieces to high speeds.The force of the pieces colliding with one another reduces the material to fine particles in seconds.This is then passed over a filter, poured into containers and ready for supply as input to the cement industry. Only a few oversized pieces remain and these are guided back to be fed into the crusher a second time. The two companies have been able to quadruple the throughput of the high-speed shredder and significantly reduce wear costs [Waste Management World].

As a leader in centrifugal casting of GFRP pipes, Hobas’s commitment in finding a successful commercial solution in recycling  composite waste that serves the cement industry is praiseworthy.


While the U.S. wind energy industry anxiously waits for news on extension of the PTC in an election year; the UK is surging ahead with plans to become the leading exporter of wave and tidal power. UK is currently the numero uno in offshore wind power. A recent report released by the Energy and Climate Change Committee [ECC] claims that seven of the eight prototypes installed worldwide are in UK waters, making the country the leader in wave & tidal energy technologies. Marine power is expected to provide up to 27GW of capacity in the UK by 2050, with a target to reduce cost of marine energy to 14 pence per kWH by 2020 [The Guardian]. The focus on renewable power generation in the region is unwavering as evidenced by the announcement last month of another new electricity link (subsea connector due to be online by 2016) between Scotland and England that would facilitate the UK to meet it’s carbon cutting targets [EWEA]. The manner in which Europe, in general and the UK, in particular are systematically planning and executing renewable energy infrastructure paraphernalia is indeed commendable and makes for an excellent case study.

Compare this with a recent column in the Economist that discusses how Asian growth will remain fueled by coal, as renewable energy sources such as wind and solar generation do not afford electricity on a large enough scale.

We are now in a golden age of (natural ) gas.The technological success of hydraulic fracturing in the U.S. that has resulted in an abundance of natural gas [and hence, ethane] could have significant impact on the polymer industry in NA. But  this pioneering technology has also resulted in productive natural gas finds from China to the Middle East [CNBC].

Does this mean that we can expect a revolutionary shift in Polypropylene and Polyethylene usage globally, with a preponderance of the latter ?

Time will tell…..

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Choice of Materials for Applications ……..Options aplenty !

Hello everyone ,

Nature’s unpredictability is at the fore again. Several parts of Europe are battered by bitter cold and snow as we speak, while many regions in North America are being blessed with unusually balmy weather (and bereft of snow) at this time of the year – with even predictions of an early spring. Can weather be more fickle ?

Statistics released late last week indicate a semblance of slow recovery in the U.S. and one hopes that the trend continues through H1, from a holistic perspective. The eurozone is also not worse off since my last post, which is good news. China’s manufacturing, though lukemarm, is not too much cause for concern at this point of time – a pullback from the boom years; but, nevertheless impressive.

The global economy is in repair mode and it would take time for the scars to heal. Predictions are for better growth in 2012 compared to 2011 and that is something to cheer about, for sure. Stock markets have vindicated such a trend thus far. 


The Canadian Government predicts that it will spend $74 billion to repair and maintain concrete bridges across the country [Composites Manufacturing]. Recent advances in reinforcing  concrete with GFRP could extend life of the structure to 100 years or more compared to steel-reinforced concrete,which would require major restoration after 25 years. Interesting data comparing the shear capacity of GFRP flat slabs with steel while be shared at the Composites 2012 shown in Las Vegas later this month. The CSAS 806 standard for designing and retrofitting with FRP reinforcement is proposed to be updated and the design codes completed by the year end.

Composites and concrete ….. the synergy extends more than just the common alphabets !

“Automakers race to lose weight “…thus read the headline in a recent issue of Chicago Tribune. Apart from the continuing efforts in making cars lighter; tightening up of regulations for reducing emissions by 2020 makes it necessary for breakthrough solutions. Electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids predominantly made of carbon fiber composites could be available from 2013. BMW is reportedly working to cut costs to a point where CFRP costs will be level with aluminum based on economies of scale. Recently, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) announced the Advanced Clean Cars program designed to reduce smog-causing pollutants and expected to lead to increased sale of zero-emission and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for model years 2017 to 2025 [Composites World].

When it comes to environmental awareness in reducing carbon emission, the whole world stands united.


