Category Archives: Building & Construction

Technology & design expertise enabling composites scale new frontiers

Hello all,

Welcome to another post……

Fingers crossed


We are midway through the second quarter of 2016.The global economy continues to send mixed signals that basically stem from the rise and fall of crude oil price resembling more of a W-curve. The one thing that is certain in this fuzzy scenario is that not many have a clear idea as to how the oil price range will pan out for the rest of the year and going further into 2017, plus the fact that it is unlikely to breach $100 anytime before 2020. It will be foolhardy to make any predictions beyond the end of this decade. Geopolitics aside, nature has its own uncanny way of influencing oil prices marginally – case in point is the recent wildfire in the oil sands province of Western Canada affecting output of over one million barrels per day.

Growth is back, albeit…

Stay optimistic on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

World trade is down 0.4% this year on a volume basis and by 3.8% in dollar terms [Newsmax]. In early May, the World Bank lowered their 2016 global GDP forecast from 2.9% to 2.5%. The latest JP Morgan-Markit global manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) showed the weakest quarterly performance (1Q 2016) in years. The good news however is that the global economy is slowing down and not contracting. The eurozone has actually experienced growth above its long-term average for the past six quarters – this is forecast to continue over the next two years as Europe stages a measured comeback [Export Development Canada].

The common view is that growth is back, though not seen by many. Above all the gloom and doom on the oil front, hope is the current elixir of the global economy.

Moving on…..

2015 – a record year for wind power


The Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016 report was released in end March by the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Center for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). The report showed that the 2015 renewable energy market was dominated by solar photovoltaics and wind, which together added 118GW in generating capacity – far above the previous record of 94GW in 2014. Wind added 62GW and photovoltaics 56GW [United Nations News Center]. 2015 witnessed a 22% increase in wind power installations over 2014, globally. With around 433GW of cummulative wind power towards the end of last year, this source of renewable energy supplied more new power generation than any other technology in 2015, according to the International Energy Agency [Global Wind Energy Council].

US – offshore wind debut


When it comes to offshore wind farms, Europe is years ahead compared to the rest of the world. Construction of the US’s first offshore wind farm in Rhode Island began in 2015 and is due to be completed by the end of this year [Gizmag]. The wind farm’s 30MW capacity will be met by five 6MW turbines from GE – turbine diameter is in the 150-meter range. Around 125,000MWh of electricity can be produced annually, once the wind farm is commissioned. Great news for carbon fiber and glass fiber producers.

Better late than never when it comes to the US nursing ambitions in offshore wind energy.

Resin chemistry – up to the challenge


The spray-up technique for molding GFRP products using a chopper gun has been prevalent for decades in spite of VOC (volatile organic compounds) issues such as conformance to environmental regulations such as MACT (Maximum Achievable Control Technology) Standards laid down by EPA. A recently developed VOC-free polyurea resin offers an affordable, non-toxic solution with a cure time under 60 minutes and drying time less than 30 seconds [Plastics Today]. Spraying is achieved with a plural component spray gun connected to a long heated hose and pump. The structural polyurea components are mixed in the spray gun nozzle during application – hence pre-mixing is dispensed with and there is essentially no waste. The polyurea product is reportedly waterproof while exhibiting superior physical properties such as hardness, high elongation and tensile strength.

Chemistry has been in the forefront in several breakthroughs involving thermosetting resins for composites processing over the years. This trend will continue in the foreseeable future too.

Composites – designer’s delight


Judicious choice of the form of fibrous reinforcement (whether as unidirectional roving, woven or multiaxial fabrics and combinations thereof) is the key to maximizing strength of composites without cost premium – designers will testify to this aspect. Flexibility in design has always been a much touted plus point of composites vis-a-vis metals. A recent example was the solution (by a car manufacturer) to reinforce a battery box molded from DLFT (direct long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic) wherein PP was the thermoplastic matrix. By itself, the DLFT compression molded product was unable to meet the crash test requirement stipulation that a 29kg battery was not allowed to break through the console wall at an impact speed of 50.4km/hour – equivalent to a force of around 45 times that of gravity [Plastics Today]. The solution lay in using a 320x230mm, 0.5mm thick insert consisting of a single-layer fabric containing 47% by volume of continuous glass fiber roving predominantly aligned in the same direction that was fully consolidated, impregnated and embedded in a PP matrix [Bond Laminates]. The original insert based on a consolidated hybrid yarn fabric made of glass and PP fibers could not satisfy the impact requirement of high and low temperatures that necessitated the switch to the new insert with higher strength, stiffness and toughness over a broader temperature range (-30°C to +85°C). The replacement (insert) composite was around 8-9 times more impact resistant at room temperature than a pure DLFT-PP based compression molding compound. The stiffness was also six times greater and portends extended applications to components where a high degree of crash resistance is a key performance requirement.

Another classic, successful example of the permutations and combinations possible with fibrous reinforcements and their forms to result in an optimum design.

CNG – to the fore


The shift to CNG powered vehicles in general and trucks, in particular, is gaining momentum. UPS announced its intention in 2012 to purchase 150 composite-body vehicles as a way to reduce fuel consumption. It is now deepening its commitment to natural gas as a vehicle fuel with new CNG-fueled tractors and 12 new CNG fueling facilities [Fleets and Fuels]. This is in tune with its goal of logging one billion miles with its alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet by 2017. The CNG will be stored in four carbon fiber-wrapped composite cylinders [Hexagon] neck-mounted with anti-spin design to eliminate tank rotation that can stress fuel lines.

Leaders walk the talk and UPS is doing exactly that.

Conquering the next frontier


The composites industry is leaving no stone unturned in popularizing the widespread use of carbon fiber through innovative developments in resins and processing techniques. Current-day embryonic R&D work in general, sets the prospects of commercialization several years down the line. The same is the case in the application of metallocene catalysis for isotactic PP (iPP) in-situ to form multiwall carbon nanotube (MWCNT) composites [Plastics Today]. It has been found that 20-nm CNT fibers as well as silica -based glass fibers can immobilize the molecular methylaluminoxane (MAO) component of the metallocene catalyst system on their surfaces, resulting in high molecular weight iPP being polymerized and adsorbed over entire fiber surfaces. It is well known that adsorption has very close connotation to adhesion – in other words, adsorption is the accumulation and adhesion of molecules, ions, atoms. The composites thereby formed in-situ exhibit double the stiffness of unreinforced iPP with a MWCNT loading of just 2-3%. Molded composite parts are more likely to return to their original shapes if impacted (compared to conventional composites) in view of the inherent thermal properties of the iPP. The ability of these composites in absorbing impact energy is 4-5 times better than steel – thereby leading to safer vehicles.

Could this development accelerate further use of CFRP in automotive in the next decade?

Seismic reinforcement – a marvel

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The practice in use of carbon fiber composites for seismic retrofits continues to be in vogue. The former head office building of Komatsu Seiren has been renovated with the world’s first seismic reinforcement that uses a thermoplastic carbon fiber composite as the seismic reinforcing material. It uses carbon fiber as the interlining, while its outer layer is covered with synthetic fiber and inorganic fiber. Finishing is done by impregnation with a thermoplastic resin.The 160-meter long spoolable roll weighs just 12kg (a metal wire with the same degree of strength is five time heavier). Unlike rigid rods that require drilling for installation, the thermoplastic carbon fiber composite is flexible and is secured using screws and an adhesive [Gizmodo]. It essentially works in the same way as the traditional brace-and-bolt; but, instead of anchoring the building walls to its foundation, it tethers the roof of the structure to the ground. In the event of an earthquake, the entire building moves together. Komatsu Seiren used the carbon fiber composite as an architectural element – the strands drape off the side of the building like a harp and are then attached to the building’s frame below the ground.

The Japanese have yet again proved their conceptualization and design prowess through this development!

Natural gas products such as CNG and LNG contain less carbon than any other fossil fuel. Natural gas vehicles produce at least 13 to 21% fewer GHG emissions than comparable gasoline and diesel fueled vehicles [The Motley Fool]. Variations of methane-based fuels are now in the offing. A new form of renewable natural gas that is 90% cheaper than conventional fuels has been produced on a mass scale through a process that collects methane gas from farms and landfills, purifying the gas of impurities and then distributing it through pipelines. GHG emissions reduction ranges from 50 to 125% depending on the source of renewable natural gas (biogas). UPS is reportedly one of the users of the renewable natural gas.

Composites could be the ultimate beneficiary as the material of construction for storage tanks for the vehicles using renewable natural gas.

The breakthroughs continue unabated, though not at breakneck speed; but at a pace that allows the composites industry to throw the gauntlet to competing traditional materials for commercial applications. After all, when it comes to material substitution, composites still have a single digit penetration level overall – but it is growing for sure!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites



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



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

Hello again,

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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



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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Co-opetition : the new mantra for business growth & survival

Hello everyone,

Here we go with the first post of Q2, 2013………



In a highly symbolic show of unity in Durban in late March; leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (collectively referred to as the BRICS) agreed to create a development bank to create funding for infrastructure projects in a potentially historic challenge to western-dominated financial institutions [The Guardian]. While various technical details need to be hammered out, the BRICS bank could potentially rival the World Bank. Other developing countries are  eventually expected to be invited to join the bank. Per a recent column in the Business Standard, ” the richest nations can stew about this turn of events, as those on the periphery of the world economic system start seeing themselves as the core. Or developed countries can look in the mirror, and consider how their actions have helped accelerate the shift.”

The concept may be considered outlandish and fraught with consensus on minute details that have yet to be discussed…..but the seed has been sown. Lets wait and watch as to how it slowly fructifies.



The International Monetary Fund [IMF] has jumped into the climate change debate and globally, is against government energy subsidies. Its latest report calls for an end to energy subsidies across the board (about $1.9 trillion annually around the world) OR for these subsidies to be offset with taxes that could pay for expensive social programs [Oil and Energy Insider]. Essentially, the IMF is subscribing to the idea of a “sin tax” on fossil fuels to reduce consumption and raise money for other sectors.

Coming at a time when many nations are toying with the idea of a gradual cutback in subsidies in the coming years, the IMF’s school of thought should not be surprising.



Admittedly, the building and construction sector has had a conservative approach in use of composites over the years. The American Composites Manufacturers Association [ACMA] actively initiated work several years back to modify the International Building Code in an effort to create greater awareness on environmental sustainability of composites. This culminated in the International Code Council [ICC] voting in 2009 to allow use of composite materials for both interior and exterior wall applications as reflected in the code’s latest edition : IBC, Chapter 26,” Plastic ” and Sub-section 12 ,” Fiber reinforced Polymer” [Composites World]. While Europeans rely on the Eurocode; in the Middle East and Asia, codes tend to be a mix of U.S. and British standards. The fact that designers are beginning to actively interact with architects at the drawing board stage itself to highlight the advantages of composites in reducing building dead load/smaller foundation & manageable seismic design and the resulting favorable life-cycle analyses; are definite pointers to the growing acceptance of composites, albeit slowly [Reinforced Plastics].

Just goes to prove that architects’ minds need not necessarily be set like concrete… with the right approach, they can be flexible.



The addition of liquid epoxidized natural rubber to epoxy resin matrix in an E-glass fiber reinforced composites threw up interesting results on the resultant mechanical properties at varying glass fiber loadings. It was observed that the presence of liquid epoxidized natural rubber improved the flexural strength & modulus, tensile strength & Young’s modulus and impact strength (up to a certain % loading of glass fiber by weight)  due to the plasticizing effect of the rubber particles in the matrix. Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) revealed the thermal stability of the composites, while the scanning electron microscopy(SEM) revealed a heterogeneous dispersed phase of morphology. Adhesion was reported to be poor if untreated glass fiber was used, which is to be expected [Sciencia].

Would multiaxial fabrics have been a runaway success without German machines of the likes of LIBA and Karl Mayer ? An university in Dresden, Germany [TU Dresden] has partnered Karl Mayer to produce concrete reinforcement from carbon fiber heavy tows using a specially modified multiaxial warp knitting machine. Each heavy tow consisting of 50,000 individual filaments (50K) can reportedly reduce material costs for a higher fiber volume fraction in each textile concrete-reinforcing layer; representing a considerable economic advantage over alkali-resistant glass fibers and conventional CF with 12,000 individual filaments (12K) that are currently used for maintaining and restoring buildings [Innovation in Textiles]. The key lay in delivering the heavy CF tows in the main reinforcing warp direction without damage and with precise positioning of the fibers through gentle warp yarn brakes and combined warp yarn/holding down sinkers for placing the warp yarns accurately between the needles. The warp yarns were fixed without being pierced and the weft yarns were fixed in a reduced width during the warp knitting process. Both yarn systems lie completely parallel and stretched in the reinforcing textiles, thereby causing a positive effect on the strain characteristics. Mechanical properties were improved by integrating online coating and drying process. Machine running speeds of up to 560 rpm were achieved thereby meeting productivity requirements.

When it comes to sturdy machinery innovation; the Germans have few peers, with no perceived slight on other nations.



Clean wind power is becoming infectious, with Japan  announcing ambitious plans that are not idle rhetoric. Japan aims to triple its supply capacity to 7.5 GW by developing transmission grids in Hokkaido and Tohoku regions. Wind power generation costs are estimated at 10 yen/KWh – almost the same as thermal power generation by liquefied natural gas [Asiaone]. In addition, tapping the wind potential in other regions such as Hokuriku, Sanin and Kyushu regions could increase the nation’s capacity to 14.7 GW….which is a six-fold increase over current levels. The Japanese have the enviable reputation of walking the talk….the wind energy sector should take their plans seriously [Renewable Energy World].

Germany’s path-breaking clean energy transition has resulted in onshore wind power (30+GW) generating nearly 40% of the country’s electricity production, roughly equal to 40 nuclear reactors. According to the Department of Climate and Energy Change, U.K.’s offshore wind power rose to 7.5 TWh in 2012, up from 5.1 TWh in 2011 and driven mainly by capacity addition [Bloomberg].

The wind energy sector definitely appears to be on a tear in many countries in spite of several Governments keeping the industry on tenterhooks till the last minute when it comes to extension of tax credits (aka, incentives) – India being the latest example. The battle for supremacy seems to be more related to onshore vs. offshore.



Daimler is installing the world’s first plastic engine support for a six-cylinder diesel engine (in the new GL class) in lieu of aluminum resulting in improved acoustical properties, better thermal insulating characteristics, higher load bearing capacity  and a 30% weight reduction. The part, which supports the engine with the aid of mounts is injection molded from a highly reinforced specialty polyamide. Engine supports are crucial as they have to support both the permanent load (engine’s weight) whilst simultaneously absorbing the engine’s torque and high bending moment + low tendency to creep [Plastics Today]. The plastic part also passed the repair crash (that replicates smaller crashes) and the massive offset crash (head-on crash) with flying colors.

A dent to aluminum ?



A reduction in molding time of a large component by a factor of 10 ? Welcome to ESTRIM (Epoxy Structural Reaction Injection Molding) – a new process that takes advantage of new fast reacting epoxy formulations targeting lightweight structural automotive parts and sports applications [Molding blog]. Cycle times for large parts have a drastic reduction from 30 minutes for conventional RTM to 3 minutes with ESTRIM. The system includes a series of integrated products – carbon fiber reinforcement handling systems, dedicated preformers, high-pressure dosing units for epoxies, multi-component mixing heads with different injection and distribution methods, polymerization presses and relevant handling systems of preforms and molded parts. The icing on the cake…… ability to incorporate recycled carbon fiber from aerospace and other applications.



Per European Plastics News, the pipe segment will be the principal growth driver for HDPE through 2019, riding on strong demand from Asia Pacific (growth rate of 4.4%). Eastern Europe, Middle East and South America will also generate strong growth rates for HDPE; while North America and Western Europe will witness slower growth rate [Plastics News].

In spite of higher costs being seen in PP, global growth rates are expected to increase from under 4% in 2007-12 to ~5% in 2012-17. Though the growth in North America is expected to remain low, the region could add new PP capacity towards the end of the 2012-17 period through the propane dehydrogenation route. Thanks to shale gas, at least six world-scale ethylene crackers are planned for North America that could boost ethylene capacity by around 33% resulting in exports as PE supply would exceed demand in the region.

The extent of impact created by the shale gas revolution in the U.S has caught even industry experts by surprise.

A new acrylic thermoplastic resin that can be processed on thermoset equipment for RTM and infusion, coupled with the ability to be reinforced with continuous glass or carbon fibers has been recently introduced. Cycle times and mechanical properties are similar to those for conventional thermosets such as unsaturated polyester, vinyl ester and epoxy resins. The thermoplastic structures are suited to thermoforming, welding and recycling. Parts consolidation through use of adhesives reportedly enhances mechanical strength. The resin is styrene-free and can be used with peroxide initiators. The traditional gel coat layer (used in thermoset parts) can be dispensed with and is replaced with a thermoplastic multi-layer sheet such as ABS/acrylic which is thermoformed in the mold prior to laying the reinforcing fabric [Plastics News].



Designers realize the significance of bending rigidity of laminated fabrics (glass/carbon/aramid) and its relevance to the position of the neutral axis, especially in load bearing applications. In a recent study, theoretically derived equations were proposed to obtain the position of the neutral axis and to predict bending rigidity of laminated fabrics. Tensile properties, bending rigidities and thicknesses of samples were measured and used to investigate the validity of the theory. The positions of the neutral axes for the face fabrics were obtained and they were not close to the centroid of the fabric. The calculated bending rigidities of laminated fabrics using the obtained positions of neutral axes were found to be more in line with the experimental ones than the results by the method without considering the position of neutral axis. The conclusion was that the bending rigidity of a laminated fabric can be predicted more precisely when considering the position of neutral axis [Sciencia].



In late February, the world’s tallest hotel [JW Marriott Marquis] opened its doors to the public at Dubai. Soaring at 355 meters, the building is just 26 meters shorter than New York City’s famous Empire State Building and boasts of 7,500 square meters of indoor and outdoor event space [Gulf News].

A French architect is hoping to build the Middle East’s first skyscraper covered in trees and pot plants in Dubai. Dubbed the “Flower Tower “, the concept would create the impression that residents are surrounded by forest – bringing greenery (on its facade) to apartments tens of meters from the ground. Dubai is aiming to cover one-quarter of the emirate – 38,000 hectares – in green space by 2025 [Arabian Business].

When it comes to buildings, Dubai sets its own standards of excellence (and records) and goes about achieving the same sans fanfare. Recall the Burj Khalifa ?

Speaking of hotels, its turning out to being a game of one-upmanship with China announcing designing of the Lotus Hotel….. a hotel that floats on sand ! Hidden in the Gobi desert, the green hotel of the future does away with bricks and concrete and, instead, will use materials and techniques to support low carbon construction. An ingenious skeleton distributes the hotel’s weight through its walls, rather than directly on to its floors; while, underneath, a system of containers allows the sand to move under and around the hotel while it stays in a relatively fixed position [Clean Technica].

Allowing imagination to run riot ? 

This blog’s readership has now reached the milestone of 100 countries spanning all continents.

Its a small world, eh ?

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



Speeding up Technology Commercialization…..the Holy Grail of Polymeric Composites Industry

Hello all,

Here we go again…….


The World Trade Organization (WTO) came out with a statement in April that global trade was expected to slow to just 3.7 % in 2012 in the aftermath of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis and events such as Japan’s earthquake and the Arab Spring, with U.S.debt concerns & flooding in Thailand contributing to a certain extent. Sobering news indeed, when one compares it with the 5 % slowdown in 2011 and 13.7 % in 2010. The figures are based on the total volume of merchandise exported across borders, accounting for changes in prices and exchange rates [Yahoo Finance]. Developing countries are expected to lead the growth in goods traded this year with a  forecast 5.6 % increase in exports compared to 2 % for industrialized nations.

The biggest news to cheer about was perhaps the free fall of crude oil price last Friday due to adequate supplies and waning geo-political tensions in the Middle East [CNBC]. Consumers can expect to witness oil at below $100 through the summer, barring unforeseen circumstances. Less pain at the pump in the weeks ahead ?


Designing with composites is a fascinating  experience as engineers will testify. More often than not, it involves using principles of statics and dynamics especially for load-bearing applications. Carmaker Audi is about to roll out glass fiber reinforced epoxy coil springs in one of its models by the year-end and this will be followed by extending to more mid-sized and luxury models in 2013 [Plastics & Rubber Weekly]. Any reduction in unsprung mass in a car’s chassis and suspension improves ride comfort and handling which has been exemplarily demonstrated in the composite spring that is 40% lighter than its steel counterpart in spite of an overall increase in diameter. Though the composite “wire” (in reference to the shape) is thicker, the number of turns is fewer. GFRP helices are known to absorb torsional loads. Alternating layers of glass fibers at +/- 45 degrees (acting either in compression or tension) are wound on a central core of glass fiber impreganted epoxy resin. Torsional loads in the glass fibers are thus converted into tensile and compressive loads. Weight reduction is to the tune of 4 kgs. While the composite spring is unusually bright green in color, a dose of graphite in the mix renders it black. Audi states that it is already working on red and blue springs for enthusiastic drivers !

The joy of a comfort ride on colorful composite springs would be unmistakable…that’s the icing on the cake. 


The key to maximizing composite performance is fiber orientation…a maxim that is always in the minds of product designers. This has added significance in automotive applications where stiffness, strength, impact resistance and toughness of parts can positively influence weight reduction. The plastics industry, in conjunction with several universities and testing labs has now developed process modeling for LFRT injection molded parts. The modeling reportedly facilitates prediction of mechanical properties well in advance and would enable companies to bypass the trial-and-error phase. The simulation software enables engineers to use data to judge how glass fibers are affected by the molding process and how the molding will affect the finished part. Toolmakers can effectively determine the positioning of the gate [Plastics News].

There are several links in the concept-to-commercialization chain…it is heartening to note that the confluence of software developers, designers, fiber/resin producers and automakers contributes to a high level of synergy that makes technology appear so simplistic in the final analysis ! 


Techno-commercial economics has been one of the reasons for evolution and success of hybrid composites. Judicious choice is however a prime requisite. Recent tests on mechanical properties of contact molded specimens with an interply configuration of high modulus glass and carbon fibers in an epoxy resin matrix provided interesting results.It was observed that the flexural modulus decreased with increasing % of high modulus glass fibers. Further, positive hybrid effects were found by substituting carbon fibers for glass fibers. The presence of a thin layer of high modulus glass impregnated epoxy on the compressive surface of the hybrid laminate yielded the highest flexural strength [Sciencia].

The best of both worlds in laminate configuration ? Not a new concept, but it does provide a greater insight to tailoring design, nevertheless !


When we speak of wind energy installation in Europe, giga is the current buzzword..mega is considered the dinosaur age (in a lighter vein !). This is more so with offshore wind energy. The U.K. has more than 2GW of wind turbines installed at sea, representing more than half of the European total and is targeting 18GW by 2020 [Yahoo Finance]. Germany plans to build 10GW which is the equivalent of nine atomic plants. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, offshore wind costs about $232/MWh of power generated, compared to $80 for onshore wind, $62 for gas-fired plants and $77 for coal.With a view to reduce costs, offshore windpower producers are building custom ships at record rates that allow one to install turbines in deeper waters, lift heavier weights, cope with bigger swells and carry more machines to wind-farm sites, thereby speeding up project completion. The bottomline…reduce cost of technology to bridge the price differential.

I have always been awed by the European wind energy business model, in general and the U.K. in particular. They think years ahead and plan resourcefully to circumvent potential roadblocks. That admiration has been upped a notch yet again and not without good reason.


The battle between thermosets and thermoplastics is perennial. Volvo heavy duty trucks from 2013 could well feature an injection molded PC/ABS roof fairing. Replacing traditional thermosetting resin for this application, SABIC claims that the thermoplastic replacement replete with proprietary in-mold coating (IMC) technology reduces energy requirements, enables recycling, achieves 30 % weight reduction, produces a part with a Class A surface finish ready for in-line painting; whilst simultaneously delivering an ideal balance of impact resistance, co-efficient of linear thermal expansion, density and heat deflection temperature (HDT) to withstand bake ovens [Plastics Today].

At the end of the day, it is performance that matters. The automotive sector which is in top gear continues to be the beneficiary of path-breaking technological breakthroughs and consumers take pride in driving state-of-the art vehicles.

Entrapped air in cast parts could severely impact the performance in continuous service. Freudenberg uses Computed Tomography (CT) scanning technique to check even distribution of fibers in non-woven fabrics and enables objects to be viewed from all conceivable angles. The images generated can be used to identify component damage and analyze its causes. The entire component can be viewed as a transparent image or can make its plastic covering disappear at the click of a mouse. Developed on the basis of X-ray technology, the CT technique allows for creation of computer-assisted 3-D images that provide an exact look at the interior of components [Plastics Today].


How many of us have gone through the frustrating experience of limited elasticity of spectacle earpieces. A solution could well be in sight. An eyewear retailer in Japan has chosen SABIC’s Polyetherimide (PEI) resin to meet Japanese consumer demand for new eyewear styles. The exceptional elasticity, long-term performance and lightweight allowed the company to eliminate aluminum and titanium from the material selection process for the earpieces. The excellent elasticity (can be bent freely) coupled with resistance to deformation allows the spectacle frame to be bent easily, yet returned to its original shape. It meets JIS B7285 standard, the testing for which includes 20,000 bending repetitions (opening & closing the frame). The resin’s dimensional stability ensures that the lenses are retained in the frame, while heat deflection resistance at high temperatures protects the frame when exposed to hot sun. The clincher is the resin being amenable to precision thin-wall molding and it’s availability in custom colors to provide a wide range of aesthetic effects [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

Can you think of other applications that require such exceptional elasticity, resistance to deformation and temperature resistance ? PEI may well be the answer.


Advances in thin film applications to improve adhesive strength have been the backbone of technological breakthroughs, especially in glass fiber sizing. In recent studies, hyperbranched epoxy was modified with by vegetable oil based highly branched polyester resin at different weight percentages and the properties of the cured systems were evaluated for their adhesive strength. FTIR, XRD, TGA & SEM analyses showed that the modified systems displayed improved properties over pristine epoxy. The hyperbranched epoxy with 30 % (by weight) polyester resin was found to be the optimum with respect to performance [Sciencia].

Could the findings provide further continuous improvements in glass fiber sizing ? Possibilities are endless, for sure.

As the curtain-raiser to the 2012 Arabian World Construction Summit in Abu Dhabi later this month, it’s boom time for the construction & infrastructure sector in the GCC. The region is all set to award projects worth $286 billion over the next four years for infrastructure (including roads, bridges, rail, sewerage, wastewater and marine) and construction [Trade Arabia]. The enormous potential for composites [RP-feature] in the aforesaid sectors cannot be overstated. It would be an excellent opportunity for composites processors[GCM-feature] to partake in the Summit.


A few years back, offshoring was a dreaded word in the U.S. with several companies opening up manufacturing outlets in China to take advantage of lower production cost. This trend is now on the wane (with rising labor costs in China), and the word “reshoring” has now become music to the ears of Americans. Manufacturing is witnessing a resurgence and processors are slowly bringing back production to the U.S. The low cost of natural gas (read energy) is also aiding this transformation to a significant extent- thanks to fracking technology being so successful and NG being in oversupply, as we speak.

Patience and self-belief  are virtues …… add a dash of game-changing technological advancements and it is easy to comprehend why past glory can be restored over time.


Crude oil being dubbed as “black gold ” is not without reason. In an attempt to raise its profile further, the Caspian sea country Azerbaijan is looking to build the tallest building in the world. At 1,050 meters, it will dwarf  Dubai’s showpiece Burj Khalifa and likely be taller than the  planned 1,000 meter Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia. Azerbaijan obviously wants to use its newly found oil wealth to project an image of modernity [Arabian Business].

Aah, the towering beauty and power of black gold !!

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



Composites & Plastics – Foraying further into Metals domain

Hello everyone,

I write the opening para of this post wearing my economist hat and in a pensive mood on the happenings in 2011.

  Q1, 2012 – light at end of tunnel ?

Per recent column in CNBC, “the world economy is on a slippery slope with the eurozone appearing to have tipped into a mild recession and the rest of the global economy struggling to hold on to firm ground. China is slowing, Japan’s exports are tumbling. The U.S. Q3 growth was revised to 2.0%, though a stronger Q4 is forecast”. The OECD has similar warnings of an European recession. It’s report revised global economic growth down to 3.8 % this year and 3.4 % in 2012.

Would even the die-hard optimistic economist sport a wry smile ? Close call….

Metals & Composites – clash of the Titans !

Composites outperforming aluminum and vice – versa always merits industry’s riveting attention. The announcement of commercial lightweight aluminum alloys last summer was news to designers on exciting options for potential and existing applications in different market sectors. The recent introduction of a 30% carbon fiber reinforced polyamide (Nylon 66) motorcycle engine cover at the IPF show in Japan was a revelation, insofar it was a replacement for an aluminum piece.The composite weighed 130 grams versus 263 grams for the traditional aluminum counterpart and outmassed even a magnesium alternative [Plastics Today]. The resultant tensile strength of 250MPa which was on par or even better, lay in preserving the length/ integrity of the 7 – 8 mm long CF used in the injection molding process [IPF].

 Composites supremacy over Metals…one upmanship

Composite access covers could emerge as the material of choice in the UK (currently more than 10 million access covers in use & generally in metal). These covers are placed at points where utility companies need to change the direction of pipes and drainage – usually at corners and often on the crown of the road [Construction News Portal]. Worn, cracked, displaced or pilfered metal access covers pose a hazard to motorcyclists in terms of stability and traction, especially when the road is wet. Composite covers have the advantage of  anti-slip properties remaining at consistently high levels throughout the cover’s life. The manner in which the aggregate is impregnated in the mix results in the composite cover having the added advantage of a tread pattern which is omni-directional; so it cannot be approached from an angle that diminishes grip level. The Motorcycle Action Group [MAG] is actively promoting the “Get a Grip” campaign that could possibly promote greater use of composite covers.

Are SMC/BMC processors and glass fiber producers listening?

  Thermoplastics – untiring & to the fore !

The thermoplastics sector received a fillip on the opening day of December with Bridgestone Corp. announcing a prototype non-pneumatic car tire that uses thermoplastic ribs (with a higher aspect ratio than earlier versions from others) as load bearing elements. Even the tread is made of a thermoplastic material and the material is claimed to be easier to recycle [Plastics News].

More news on the automotive front…. combining the advantages of classic SAN co-polymer with improved temperature and weathering resistance has resulted in a modified SAN with higher HDT (heat deflection temperature), greater transparency and gloss than PMMA. The modified SAN, which is an amorphous plastic; is also claimed to be chemically resistant, stiff and resistant to scratches & lends itself to exterior applications such as mirror bodies, spoilers, decorative trim and in vehicle interiors such as frames and radio face plates [Plastics Today].

The moral of such developments.. automotive is not just about lightweighting, but the accompanying paraphernalia too ! 

Fight global warming… focus on wind energy

Amsterdam was in the news last week…it hosted the  EWEA 2011 Offshore Wind Energy Conference. The timing could not have been more opportune, considering the giant strides being taken in this sector. According to EWEA, over 141 GW of offshore wind energy capacity (enough to provide 13.1% of Europe’s total electricity production)  is built, under construction, or planned in Europe; compared to the 4GW installed today. The potential risk of a high-voltage subsea cable shortage over the next few years is being addressed…trust the EU to tackle this effectively. Did they not plan for the Supergrid well in advance ?

Carbon fiber and thermoset resin producers would be rubbing their hands in glee at the projected GW of offshore wind energy.

Epoxies : eternally reliable

Epoxy functional group modifiers have been reported to improve the mechanical properties of short glass fiber reinforced PBT. Morphological observations  by SEM reveal a thin layer of polymer adhering to the surface of glass fibers, indicating that epoxy functional group reacts with fiber surface and PBT matrix[Sciencia].

PP resin prices dipped in both the U.S. and Europe in November. Unlike the U.S. however, demand in Europe was at more normal levels as converters returned to rebuild inventories. Demand for propylene derivatives such as acrylonitrile remained weak in the U.S. Further PP pricing volatility in the U.S. has created opportunities for HDPE and polystyrene.Titanium dioxide price continues to be firm and the pigment industry has entered a period of renewed profitability with further price increases on the anvil in 2012.

Welcome to the northward pricebound elite club…much to the chagrin of plastics processors and compounders.

Transition time –  Metals to Plastics

As NA and Europe brace for a cold winter, news of the commercial development of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) snow chains (in lieu of metal) is something to cheer about. The most treacherous winter driving requires placement of metal chains on cars and truck tires beneath the treads, forcing drivers to kneel in frozen muck. TPU facilitates a plastic alternative that eases installation ( light weight) and offering outstanding wear [Plastics Today]. Another star to TPU’s proven & inherent wear resistance characteristic.

The next generation batteries and shock absorbers may well be made of a material [developed at the University of Carolina] that is 100 times lighter than polystyrene foam with extraordinary high energy absorption properties. The substance is made of tiny hollow metallic tubes arranged into a micro-lattice..a criss-crossing diagonal pattern with small open spaces between the tubes. The resulting material has a density of just 0.9mg/cc compared to silica aerogel (1.0mg/cc). The material’s strength is derived from the ordered nature of the lattice design that consists of 99.99 % air and 0.01 % solids [BBC News/Technology].

A concept even difficult to imagine? Maybe so; but the commercial prospects in practical applications, if and when that hurdle is crossed, seem fascinating.

It is with a sense of pride and satisfaction that we at Essjay Composites sign off this holiday season… our readership now spans 25 countries and across all continents, embracing the polymers and composites fraternity worldwide.

We will be back with our next post on January 9, 2012.

Till then…

Happy Holidays !

S. Sundaram

Winds of Change – Blowing strong for Polymers & Composites

Hello again,

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Paradigm Shift – Morphology to play Key Role in Polymers/Composites Design

Hello all,

European leaders at the ongoing summit meeting appear to be focusing intensely on resolving the eurozone crisis. At the same time, U.S. efforts to resolve its own imbroglio seems to be fraught with issues that tend to get more complex. With China’s industrial output temporarily losing steam (a blessing in disguise ?), the global economy is probably in the “pause” mode for the time being.

 For those who revel in crystal ball gazing, these are testing times.


The best advertisement this month on successful use of composites in the automotive sector was UPS‘s new shipment van. It was truly  “composite ” in character in that the side panels were  made from polyethylene skins with a honeycomb core for strength & stiffness; flooring was in a urethane foam core + PE panels, with rubber from recycled tires being used on rear side bumpers [Composites Manufacturing]. Vehicle weight saving was to the tune of 600 lbs. with an annual carbon footprint reduction of up to 11 Tons. The design ultimately had something for everyone…lesser dependence on fossil fuel (35% better fuel economy), environmentalists’ delight (additional outlet for recycled rubber) and thermoplastics back as a strong contender for sandwich facings.

The extensive use of carbon fiber in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner,the Airbus A350 and the military’s stealth jet fighter planes appears to be coming down to Earth with a slew of energy- saving automobiles expected to hit the roads in the next few years [Materials Insight]. In spite of the projected higher prime cost, the life-cycle-cost-benefit-analysis through energy saving is being touted a strong plus point by electric and hybrid car makers. No wonder automajors such as Toyota, Daimler, BMW are all in the fray. Global resin majors (Dow, Huntsman, BASF,  3M) are not far behind in their efforts to develop resins that have the best compatibility and processing characteristics (short molding cycle times…) to result in  CFRP parts with requisite aesthetics and mechanical properties required in service [Chemical & Engineering News].


When leading auto, resin and carbon fiber majors pool  their resources, the end result has to have success written all over.

More interesting news on CF development. Carbon fiber made from PAN with 5% acrylamide (dry-jet wet spinning process using solvent-free coagulation bath) reportedly has the highest Young’s modulus of 5.54 GPa compared with homopolymer PAN [SPE/Polymer Engineering & Science]. Will the higher modulus translate into more exotic applications for CFRP where additional stiffness is a key criterion?

Glass fiber has been the workhorse reinforcement for the composites industry spanning several decades. Carbon fiber may be the (relatively) new exciting  kid on the block, but GFRP continues to hold sway when it comes to cost-performance combine for an application. SABIC recently announced an industry first of sorts – an one-piece reusable concrete form made from long – glass fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite. Advantages claimed are weight reduction up to 40%, cycle times of only a few minutes plus all the added peripherals of reduced transportation & installation costs, durability for repeated use [Composites World].

For the composites industry as a whole, such exciting applications  provide the necessary adrenaline and vehicle for growth.


Polyethylene (PE) may be one of the earliest thermoplastics to be commercially launched, but it continues to make significant inroads with new grades having improved performance and potential to rival thermoset composites. This has been especially so in pipe applications. New grades (having an extremely tough molecular structure) involve improved high stress-cracking resistance in harsh conditions from freezing cold to high acidity that find extensive use in the gas sector  for pipe diameters in the 100-1200mm range. The high resistance to slow crack growth allows the latest high-speed, lower-cost techniques such as sandless bedding & no-dig installation, without risk of pipe being damaged during installation or in use [Pipe &Profile Extrusion].

Whilst thermoplastics have generally been considered versatile for non-structural applications, advancements in technology over the last decade have seen vast improvements in performance – be it plain, elastomer modified or fiber reinforced. Global demand for Thermoplastic Elastomers (TPE) is forecast to rise 6.3 % per year to 5.6 million Tons in 2015 aided, in part, by the ongoing push to reduce motor vehicle weight [European Plastics News].

The most fascinating aspect, from a designer’s perspective; is the multifarious options available for a given application from a materials selection viewpoint.


According to a recent report, wind farms could produce as much as 49% of EU (European Union) electricity by 2050 , up from 5% today [Financial Times]. The report states that EU businesses and consumers face at least 20 years of electricity price rises. Dubbed as  “Energy Roadmap to 2050” and due for release by the year – end; the assessment analyses different scenarios to make the EU less dependent on conventional fossil fuels.With China (having the highest installed wind power capacity) seeking to challenge GE and other Western firms in the wind turbine market, Bloomberg suggests wind power could become competitive with fossil fuel, as a shift to Chinese suppliers could nudge down the cost and enable competing with coal and natural gas [The Diplomat].


Recent studies indicate that the corrosion rate of zinc is significantly reduced by alloying it with nickel. Increasing the Ni content increases the barrier of activation energy- a higher value of corrosion resistance is obtained at 10% Ni [Sciencia].

In the field of corrosion, metal researchers rarely like to be second best – alloying is such a boon !

Smart metals are essentially high-tech materials that can remember their cold-forged shape, returning the pre-deformed shape by heating. Shape memory alloys using a 50:50 combination of titanium and nickel are expensive. Hence work is in progress to produce a less expensive smart alloy using copper and aluminum and having potential large-volume applications in electronics and mechanical industries [Materials Insight].

Polymers, composites, metallic alloys….all have their pros and cons in applications. New developments in their respective fields  have a lot to do with  morphology (evident from above new developments in PE and CF). In the ultimate analysis, such technological advancements are extremely rewarding.

Let us  continue to partake in this exciting adventure and keep challenging ourselves in raising the bar when it comes to designing products for applications using polymers & composites.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram