Category Archives: Economies-Americas

Technology & design expertise enabling composites scale new frontiers

Hello all,

Welcome to another post……

Fingers crossed

1238327_questions

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

mill-859561-m

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

1336182_windfarm

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

351-glass-beakers-pv.jpg

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

lab-2-1-214701-m

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

105597_truck_5

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

15752-a-laboratory-technician-taking-notes-pv.jpg

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

pexels-photo-medium (3).jpg

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,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites

 

Advertisements

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

Hello again,

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

Crystal ball gazing

1323680_question_mark

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

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

Slow and sure rebound

Global economy

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

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

Fast and furious growth

837597_cars_and_trucks

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

Improvements abound

chemistry-410797-m

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

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

Blowing strong – en core in 2016

859561_mill

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

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

Leading from the front

fast-cars-1-362545-m

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

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

Riding (past) the rough tide

9832-a-motorboat-on-the-ocean-pv

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

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

Composites challenge metals

1157211_airplane

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

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

Walking the (green) talk

environment-1445492-m

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

Impossible is nothing – Adidas lives up to its slogan.

 The show must go on

dont-lose-your-patience-384110-m

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

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

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

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

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello all,

Here we go again with another post…..

Dreams die first ?

1209643_dream_graph

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

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

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

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

Lowering cycle time

45335_bugatti

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

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

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

Focus on recycling

1026072_recycle_icon_glossy

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

The quest to recycle composites and plastics is perennial.

PUR systems gaining ground

test-tubes-1258732-m

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

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

Bigger & blowing strong

wind mills (sept 29)

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

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

Potential breakthrough ?

chemistry-pages-343023-m

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

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

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

Best of both worlds

979139_molecule

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

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

Drones – growing global market

 

 

14725-an-mq-9-reaper-drone-on-a-runway-pv (2)

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

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

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

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

Our next post will be published in January 2016.

Till then,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

The show must go on……geopolitical distractions notwithstanding

Hello all,

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

 HUNKY DORY ?

money-1-1290130-m

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

U.S. TAKES OVER

refinery-bp-107264-m (1)

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

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

DRIVING…IN COMFORT

1070694_coiled_up

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

 STORMING STEEL’S DOMAIN

vw-2-94639-m

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

 PERCEPTIBLE SHIFT

classical-windows-1344782-m

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

 ONE-UPMANSHIP ON METAL

bolts-671950-m

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

ALL FOR A COMMON CAUSE

1049904_recycle_2

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

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

CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY

milling-1322990-m

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

THINNER, LIGHTER – THE NEW NORM

916494_car

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

ETHANE ROUTE – ASCENDANCY

chemistry-pages-343023-m

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

POSITIVE GROWTH TREND

_orange_tubes

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

BALANCING ACT

704525_around_the_world_7

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

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

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello everyone,

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

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

OPTIMISM – THIS IS FOR REAL

dollar-and-euro-money-3d-symbols-1182627-m

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

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

CLEAN, GREEN ENERGY

elements-2-1077815-m

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

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

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

AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR IN TOP GEAR

moving-vehicles-in-the-rain-9-359999-m

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

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

RESIN BREAKTHROUGHS

laboratory-glassware-1266835-m

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

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

LIGHTWEIGHTING – NO LETUP

red-mustang-side-342516-m

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

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

CUTTING EDGE TECHNOLOGIES

early-bird-no-worm-992975-m

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

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

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

NAPHTHA vs. ETHANE 

refinery-bp-107264-m

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

STRATEGIC ACQUISITIONS

strategy-946467-m

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

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

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

The answer is an emphatic YES!

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Lightweighting with Polymers & Composites – the Quest is Perennial

Hello all,

The report card on performance of nations and leading companies for Q1 2013 is out and has been the subject of review and intense debate throughout April.

HITS AND MISSES

1198394_world_map

China’s gross domestic product (GDP) came in at 7.7%, down from the previous quarter’s 7.9%. In March, industrial production increased 8.9%, just shy of the 10.1 % lift [China Spectator]. U.S. GDP increased at an annual rate of 2.5% from Q4 2012 and was just short of the expected 3.0% [Hot Air]. Singapore’s GDP contracted 1.4% over the previous quarter. U.K.’s GDP expanded 0.3% quarter-on-quarter driven by the services sector growth and bounce-back in North sea oil and gas output [Trading Economics]. The German economy stabilized in the first quarter after contracting in Q4 2012 [RTT News].

IN RECOVERY MODE ?

1204327_euros

A Reuters column last weekend stated that officials believe that the euro zone had turned the corner, sharpening the focus on longer-term reforms and structures……definitely news to cheer about from a global perspective. Which begs the question – has the euro zone hit the bottom of the U ?

After the “Jack-Rabbit” start to 2013, are we in for a spring swoon to the stock market ? Predictions are for a mitigated spring slide. There are several positives that may offset some of the negatives making for a potential decline that may be less steep than seen in recent years [Business Insider].

There was more news to cheer about last weekend. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner was back in the skies following a successful commercial flight on April 27.  Aerospace grade carbon fiber producers and CFRP processors, in particular, would be heaving a sigh of relief as the grounding had really nothing to do with composites, but was yet  holding back progress in a muted manner.

REV IT UP

1171150_background_with_arrows

Global assembly of light vehicles is forecast to reach 82.1 million units in 2013, representing a 4% year-on-year growth. North American assembly is forecast to reach 15.9 million units, representing a 3.6% increase from 2012, driven primarily by the U.S. automotive market. China is projected to achieve assembly of 18.9 million units – an impressive jump of 14% from 2012 [Plastics Today].

A highly reinforced polyamide 6 with 60% glass fiber loading renders metal superfluous in front end carriers for passenger cars. In addition to mounts for the headlamps, the front end carrier of the new Skoda Octavia also integrates injection-molded mounts for the radiator, hood lock, anti-theft system and air ducts. The composite product, with just one injection mold, eliminates the complicated handling and shaping of sheet metal; has significantly better mechanical properties, displays good flow, allows for very thin walls, topping off with a finely grained structure that fits well with the overall visual appearance [Plastics Today].

IN TOP GEAR

466305_subaru_impreza_1

Heavy steel leaf springs in automotive suspension systems may well make way for composites. Henkel has developed a RTM process for composite leaf springs using glass fiber and polyurethane (PU) resin. The GFRP leaf springs are reportedly 65% lighter than their steel counterpart. The PU resin cures significantly faster (than epoxy), penetrates and impregnates the glass fiber more easily due to its low viscosity, thereby enabling very short injection time. The exceptionally high stress intensity factor (which is a measure of toughness) of the PU resin has a positive effect on the fatigue behavior under load and, hence ideal for car leaf springs that are constantly subject to dynamic loading. Risks of local overheating and resulting shrinkage (in the RTM process) is reduced as the PU resin generates less heat overall during curing than epoxy resins. Hence, even thick components with several layers of fiber/fabric, cure fast [Plastics Today].

LONGER BLADES – MORE MW

wind mills (sept 29)

The quest for monster 100-meter wind turbine blades required to make offshore wind compete with fossil fuels continues. Wind turbines account for around 33% of the cost of offshore wind farms – installation costs are the major expense. Use of larger turbines reduces the number of wind turbines needed, thereby decreasing installation and maintenance costs. However, as turbines get bigger, the loads on the blades and hence their weight, goes up exponentially. Traditional blade manufacture involves forms as long as the blades. Blade Dynamics, partly owned by American Superconductor, has developed proprietary ways to make 12-20 meter sections of carbon fiber (CF) blades and then splicing them seamlessly, thereby eliminating the need for large forms [MIT Technology Review]. Though more expensive than glass fiber (GF) blades, CF blades are lighter. By making the blade in smaller sections, its possible to make more precise aerodynamic structures, thereby improving performance. It is also possible to put longer, lighter (CF) blades on existing wind turbine designs. Longer blades gather more wind, allowing the turbines to generate more power at lower wind speeds, increasing revenue in the process. Other advantages of lighter blades include feasibility to design new wind turbines that have lighter, less expensive components such as drive shaft, tower and foundation.

Carbon or glass fiber for longer blades and higher MW turbines for offshore ? The battle rages. As of now, CF has the definite edge.

NOVELTY NEVER WEARS OFF

529910_plane_windows

When it comes to lightweighting technologies, the aerospace sector is not far behind automotive. Polycarbonate (PC) and its co-polymers are enabling processors to produce parts with thinner walls that help reduce interior weight of an aircraft. Parts can be molded or extruded with very thin walls (down to 1.5 mm) while complying with leading flame, smoke and toxicity (FST) standards with halogen-free flame retardants to support sustainability [Plastics Today]. SABIC‘s new range of PC co-polymers have special features called the shear-thinning effect and are also said to meet tough commercial toxicity standards from Boeing and Airbus. The products flow slowly in low shear conditions (extrusion) and flow quickly in high-shear processes (injection molding).

 SHIFTING TRENDS

853262_trucks

If you thought that single piece thermosetting SMC was the prerogative of bumpers for trucks and heavy goods vehicles, here is  the not-so-surprising news….. future trend is for such bumpers to be manufactured on a modular basis from several components such as polyamide and polyester injection molded thermoplastic compounds. Headlamp supports would be from highly reinforced polyamide 6 with 60% glass fiber. The supports hold the headlamps and the light strips. They not only have to bear their weight (around 8.5 kgs per headlight), but must also withstand very high static and dynamic loads – hence must not fracture even under severe dynamic acceleration of up to 10 times the force of gravity. The U-shaped center front-step which is connected to the headlamp supports is injection molded from a PET+PBT blend reinforced with 20% glass fiber. The part is provided with numerous ribs and designed for a static load of 2kN as it has to bear the weight of the driver as he climbs on to the front to clean the wind screen. The thermoplastic blend has adequate flexural stiffness that renders steel reinforcement redundant [Plastics Today].

The technological advances in thermoplastics and blends thereof in the past decade have been phenomenal – especially in the automotive sector, where they were considered taboo for load-bearing applications not long ago.

THERMOPLASTICS FLYING HIGH

343548_sit_back_and_relax

Component integrity is critical to keeping aircraft in service to minimize maintenance and downtime. Brackets for use in aircraft structural applications have now been developed in carbon fiber reinforced polyether ether ketone (PEEK). The brackets weigh 45 grams each and used in primary and secondary structural applications in commercial and military aircraft. Besides a 70% weight saving compared to metals (stainless steel, aluminum and titanium), other benefits include faster part manufacturing cycle times (in minutes) compared to thermosets ( in hours). At current fuel prices, a 1 kg reduction in weight from a short-range aircraft can save airlines up to $ 100 in fuel costs. If composites brackets can remove 100 kgs of weight, an airline with 500 short-range aircraft could save up to $ 5 million annually by making the switch from traditional metal [Plastics Today]. Apart from a five-fold higher fatigue strength, added advantages over metal are vibration and noise dampening improvements.

FUTURE  SHOCK !

1327682_power_5

The shale boom in the U.S. has left the world’s largest economy awash in the power source which is used by utilities to generate nearly 25% of U.S. electricity [CNBC]. Utilities have traditionally used coal to generate electricity. But the abundance of relatively inexpensive natural gas has given power operators an incentive to shift away from coal. Energy markets continue to converge bringing the crude oil/natural gas ratio to 20:1 – the tightest ratio since January 2011. Even a year back, it was around 51:1 [Plastics Today]. Lyondell Basell’s recent announcement of expansion plans for 1.2 billion pounds of new PE capacity in North America has made it the sixth PE maker to announce plans for new PE capacity  joining Chevron, Nova, Formosa, Dow and Exxon Mobil – such has been the impact of the availability of abundant natural gas from shale deposits in the U.S. The cumulative increase in new PE capacity by the six companies is greater than 6 billion pounds [Plastics News].

Little wonder that PE is experiencing a surge in growth and rivaling PP in several applications.

An insert molding process employing a co-polyamide adhesion promoter to bond aluminum tubing  with glass fiber reinforced polyamide 6 is being used by Mercedes Benz in several of its vehicles to derive weight savings [Plastics Today]. The aluminum tubing connects both A-pillars together and supports the entire dashboard – from the steering wheel to the glove compartment. The co-polyamide adhesion promoter covers the aluminum tubing and joins the composite holding brackets of the individual components to the tubing by an injection molding process based on melt-bonding. Component weight is drastically reduced by 20% compared to traditional joining methods such as welding/screwing together with metal connecting plates.

 SWAP – GLASS TO POLYCARBONATE

60461_car_4

This one for the road…. Volkswagen is debuting a two-component injection molded, plasma coated polycarbonate side windows that provides a 33% weight saving over traditional glass windows as well as scratch resistance. The glazing provides the same visual characteristics as standard glass windows [Plastics News].

Per Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global investment in clean energy in Q1 2013 was lower than at any other quarter since 2009. From Q4 2012, global investment in clean energy plummeted 38%. In the U.S., Q1 2013 has seen a 54% drop (possibly due to late announcement of the PTC extension); Europe a 25% drop and China 15% [Oil and Energy Insider].

The grapevine on ending fuel subsidies to level the playing field could be one of the reasons. A wait and watch approach is perhaps the best recourse to green energy crusaders.

INVESTMENT PLANS

126043_business_3

A cursory reading of this post would obviously show the emphasis on automotive, aerospace and wind energy sectors and not without reason. Currently, these market segments are the  principal growth drivers for composites almost globally, with other sectors also pitching in a measured way depending on the region. The Middle East had airline traffic gain of 15.6% year-over-year, Latin America had traffic gain of 11.8%, Asia Pacific 5.4%, Europe 3.7% and North America 2.4% – an overall growth reflecting business confidence [Forbes]. The fact that China’s growth is poised to be driven by domestic demand (rather than exports) is a welcome change and augurs well for the industry. The U.S. automotive sector appears to be on a roll with CFRP being a game changer, though the last minute renewal of the PTC for wind energy could slow down the sector in the first half, after a record 2012 performance (in terms of GW installed). Advantageous energy costs (natural gas and electricity futures) should be beneficial to glass & carbon fiber expansion plans and/or greenfield plants that are on the anvil.

2013 could well serve as the (re) launch pad for the composites industry in North America to take off yet again (after a tepid 2012) resulting in greater gains from 2014 & aided by continued focus on material substitution.The time to reap the benefits of attractive energy costs is NOW !

Tailpiece : Global consumer confidence rose in Q1 2013 – confidence improved in 60% markets globally compared to only 33% in Q4 2012, with marked increase in sentiment in the U.S., Japan and Northern Europe [Trade Arabia].

While this may invoke a smile in many, the Cassandras would probably still sulk.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello everyone,

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

CHARTING OWN COURSE

1029949_-world_background_v-

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.

TAPERING OFF ?

1157866_economy_crisis_2

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.

NOD TO COMPOSITES

1101636_yes_or_no

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.

UPPING THE ANTE

133418_chemical_stuff_5

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.

JOINING THE BANDWAGON

794074_wind_turbines_2

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.

PLASTICS TO THE FORE

260105_engine

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 ?

 LOWERING CYCLE TIME

1131445_red_check_sign_in_3d

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.

PARADIGM SHIFTS

1362714_tubes

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].

NA – MAKING THE DIFFERENCE

948520_sine

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].

TALL, TALLER…

1155551_skyscraper

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,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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 !

UK’s WOES

1159573_money

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 ?

CO-EXISTENCE – BENEFICIAL

1318580_modern_hotel_facade

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) ?

NOVEL SANDWICH CONCEPT

351572_western_diesel

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.

MORE ECONOMICAL THAN FOSSIL FUEL

859561_mill

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 !

STRENGTH IN THE SEAM

747813_thread

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 ?

AN ENGLISH HI-TECH INNOVATION

1058436_news

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 – A LIFELINE ?

573525_oil_refinery

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.

HANDS ON, HASSLE FREE

1412140_cafe

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 ?

ALUMINUM – MIDDLE EAST SHIFT

509925_sheet_metal_earth

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.

CARBON FIBER – ZOOMING AHEAD

837158_spotr_car

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.

GARBAGE-FREE WORLD

1026072_recycle_icon_glossy

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,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello everyone,

Welcome to another post……..

MONETARY RESILIENCE

1340999_world_paper_money

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

More than a faint glimmer of hope ? You bet.

 STOCKS & SHARES

1388612_market_movements_2

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

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

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

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

OFFSHORE WIND POWER – UNSTOPPABLE

wind mills (sept 29)

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

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

PRICE SALVATION ?

1239216_graph_2

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

PLATINUM- THE NEW GOLD

1335487_check-box

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

VYING  FOR A SHARE OF THE PIE

718576_pipes

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

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

ALWAYS A NEW ANGLE

224405_iron_1

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

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

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

 NEXT GENERATION BIOPLASTICS

1024889_yellow_field

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

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

CFRP REPLACES GFRP

SPORTS CAR

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

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

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

And the award goes to ……..

1238327_questions

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

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

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

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

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Thermoplastic composites….progressively gaining ground

Hello again,

At the outset, I wish all a Happy & Prosperous 2013.

NATIONS – CAUTIOUS OPTIMISM

875590_world_economic_growth

The majority of readers would be back at their desks after the holiday break with a silent prayer on their lips for an accelerated regional and global economy revival – the former to boost its (respective) nation’s economy and the latter to provide a fillip to global trade, thereby benefiting the exchequer.

Stock markets around the world have rejoiced at the U.S. averting the fiscal cliff. The Dow and S&P registered sharp gains. The heartening feature, of course, was the extension of the wind energy Production Tax Credit (PTC) till end 2013 – the 2.2 cents/kWh incentive for wind power plants. The extension of the tax credit has huge implications for the composites industry especially for glass/carbon fiber (and fabrics thereof) and resin producers.

Fortunately, politics did not play spoilsport on the renewable energy policy.

 JIGSAW PUZZLE ?

949574_-jigsaw_world-

In a recent weekly piece, a columnist from Export Development Canada  likened the world economy of the past four years to scrum – a rugby configuration. Globally, powerful opposing forces have been locked together in an epic struggle between growth and decline, with neither side prevailing. Initially puzzled and confused, people became despondent and resigned to deadlock as the new permanent state of affairs. The European economy could drag in 2013. Japan’s recent growth burst has been attributed largely to reconstruction funds and unlikely to last this year. The mighty BRICS economies are flattering to deceive. In spite of being in the news for numerous reasons, U.S. revival looks optimistic as industrial capacity is within a hair of pre-recession limits with Corporations sitting on trillions of cash which they are just about to start spending. The shale gas boom (low energy costs) has also served to act as a timely catalyst for the manufacturing renaissance.

A silver lining on the horizon in 2013 ? A U.S. economy on the mend for valid logical reasons (and not wishful thinking) may just be the answer.

SEAT FRAMES – DESIGN REVOLUTION

727939_audi_a8_rear_view_interior

Composites have replaced spot-welded steel wire in a rear seat cushion frame for the 2012 Kia Motor K9 sedan, thereby entailing a 25% weight reduction and 10% cost reduction. The frame uses a long glass fiber reinforced Polypropylene (PP) with pellet lengths of 13-15 mm and high-crystallinity PP as the base resin [Plastics Today]. The folding composite seat back comes in two versions – an one-piece seat back and a split version. The parts are reportedly the first using injection molding to realize a completely flat rear floor structure. A major advantage of the rigid rear seat cushion frame is passenger protection. During frontal collision, passenger bodies tend to move down towards the ground, resulting in seat belts engaging in the stomach area and potentially damaging internal organs. The optimized structure of the new seat cushion frame supports the passenger in the right position so that the seat belt starts to engage in the pelvic region. Pressure and temperature sensors were reportedly used to prevent warpage on such large projected molding area. Significant mold flow analysis was carried out to optimize injection gate locations to minimize part distortion and avoid weld lines in stress bearing areas. To achieve further weight reductions, the PP composite technology technique envisages use of woven type fiber reinforcements.

What better advertisement for composites when it comes to light weighting and passenger safety in sedans?

Thermoplastic composites based on hybrid co-mingled fibers (glass with polyamide, PP, PET) can be processed into semi-impregnated thermoplastic preforms (as woven or non-crimped fabrics) and molded in a single processing step. The quality of the component distribution in the co-mingled fiber affects the mechanical properties of the final composite. A recent study analyzes the blending quality along the length of the co-mingled fibers using a new blending index that combines the existing co-efficients of the lateral and radial distribution of fibers in the cross-section of hybrid fibers. Due to the combination of the fiber analysis along the fiber axis and in its cross-section, the new method, allows for the first time, a reliable comparison of the blending quality of co-mingled fibers [Sciencia].

HDPE REVOLUTION IN THE WORKS

1063869_orange_tubes

A composite HDPE pipe that is lighter and easier to install than conventional HDPE pipe for transferring water in oil and shale gas fracturing, mining and agriculture? Introducing the multi-layered HDPE pipe reinforced with glass fibers that weighs 80% less than conventional HDPE pipe. A 30-foot length pipe weighs 130 lbs and can be installed by two workers as against 700-800 lbs for a conventional pipe requiring a crane for installation [Plastics News]. The U.S. Company that has developed the pipe claims that it is bendable.

Considering the spurt in new applications, it is not surprising that almost 33% of the NA demand for composites is in reinforced thermoplastics.

WIND – BLOWING STRONG

524075_wind_power_plants

The share of electricity generated by renewables in the U.K. in Q3 2012 rose by over 25% (compared to the same period in 2011), mainly due to increased wind energy capacity. Renewable sources provided 11.7% of electricity in Q3. Per the Department of Energy and Climate Change, offshore wind energy increased by 54.2%, while onshore rose by 38.2% [Windpower Monthly]. According to the last “2012 Global Wind Power development outlook”, wind power had the potential to supply 12% of the world’s electricity needs and exceed 20% by 2030 [Energy Tribune]. Statistics from the International Energy Agency [IEA] indicate that China’s wind power installed capacity could reach 279GW by 2030, two points below the EU and that it could generate 330TWh of clean power by 2015. China’s new Five-year Plan calls for an installed capacity of 100GW by 2015 and 200GW of renewable energy by 2020 [Morning Whistle]. Meanwhile Vestas is in talks with Mitsubishi, Japan’s largest heavy machinery maker about developing an 8 MW offshore wind turbine which is 30% more powerful than the current record-holder [Bloomberg].

Big is beautiful, better and powerful…sure holds good for the wind energy sector where mega and giga are oft mentioned.

CORE TRANSFORMATION

972191_honey_comb

Thermoplastics forming the core of sandwich facings with honeycomb structure and based on PU,PS PVC, PET are well known. Recent studies on core materials made of polycarbonate (virgin and regrind), ABS, HIPS utilize interconnected cells in a unique configuration of truncated pyramids with sloping cell walls. Drop weight tests conducted to evaluate the dynamic flatwise compression strength and flexural strength show the versatility of such sandwich panels to possess good strength as well as energy absorption characteristics [Sciencia].

Natural gas from shale rock formation is making the U.S. and Canada among the lowest cost producers of ethylene feedstock globally. It is envisaged that this could lead to almost 15 billion pounds of new PE capacity (at lower cost) being added in the region between  2012-2017. Long-term, the low-cost regions will be North America (NA) and the Middle East which would compete for global growth [Plastics News]. More than 2.5 billion pounds of new ethylene capacity will come online this year followed by an additional 3.5 billion pounds in 2014. Global PE demand growth is expected to average 4.7% from 2012-17 with NE Asia averaging 6.2 %, NA at 2.7% and Europe at 2.4%. HDPE demand in this period is forecast to grow at 5% with capacity climbing to more than 27% ! The bottom line ?  PE pipe producers could hit a home run.

Would PE be the preferred material of choice over PP  for LFT and variations thereof  (including D-LFT, D-LFT-ILC) ? Some work needs to be done from a technology perspective knowing how non-polar PE is and its antipathy to adhesion/bonding ! But then, the industry has the wherewithal to tackle such challenges.

PAINTING – BEGINNING OF THE END ?

287873_ford_focus_rs

MIC Class A finish is claimed to have been achieved with 60% glass fiber reinforcement without the need for painting for an automotive application. The controlled crystallization rate employed during processing eliminates the need for painting without adversely impacting cycle time [Plastics Today]. The register vane component that directs air towards cabin occupants in Ford‘s 2013  models of Fusion, Escape utilizes polyamide 66 resin from Asahi Kasei Plastics. The upside was the saving in tooling cost following elimination of the painting process, in addition to reduced VOC emissions.

Studies were recently conducted on composite pressure vessels made of CFRP (carbon fiber and epoxy resin). Cylinders with a bias fiber orientation ranging from ± 40° to ± 60° were pressurized internally and they exhibited a matrix-dominated failure. Coupons with a fiber orientation of 50° or less exhibited a shear failure mode while those with 55° or more had a transverse failure mode. The gradual failure process was modeled and the stiffness degradation examined in the material co-ordinate system. Bi-axial stress-strain curves were simulated for each fiber angle. Results showed slight hardening in shear and significant softening in the transverse direction, pointing to the need to account for these post-yield effects [Sciencia].

 MOLECULAR  MARVELS

979139_molecule

In a forced game of molecular tug-of-war, some strings of atoms can act like a lever, accelerating reactions 1000 times faster than other molecules. This recent discovery suggests that these molecular levers can drive mechanical and chemical activity among atoms leading to designing new, stress-responsive materials. A simple change in the backbone can affect the speed at which mechanically assisted reactions occur. Since many materials break down after repeated cycles of tugging, stress and other forces, channeling usually destructive forces into constructive pathways could trigger reactions that make the material stronger when it is most desirable. From a commercial perspective, this concept can extend the material’s lifetime that can translate into applications ranging from composites for airplane frames to biomedical implants [Science Daily]. This research is being supported by the National Science Foundation.

Styrene monomer prices hit new record highs almost on a daily basis in December 2012 and this streak has extended into January 2013 to date [Platts]. The key factor for this price rise has been its feedstock  benzene, for which there was strong demand in the U.S. and China in H2 2012. Traders are bullish that this trend will prevail through Q1 2013.

SKY IS THE LIMIT ?

1119235_skyscraper

Building the world’s  tallest skyscraper in 90 days ? Not a pipe dream according to a Chinese company that plans to construct a 220-storey skyscraper in just that time. The construction starts this month and would be complete in March. Aptly christened “Sky City”, the building will be 10 meters taller than the current record holder Burj Khalifa, Dubai [Yahoo News]. Using the famed Lego blocks concept, the company eschews architectural beauty for simplicity and prepares the pieces offsite. It then brings everything together by sliding one inside the other when construction commences. By breaking everything down into simple blocks piled on top of one another, it allows them to build at an amazing pace – their goal is 5 storeys a day !

Tall can be simple, yet elegant.

I sign off this post on a cautiously optimistic note…the world  will continue to focus on sustainability and renewable energy (especially wind energy). 2013 is bound to be  a better year for polymers and composites with changing market dynamics on the thermoplastics front due to the shale gas boom in NA. The U.S. is expected to lead the global recovery (albeit in a measured way) with increased industrial production riding on low energy costs and set the trend for a more vibrant economy in 2014; with Europe and the BRICS also (hopefully) contributing their mite.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com