Ever since international regulators approved the type of biofuel derived from biosynthetic kerosene and standard aviation fuel mix in late H1,2011; there have been a spate of “green flights”. Lufthansa‘s successful transatlantic flight last month from Frankfurt to Washington that burned 40 tons of a biofuel mix  resulted in a net reduction of 38 tons of carbon emissions – logic being that the carbon emitted during the flight was offset by carbon absorbed by the plants grown to produce the biofuel [Forbes].

An European mandate in the making that requires all jets that land or take off from the EU countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or buy credits to offset their carbon spew ?

Carbon and glass fibers are not the only reinforcements that witness constant improvements in mechanicals and processing capabilities due to developments in morphology. Treatment of aramid fibers in coupling agents’ solutions by gamma-ray co-irradiation, resulted in improvements in the interlaminar shear strength (ILSS) of aramid fiber/epoxy composites [Sciencia]. The irradiation technique enhanced the wettability of the fibers, improved interfacial adhesion, increased polar groups at the fiber surface and upped tensile strength.


That’s not all on aramid… if you thought that only carbon fiber was black, here is an interesting update. Teijin recently announced production of what it claims to be the first all-black high performance aramid fiber wherein the fiber is injected with a black dye in the process. Mechanical properties are said to be the same as the traditional yellow fibers [Compounding World].

Teasing and mind-boggling ? I am still endeavoring to find an apt word in the lexicon  to describe such pathbreaking developments !  All black reinforcing fibers are not necessarily carbon. Huh?

More exciting news on the thermoplastics front… The development of a non-brominated flame retardant system for Polypropylene (PP) based on synthesized mineral-based additives that demonstrates better extinguishing results marks a significant breakthrough [Plastics News]. The new product contains no decabromo or antimony and exceeds testing standards of UL 94 and ANSI 4996 for pellets and can be injection/blow molded and processed by extrusion.


Polycarbonate (PC) processors should have news to cheer about – it’s bane has been low scratch resistance. Dow announced last week  the development of an anti-scratch additive for compounding with PC to compete with UV-light cured PC hard coatings [Plastics News]. This solution eliminates a hard coating (usually an acrylic monomer) and cuts the cost by 50% to obtain a hardened PC.  Product commercialization is anticipated in the latter half this year. Potential applications for the additive-enhanced PC include automotive components (knobs,dashboards and eyeglass optics) and electronic-device housings and touch screens.


And now a wrap-up on resin prices.. In thermoplastics, PP prices jumped marginally last week (February trends) due to limited availability and soaring feedstock costs. PE remained steady [Plastics Today]. On thermosets, leading resin producers have announced price increases for pigmented resins and gel coats + unsaturated polyesters/vinyl esters for the NA and  European markets due to rising costs of oil-based feedstock raw materials and titanium dioxide prices.

Northbound, ahoy….resin prices !

The corrosion behavior of aluminum alloys in ethanol fuels has thrown up some interesting findings. Immersion and polarization tests in ethanol-blended gasoline fuels at various ethanol & water contents and various temperatures revealed a pronounced acceleration of the corrosion process above the boiling point as evidenced by electrochemical and gravimetric measurements. While increasing the ethanol content and temperature leads to a higher corrosion sensitivity of the aluminum alloys, addition of water restrains corrosion. A chemically-deposited nickel layer in one of the alloys displays greater protection [Sciencia].


The aluminum industry in the GCC region is on the brink of becoming a leading global contributor with 13% of  the global production by 2013, according to Deloitte, Middle East …up from 7% in 2010. The affordability of power and labor in the GCC region  is conducive to investment, considering the aluminum industry is highly energy-intensive. While  smelter capacity in the # 1 user China will continue to rise rapidly in coming years; as time wears on, it will be less able to satisfy its vast domestic needs [Trade Arabia News].

Shifting geographic trends arising out of increasing cost of utilities & labor in developed nations ? That’s the need of the hour born out of sheer necessity.


The levelized cost of wind energy is headed towards an all-time low of $0.03/Kwh in the best wind resource sites per February 2012 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL] and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory[LBNL]. These numbers are however dependent on the continuation of current federal tax incentives, such as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) in the U.S.[North American Wind Power].


Some analysts have called banks the canary in the coalmine, saying they can predict on recovery of the economy. One analyst differed, stating that the banks in Europe are the grenade, not the canary, as they are the ones who can fix it earlier or make it worse [CNBC].

Right now, banks are doing the balancing act and it appears to be paying off ! What can be better news?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram