Category Archives: Economies-Asia

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

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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 ?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 !

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 ?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 ?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

Game-changing Market Trends…..Catalyzed by Materials Science Advances

Hello again and welcome to another post,

At the outset, I wish readers A Happy & Prosperous 2012 !

GLOBAL ECONOMY & EUROZONE

As we usher in the New Year with cautious optimism (bordering on trepidation, for some ?) of the global economy, it would perhaps be prudent to focus on each Quarter at a time. December 2011 was a mixed bag of sorts with the major surprise being the possible renaissance of the U.S. economy through a slight jump in manufacturing activity and hence predictions of a relatively strong Q1. Asian factory output remained sluggish in December with China, Korea, Taiwan registering weak industrial activity. Economic pundits state that the eurozone is already in a recession that could extend through Q2,2012.

2012 could well be termed the year of M&A (Mergers & Acquisitions) as industries across a broad spectrum could  witness consolidation. We have already seen the beginning of this trend from Q3, 2011 in the plastics and composites sector which could gather further momentum in the coming months. Capacity expansion through organic growth would still continue; albeit at a relatively slower pace, from a M&A perspective.

SPEED – THE DRIVING FORCE

“Faster than a speeding bullet” was the screaming Dec 27 headline [Mail Online] heralding China’s super-speed train scorching speeds up to 300mph (100mph quicker than its current bullet train), reportedly made possible by liberal use of lightweight CFRP. The spate of  announcements related to the carbon fiber industry…be it related to new JVs for the  fiber or downstream units by auto majors jointly with carbon fiber producers adds credence to the growing demand for CF in automotive, aerospace and infrastructure (offshore wind energy, CNG tanks….). Weight reduction is of paramount importance and carbon fiber could well emerge as the material of choice this decade for high-end applications where premium is on performance (superior mechanical properties vis-a-vis glass fiber).

ELECTRIC VEHICLES – STAR OF 2012

The forecast for the automotive sector this year is that electric vehicles (includes hybrids) will be more widely available than ever. It is also predicted that this could be the year where mass market vehicles adopt CFRP parts [Plastics Today]. We heard the news at IAA 2011 on the development and successful commercialization of a 33% GF reinforced polyamide 66 lithium ion battery module frame for GM‘s hybrid extended range electric drive cars [European Plastics News]. The composite frames support and align the battery cells. Replacement of metal battery housings by plastics is the new trend. The low thermal conductivity of plastics eliminates the foam sheet sheet thermal insulation required for metal housings. Connectors integrated in the housing provide a thermal barrier, protecting batteries from overheating while charging and against cold temperatures in the winter.

As we all realize, plastics & composites in automotive is not just about weight reduction alone…..

The concept of failure strain (elongation at break) in design of composites is well known, as also the role of the matrix in achieving this objective. Studies on hybrid composites with interplied carbon fiber reinforced polypropylene (CFRPP) between self-reinforced polypropylene (SRPP) layers have shown that the failure strain of the hybrid composite is improved in comparison with CFRPP. One of the contributing factors to improved tensile strength has been to utilize the intrinsic behavior of shrinkage under high temperatures of SRPP, to introduce a compressive pre-strain in CFRPP [Sciencia].

SCIENCE TO THE FORE

Relentless pursuit of technological advances continue to expand the range of applications for composites. Recent studies indicate that Polyamide 6 composites reinforced with surface-treated glass fibers and including a small amount of clay-like mineral as an inexpensive filler could yield the best performance of injection molded parts because the glass fibers enhance the mechanical properties and the clay-like filler accelerates the crystallization rate. The presence of a small amount of nucleating agent favors the isothermal crystallization rate of the reinforced polyamide. Microstructural features of the composites and interfacial interactions between filler and polyamide phases, quantified by rheological measurements served to substantiate the findings [Sciencia].

NATURAL GAS  vs. CRUDE OIL

Driven by surging natural gas consumption in Asia and the U.S.( primarily due to shale gas), global use has rebounded to new highs. The world’s largest incremental increase  occurred in the U.S. where low prices (an all-time low as we speak) triggered a 1.3 trillion cubic feet increase to 24.1 trillion cubic feet – just over 1/5th of global natural gas consumption [Environmental News Network]. The Asia Pacific region experienced the strongest growth with China, India, South Korea, Taiwan experiencing demand growth of over 20 % (over 2009 levels). Sinopec’s increased stake in a U.S. energy company last week with a view to gain technology through partnerships is a recognition of China’s focus on shale gas reserves that exceed that of the U.S. Taking cognizance of this rapid shift in natural gas economics, several leading petrochemical majors have announced new plants for ethylene and industries are planning to boost fertilizer production made from gas.

The fallout…PP demand through 2015 in North America is expected to grow at less than GDP growth. Interesting  2011 stats… PP sales declined by 6.8%, while HDPE and PS grew 2.7% and 11% respectively [Plastics Engineering]. With the current natural gas pricing advantage (ethane cracking yields more ethylene !); this trend is definitely likely to continue into the foreseeable future….unless crude oil price drops dramatically!

The resin market in North America is predicted to sport a healthy look this year with distributors eyeing higher sales volumes. PE is expected to make greater inroads through technological innovations and advances in resin properties, possibly displacing PP in the process in many applications. Will LFRT applications using PP take a hit ? Only time will tell.

Significant changing market dynamics ? You bet.  

DREAM METALS COMBO

Ever considered combination of metals to result in a material with the strength of aluminum, density of steel and greater than 1.5 times the energy of TNT…. that is the new innovative revolutionary material that increases the explosive force and lethality on enemy targets. With the HDRM acronym (High Density Reactive Material); this material is designed to replace steel in warhead casings with little or no compromise in strength or design [Materials Insight].  

Innovations are not confined to lightweight plastics and composites, but the heavier stuff as well…which is required at times, necessitated by the nature of the application !

Brace yourselves for another innovative material….that matches the malleability of glass while retaining the toughness and stability of thermoset plastics. With potential applications in the aerospace and auto sectors; the material is recyclable while scratches and small breaks can be repaired by heating [Plastics News]. This unique organic material that mimics malleability of inorganic glass is being taken up for commercial production in France.

Are venture capitalists listening ?

The Word Future Energy Summit [WFES] convenes in Abu Dhabi in the Middle East later this month with a lot of discussion on renewable energy (in its various forms) in general. It would be interesting to note the valedictory comments at the conclusion of the Summit and the message that it conveys.

 TIME RUNNING OUT ?

I end this post with people referring to the Mayan calendar’s prophecy of the world ending in 2012. The Cassandras may be pitching for it; but much will depend on policymakers’ (politicians’) response. As a noted economist recently pointed out that “politicians should get out in front…right now they are running behind”.

Apocalypse and end of the world….Bah !

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Partnerships in Innovation…the new Mantra to survive & prosper

Hello once again,

The past five weeks were eventful in more ways than one. The  glittering MTV Video Music and Emmy Awards ( that threw in a few surprises and led one to believe that we should lead with our hearts and passion, not our heads, in predicting the winners) provided enough excitement, in spite of the stockmarket mayhem.

A semblance of sanity in the midst of apparently inexplicable market jitters ? Definitely not, if you are a naysayer.

GOLD – WILL IT  UPSTAGE  PLATINUM?

In one of my earlier posts , I had stated that platinum prices could well test the $2000 mark by the year end. For a fleeting tenure, gold came tantalizingly close to platinum‘s current price of $1700, before dropping off. Copper,which was riding high a few months back, fell sharply to a 52-week low last week. Gold’s glitter may well wane if one were to go by the the latest craze for titanium jewellery – it’s versatility such as lightness, rigidity, antiallergenic qualities and ability to be transformed into bold colors. In view of its lightness (vis-a-vis gold), the earrings could just become larger as designs would permit a larger surface area. Italian jewellery designers have already taken the lead.

All that glitters is not gold… how true  this could  be in the not-so-distant future !

A team from an University in the Netherlands has designed and developed a composites solar car that makes extensive use of carbon fibers, incorporating a sandwich structure featuring an aerospace grade structural foam. Since the car was very big, stiffness was the key to design. A special durable and tough polymer from DSM was the choice of the matrix resin. The car is targeting a first place finish at the 2011 World Solar Challenge in Australia in October [Design News]. Good luck!

CARBON FIBER – ON CLOUD NINE ?

Elsewhere, Boeing  is reportedly nearing the implementation of a carbon fiber recycling program for the 787 Dreamliner in order to reduce weight further and use scraps to develop secondary aircraft structures- such as interior parts  and passenger seat backs, thereby achieving an additional potential weight saving of 450-900kgs.[Aviation News].

Resting on laurels…that is equivalent to complacency in general and the composites business, in particular. Don’t we all realize that metals are just waiting in the wings, literally and figuratively; with a chance to swoop in on any potential commercially viable application.

GROWING CLUSTERS – MIND BLOWING !

Offshore wind energy continues to makes waves across continents. Europe (read U.K.) has made rapid strides in this sector and is the undisputable global leader,as we speak. With Germany also viewing offshore as the country’s nuclear energy  exit strategy, talks of an Anglo-German co-operation has gained credence in recent times. Between the two countries,there are potential plans to deploy over 40GW of offshore wind energy, equivalent to around 8,000 wind turbines. The objective seems to be to reduce costs through collaborative innovation, especially in turbine foundation technology, as the traditional monopole design becomes a tad too expensive in deep waters. In addition, optimizing wind farms layout is also crucial. While the biggest wind farms today have about 300 turbines, a site being developed in the middle of the North Sea can have as many as 2,500 ! [Science Business]. New onshore turbines have blades as long as a football field.

They keep getting bigger and synergistic collaboration is the key – be it between companies or nations.  Are ivory towers a thing of the past in this sector? Apparently so !

In my last post, I had mentioned the U.S. Congress announcing standards for vehicles to deliver 54.5mpg by 2025. Close on the heels of this came the FordToyota partnership announcement to bring to market; faster and at lower cost, new hybrid gas-electric systems for pickups and sports utility vehicles. Another classic example of synergistic co-operation between peers to accelerate innovation.

If politics makes strange bedfellows; survival and the will to succeed through innovation can bring together equals to work for a common cause. The world is changing….for the betterment of one and all .

Join the bandwagon – carbon & glass fiber manufacturers, resin producers and processors. The pie is large enough for all to share…profitably !

FASTER CHARGING ? NO PROBLEM    

We all  love lithium-ion batteries for obvious reasons as it powers our laptops, cameras, mobile phones & MP3 players. Is it just possible that we could have the cake and eat it too? Would it not be great if the time to charge the batteries is dramatically reduced? The Chemical Sciences Division of the Department of Energy [DOE] in the U.S. has found that titanium dioxide creates a highly desirable material that increases surface area and features a fast charge-discharge capability for lithium-ion batteries, at its Oakridge Laboratory. This enables batteries to be charged up to 50% full capacity in six minutes while the traditional graphite based lithium-ion battery would be just 10% charged at the same current [R&D].

An amazing and often exciting “R” word is Research. It’s power in all spheres  can make our lives a wee bit more comfortable. The cumulative effect can, of course, be phenomenal.

PP price in Europe was down in September with demand being soft.Coupled to this was the slowing down of demand in China adding to price pressure. Benzene (feedstock for styrene monomer) prices in Asia , Europe and the U.S. moved south this month, aided in part by the dip in crude oil price. With natural fibers and bio-resins being increasingly used in automobiles , will PP-based LFRT (using glass fiber) witness a dent in its competitive edge in the long run? Not so for structural components ; where natural fibers can be a disadvantage, strengthwise.

Qatar (the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas) in the GCC, surpassed Luxembourg as the world’s richest nation in 2010.With a GDP growth in 2011 projected at a staggering 16%, the IMF estimates the Persian Gulf Nation to have the world’s fastest growing economy for the second year in succession, with wealth that’s almost twice that of the U.S. For a country with a population of less than a million, these stats are mindblowing.

BRICK REVOLUTION ?  

Are bio-bricks the building blocks of the future? A researcher at the American University of Sharjah [AUS] is working on bio-bricks that consist of bacteria and waste products which are then dispersed over dry sand. Sand in lieu of clay for bricks? Considering the fact that sand is abundantly available in the region, the prototype 2-meter high wall, if successfully tested,could usher in a revolution as carbon emissions in the construction sector can reduce by more than 800 million tons /year.

Watch out for more bacteria-related potential path-breaking innovations in other market sectors in future posts on this blog.

While the U.S. may have lost it’s top ranking  on innovation ; the latest Social Network survey [Badoo] shows it topping the category on coolness (surpassing France, Italy, Spain) !!

That should cockle the hearts of Americans and be reason enough to smile.

Till the next post…

Cheers,

S. Sundaram
EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com
Twitter@essjaycomposite
Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Despite Economy Woes, Exciting Trends Ahead for Composites!

Hello again,

The world economy has been in the yo-yo zone awhile; frustrating economists worldwide, since many seem clueless and keep expounding their own pet theories, baffling folks even more. A recent column in Bloomberg Businessweek aptly summed the situation: “Economics isn’t rocket science, but the U.S. economy is a little like a rocket. If it has enough thrust, it can escape the tug of economic gravity – not enough and it might just go into a tailspin”. The dreaded “R” word (read Recession) is gaining credence nowadays with the global economic crisis leading to a “developed economy” recession in the U.S. and Europe. There is even talk of the emerging economies being the knight in shining armor and keeping the global economy afloat, albeit with a scaled-down growth forecast.

Concern about fiscal deterioration continues and any amount of crystal ball gazing is unlikely to predict a clear picture at least till Q2, 2012.

The show however needs to go on. The composites industry continues to keep making progress. ACMA‘s Pultrusion Industry Council (PIC) has developed a new industry document titled “Code of Standard Practice for Fabrication & Installation of Pultruded FRP Structures” which will provide recommendations for construction contract documents as well as procedures and practices for the the fabrication and installation of pultruded FRP structures. One more feather in the cap of ACMA’s Composites Growth Initiative (CGI) program.

AIR BOUND

Our spirits definitely soared last week when Boeing announced that it has achieved certification from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency for the new Dreamliner 787 airplanes that authenticates the airplane’s readiness to enter into commercial service per Avionics Intelligence. The first commercial passenger flight of the Dreamliner is scheduled for October 26 this year. It was interesting to read a column in Seattle’s Puget Sound Business Journal which stated that the 787 would never have been completed in its current form without a unique collaboration at the University of Washington Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials in Transport Aircraft Structures. The key innovation that the UW center supported was the way to make compression molded small CFRP parts – a method far cheaper than the regular process of layering long carbon fibers used for components such as the  airframe hull and wing.

A classic example of successful innovation in commercializing a novel concept on extensive use of carbon fiber composites. For a moment, even Apple would pale in comparison, given the order of magnitude!

SOARING TO NEW HEIGHTS

Gasping in disbelief is a well known cliche. Those who thought that the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was the world’s tallest building at 828 meters would be in for a pleasant surprise. The Kingdom Tower at 1000 meters (1 kilometer) would be the world’s tallest tower in five years at a whopping $1.2 billion and part of a $20 billion mega project near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to be built by the Saudi Bin Laden Group, as reported in Gulf Construction.

Jaw dropping awe; you could definitely say so!

FREEZE!

Innovative developments in composites continue to abound. A company in the U.K. has developed an all-composite walk-in freezer that meets offshore blast standards. The lightweight composite panels are fixed to structural pultrusions to deliver low thermal conductivity and hence good insulation characteristics. The system reportedly meets all requirements for jet-fire, pool fire and blast protection, whilst simultaneously withstanding wind and wave load acceleration movements under extreme climatic conditions.

SUSTAINABILITY IN POWER

In early August, the U.S. administration announced the first fuel-efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for work trucks and other heavy duty vehicles. The regulations call for reductions in fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions by 2018 of 9% and 23% depending on the type of vehicle. A 20% reduction in heavy vehicle emissions can boost fuel efficiency from the current 6mpg to an average of 8mpg. This announcement comes in the wake of an earlier one in July that unveiled new fuel economy rules for passenger vehicles that would boost fleet-wide average gas mileage to 54.5mpg by 2025 from the current 27.8mpg. The Center for Automotive Research (CAR) has already submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the issues involved in reducing auto weight by up to 40%.

Carbon fibers are poised to be used extensively in automotive applications as evidenced by CF producers forging strategic synergistic alliances with leading auto producers to achieve significant weight reduction in vehicles.

Brace yourselves for more groundbreaking news on wind power. Last week came the announcement of a Japanese breakthrough that will make windpower cheaper than nuclear via the Mother Nature Network. This involves a surprising aerodynamic innovation in wind turbine design called the “wind lens” that could triple the output of a typical wind turbine, making it less costly than nuclear power. “Down, but not out” …that is how one can describe Japan.In spite of a strong yen, battling the aftermath of the earthquake misfortune that prompted it to find an alternative to nuclear power and political uncertainty; the Japanese have few peers when it comes to innovation. The International Clean  Energy Analysis (ICEA) gateway estimates that the U.S. possesses 2.2 million square kms of high wind potential (Class 3-7 winds). By tripling wind energy output,the TOTAL energy needs of the U.S. could be met by just exploiting 20% of available wind resources. For that to happen, the Production Tax Credit has to be extended beyond 2012. In a Presidential year, will that happen? Fingers crossed, as always!

The last week of August also witnessed the installation of the world’s largest offshore wind turbines in the Irish sea that involved 30 turbines, each of  5MW capacity, that were manufactured in Germany and shipped in sections to Belfast as reported in Earth Techling.

Big IS beautiful. Will the Japanese ( who believe in miniature versions of everything) agree or scoff ?

…AND, DURING THE SUMMER HOLIDAYS…

Increasing cost of pigments (titanium dioxide in particular) is driving up gel coat prices with global thermoset resin producers announcing price increases last week. While polypropylene prices remained firm globally in early August, drastic reduction in feedstock price kept the PP market under pressure later on. Polystyrene prices in Europe surged in August in view of the monthly styrene contract price. Crude oil prices continue to be well below the $90 mark and has its own influence on resin prices-be it thermoplastics or thermosets.

I end this post with some more interesting news: Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will become the dominant fuel source for all merchant ships within 40 years as environmental pressures force all owners to use cleaner burning fuel according to Det Norske Veritas. Ships must cut emissions of sulfur oxides-a pollutant said to cause acid rain to 0.5% by 2020 from 4.5% today under rules from the International Maritime Organization. LNG, chilled to 1/600th  of its gaseous size costs $397 compared to bunker fuel oil that costs $475/Ton.

Do such comparisons ring a bell with respect to energy derived from wind power and coal? The bottomline is that we are becoming more aware of green, clean energy and the harmful effects of noxious emissions. The stage has been set for posterity to benefit from today’s decisions having far reaching ramifications. 

Clearly the aerospace, infrastructure (includes wind energy) and automotive sectors would be the main growth drivers for composites in the near future.

It was an awful  August global stockmarket roller coaster. Will it be a scary September? It will be foolhardy to even hazard a guess!

Keep smiling.

Till the next post…

Cheers,

S. Sundaram
Email: SS@essjaycomposites.com
Twitter: @essjaycomposite
Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Innovations in Composites : Perennial requisite to reign Supreme !

Hello all,

Here we go again……

Globalization, the internationalization of supply chains and the integration of global financial markets that has been occurring over the past two decades is expected to continue in the next growth cycle, knitting the world’s economies closer. The trend is towards alignment of growth among the world’s different economies. As trade, investment and financial flows become increasingly more entwined and integrated, individual economies cannot avoid the ups and downs of global growth. The OECD sees risk of “stagflation” for global recovery in its latest economic outlook.

World growth is forecast to be 4.2 % this year, down from 4.9% last year, before rising to 4.6% in 2012.

GERMANY CLOSES ONE ENERGY DOOR, AND OPENS ANOTHER

Germany’s decision to close all nuclear plants by 2022 and focus on renewable energy instead was not surprising. The nation’s energy legislation is expected to benefit offshore wind farms with a targeted 20-25GW generation by 2030. The Environment Ministry’s plan to keep a 2 euro cent/KWH bonus for utilities with offshore wind parks up and running by 2015 amply demonstrates the ambitious objectives. Around the same time last week, came GE‘s announcement of its maiden commercial-scale power plant (integrating solar & wind power) heading to Europe through its newly released combined-cycle gas turbine.

The eurozone  is definitely walking the talk with its daring path – breaking initiatives that has success written all over!

COMPOSITES AND DESIGN

The Pultrusion Industry Council of the American Composites Manufacturer’s Association [ACMA] recently completed the Load & Resistant Factor Design [LRFD] pre-standard for pultruded shapes. A special committee is drafting a Code of Standard Practice that will complement the LRFD when it becomes a full ASCE [American Society of Civil Engineers] standard this year. Through its Fiberglass Grating Manufacturers Council [FGMC], ACMA is a step closer to finalizing a draft standard to make it easier for structural engineers to design and specify pultruded fiberglass and molded grating.

 ACMA continues to render yeomen service to the composites industry through strategic initiatives involving considerable foresight, that ultimately is of immense benefit globally.

Light weight-high strength has always been the tagline for propagating composites for the past four decades. Add a dash of ecological impact and hallelujah…behold Lufthansa‘s new Quantum Light Weight Trolley to be introduced gradually till mid-2014 on all its long-haul intercontinental flights. The composite service trolley is a third lighter than its predecessor and will save 9,000 Tonnes of kerosene and 28,350 Tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

BEATING ELEMENTS OF NATURE 

Another interesting  recent application was that of UPS testing a composite-body diesel van that is anticipated to be 40% more fuel efficient than a traditional aluminum vehicle [Environmental Leader]. Currently being subjected to exhaustive tests in five different locations (based on tough weather conditions and rugged terrain) in the U.S., the resulting van is about 1,000lbs or 10% lighter than a comparable member of the UPS fleet with no cost premium. In view of the pigmented finish, the composite van does not require painting and requires less energy to produce.

Simple, less exotic applications like those exemplified above, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to harnessing the enormous potential of composites in a multitude of market sectors.

Composites, in general have inherent corrosion resistance and rival carbon steel on this score. It was interesting to read a column in Bloomberg Businessweek, captioned “The high cost of waging war on rust” that  dwelt on the Pentagon enlisting defense contractors in the battle against corrosion in ships, tanks, planes that is expected to cost an estimated $115 billion over the next five years! Creation of a Corrosion Policy envisages new technology (read Composites) and stepped-up maintenance that could cut the annual cost of corrosion by at least 30% in about 20 years.

Are  thermosetting resin and glass producers  listening? All roads leading to the Pentagon to pitch the case for more extensive use of composites by the Defense Department?

UNDERRATED BUT USEFUL OBJECTS: PIPES AND SEATS

While steel and concrete were the leading materials for large-diameter pipes (pipes with a diameter 15 inches or more) in the U.S. in 2010, the long-term outlook for plastics (including glass fiber composites, HDPE, PVC) is favorable, according to Plastics News. The U.S. demand is projected to grow 6.2% per year through 2015. Sewers – including both storm  & sanitary sewers, will remain the leading outlet accounting for about 50% of the total demand.

With composites having a proven solid track record for sewer pipes, it should be a cakewalk. But one should never underestimate HDPE pipes…more so, in the wake of last week’s announcement of a Singapore company having successfully demonstrated its high stress, crack-resistant HDPE pipes. Et tu thermoplastics? For sure.

Thinner seats are bound to become increasingly important as automakers try to shave weight and size from cars to meet improved fuel economy. A processor in the U.S. has developed a compression molded  plastic composite structural back that can be more easily shaped to match the body’s contours compared with foam and wire used in a typical seat structure [Plastics News]. Though 1 inch thinner and 2 lbs lighter than standard seats, the seat is safe enough that it can stand up to Federal crash requirements.The material of the  plastic composite seat can also have a visible surface rather than covering it with laminate or textiles.

Big may be beautiful; but thinner, sleeker, lighter, ergonomic designs are what the future beckons for automotive seats.

CHEMICALS MAKE THE WORLD GO ‘ROUND!

Pricing volatility of benzene feedstock continues in North America coupled with shortages of butadiene feedstock. With styrene monomer being derived from benzene, it is no wonder that thermosetting resin producers announced yet another price increase recently.

Whether skyward or northward is more appropriate to describe price increases, depends on the state of the mind !

For those with a scientific (read chemistry) bent of mind; last week’s news via BBC mentioned the addition of two new elements to the periodic table…curiously having temporary titles of ununquadium and ununhexium.

Another piece of latest news is that average prices of iron ore are expected to drop off in the coming years…around 30% in 2011 and 9% in 2012, according to Forbes. One main reason being attributed to this is the continuous build up of iron ore inventories in China – the world’s largest producer & importer of iron ore.

Which makes us wonder…is the Chinese economy a blessing or a curse? Take your pick.

UH OH…

I end this post with, not unexpectedly, startling news. Late last week, Fitch Ratings stated that the U.S. risked losing its prized AAA sovereign rating in August, if it suffered even a “technical” default on its debt. Moody‘s credit rating agency also echoed similar views on possible cutting of the top-notch credit rating if there was not enough progress by mid-July on a deal to reduce the deficit and raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.

Sad and unthinkable as it may be, the harsh truth hits all Americans real hard. Is there a possibility of global markets being roiled in August?

Fingers crossed, a prayer on everyone’s lips…and????

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram
Email: SS@essjaycomposites.com
Twitter: @essjaycomposite
Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Perseverance + Resilience: A Composites Recipe for Success

Hello everyone,

I begin this post by drawing reference to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek column that  stated “world markets are frothing like shaken champagne.” Amongst other things, it adds that price increases, (notably commodities) being witnessed are unsupported by economic fundamentals. The columnist opines that current bubbles need to be deflated before they get dangerously large. Late last week, BBC News quoted the Asian Development Bank (ADB) that soaring food and fuel prices are threatening to derail growth in Asian economies with a possible reduction in economic growth in the region by up to 1.5% this year.

Following the meeting of finance ministers in Washington on April 15, a G20 communique in The Telegraph sounded optimistic, stating that the global recovery was broadening and becoming more sustained with increasingly robust private demand growth. In the same breath, it stated that downside risks remain and that staying vigilant was the watchword.

In a nutshell; the bottom line for the world at large, is cautious optimism.

TIDBITS: COPPER, PLATINUM, GLASS FIBER, ACMA

Copper is now being dubbed the new gold. It is being considered more lucrative and is forecast to hover around record prices for the next few years – for the simple reason that there isn’t enough supply in the world to feed Asia’s demand. As far as platinum is concerned, a recent Bloomberg Businessweek forecast predicts the precious metal breaching the $2000 mark by December 31, 2011. Overall, demand is expanding 9% – almost twice the increase in supply. Companies are reportedly digging even deeper to maintain production.

It is hoped that rising platinum and copper costs do not deter glass fiber producers who have ambitious plans to ramp up production globally, either through expansion or new ventures.

In its April meeting, the FRP Rebar Manufacturers Council of the American Composites Manufacturers Association (ACMA) discussed the need to establish a strategic new direction for the FRP concrete market with focus on end-user education, legislation and industry certification. The newly constituted Thermoset Molders Committee, part of the Composites Growth Initiative (CGI) of ACMA, plans to grow their markets by focusing on marketing, codes, standards and political advocacy. One of the reasons the American Composites industry remains in the forefront on technological aspects is the continued focus on industry standards and bold practical initiatives.

CARBON IS TRENDY

Whilst the use of glass and aramid fibers in automotive tires have been tested and proven, the latest successful development is the use of Teijin‘s aramid fiber in ultra high performance tire for the super sports car segment. Test trials report that the tire remains at its most ideal shape even at extreme high speeds, preserving stability and displaying resistance to high temperature. With carbon fibers already being used extensively in the sports car segment, use of tires with aramid fiber would be the ultimate dream machine for all racing enthusiasts.

What makes this most interesting is the importance attached to safety… carbon fibers for the body and aramid for tires. Exciting times ahead for sure.

While this post is not a carbon fiber “special”, I do like to cite reference to a column in the Gamers Hub  that speculates possibility of future iPads, iPhones and Macbooks being encased in CFRP, displacing the current aluminum and stainless steel casings.

When it comes to novelty and innovation, Apple has few peers. No two opinions on this one!

SUSTAINABLE ENERGY

Global demand for polyolefins (PE, PP) will continue to increase 5% per annum 2011-2014,  but the world’s balance will increasingly shift from North America and Europe to Asia and the Middle East [Plastics News]. DOW‘s recent announcement that it plans to expand polyethylene feedstock plants in the U.S. using natural gas feedstock is a pointer towards America’s growing tendency to move away from fossil fuel (oil) and lean more on domestic (natural gas) natural resources. Per CNBC and the New York Times, Washington is increasingly giving natural gas a warm embrace, in spite of the fact that the heated debate rages on the environmental effects of shale derived natural gas. When gasoline costs exceed that of bottled water (as of now), the killer combo of high gas and food prices is at a key tipping point.

There is logic to the U.S. approach of veering away from  excessive dependence on oil imports… in much the same manner as the Middle East is finding alternate ways (other than oil exports) of propping up it’s economy.

Plan B is always a necessity in all spheres of life – none can debate that it is a must!

In a bid to make its operations carbon neutral by 2012, work has commenced on the installation of two wind turbines (expected to save 300Tonnes of carbon emissions each year) at East Midlands airport in the U.K. When completed, they will generate 5% of the site’s electricity.

 Commitment to its intentions on carbon footprint reduction? You bet!

After the Fukushima disaster, there has been endless debate on nuclear vs. renewables. In an interesting feature in CleanTechnica, it has been pointed out that in the U.S., even though nuclear and wind technologies produced considerable amounts of energy in their first 15 years (2.6 billion KWh for nuclear vs. 1.9 billion KWh for wind), the subsidy to nuclear outweighed that to wind by a factor of 40 ($ 39.4 billion vs. $900 million). The tailpiece comment was “imagine if wind was subsidized as much as nuclear”!

The fact remains that nuclear is needed to provide baseload power for renewables. Yet……

AUTOMOTIVES AS A PARTING NOTE

While we all recognize that the driving force on composites popularity in automotive applications (for decades) has been “parts consolidation” (compared to metals), the crowning glory is the recent award by the U.S. Patents Office for a composite automotive floor pan to the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) that replaces up to 17 steel parts and sheds up to 25 lbs for a typical passenger car. USCAR is a collaborative automotive technology organization of GM, Chrysler and Ford Motors.

A watershed in composites innovation for automotive applications? It just might be so.

I could not resist mention of a screaming headline in Yahoo Finance on April 26… IMF‘s prediction that the age of America will end in 2016 with China  all set  to eclipse the U.S. For Americans, the psychological ramifications are one too many. Will the takeover at the helm be so swift? Recall the earlier prediction was for this to happen around 2025 !

Let’s wait and see. Life should move on as we live for the present, which itself is fraught with uncertainty and surprises at every turn.

Till the next post… keep smiling and hoping for the best.

Cheers,

S. Sundaram
EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com
Twitter@essjaycomposite
Website : www.essjaycomposites.com

Crude (oil) Awakening Impacting the Polymers & Composites Industry

Hello everyone,

There were a few surprises at the Oscars …most noticeably “The Social Network” not bagging enough as one would have hoped for, considering the fact that we are currently knee deep in the social networking era [for which this blog is an apt advertisement]. On a personal note I wished the movie, that had won several accolades from the public, had coveted a few more trophies.

OIL, OIL, OIL

Elsewhere, the past few weeks have been a (c)rude awakening (pun intended) with the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (popularly referred as the MENA region) taking its toll not only of human lives, but pushing crude oil prices further northward. As to what effect this will have on the dreaded “I” word (Inflation) remains to be seen.

View a related published feature from my Portfolio, from 2008, by clicking the following link:
OIL – FUELING GRP GROWTH IN THE MIDDLE EAST (OCT 2008)


POLYMER BUILDING BLOCKS – PRICES ON THE RISE

Demand in the global styrene market has resumed an upward trajectory and is now growing at a scorching pace. The pro-rated growth of additional new styrene capacity added to the market in 2010 was almost 2.6 million metric tons; but some capacity was also taken out of service, with leading global majors in styrenics deciding to focus on more profitable faster growing businesses.

What is definitely cause for concern is the volatility in polypropylene prices since January, with double digit increases last month, probably triggered by shortage of propylene in North America. And the increase in crude oil prices (currently around $105/barrel) is making matters worse. Continued use of natural gas-based ethane as a petrochemical feedstock will play a major role in continued propylene tightness. Though ethane produces less propylene per unit than crude oil-based naphtha, suppliers are unlikely to switch to higher priced crude to aid the propylene market. Price increases could render polypropylene less competitive compared to other thermoplastics and affect the LFRTD-LFT and short fiber reinforced thermoplastic markets significantly with a possible negative impact on the burgeoning automotive sector which is on the recovery mode.

Technology and geopolitical economics can wreak havoc… it is unfortunate that the timing is so awry.

ASIA: MATERIALS M&A, WIND ENERGY & GDP

“Strategic Deals Likely to Rule in Materials” was the headline in a recent issue of Plastics News. Private equity firms acquiring well established businesses in the fields of thermoplastics, thermosets and molding compounds, and even distribution companies appears to be the norm that started a couple of years back and rapidly gaining momentum. One can expect more cases of Mergers and Acquistions (M&A) in the polymers and composites business. The same philosophy also extended to metals with two of Japan’s major steel makers (Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal) announcing plans last month to combine their businesses with a view to expand global operations in China, India and other emerging countries while consolidating operations in the shrinking Japanese market.

Flow with the tide, and do what it takes to remain afloat seems to be the new business mantra. Rightly so!

2011 began with the announcement of China (41,800 MW) dethroning the U.S. (40,180 MW) in wind energy capacity in the Financial Times. But early March saw a reality check with NASDAQ stating that more than half of the electricity produced by China’s wind farms goes unused because of a lack of power grid connections and insufficient transmission capacity. What a colossal waste! Perhaps China would do well in emulating Europe and the U.S. (especially the former) when it comes to foresight on planning.

With China lowering its targeted annual GDP growth rate to 7% for 2011-15 to ease pressures on the environment, the stage is set for Asia’s eternal bridesmaid, India, to romp home with an annual GDP forecast of 8.5 %. High inflation of course, could play spoilsport. A Newsweek column had an interesting analysis on “what the West’s overly indebted and sluggish nations could learn from a flourishing Asia”? It stressed that the West should relearn the value of pragmatism. The parting advice was that “just as Americans need to learn how to intelligently raise taxes, the Europeans need to learn how to intelligently cut expenditure — a challenge that Asian economies were taught to surmount by their own past crises”.

Fascinating comparison and thought provoking analysis, for sure.

COMPOSITES & DESIGN: MILITARY, AUTOMOTIVE, RAILWAY

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek column discussed the pros of better helmet design in minimizing risk of brain injury to soldiers and the importance of adding face shields to the helmets. Coincidentally, DuPont announced the launch of a new aramid based ballistic protection for hard armor applications targeted for military and protective helmets and tactical plates ballistic protective vests, that uses a new thermoplastic resin.

When it comes to saving human lives in war zones, technological developments in composites serve as the ultimate frontier.

The Automotive sector is in high gear and moving from body structure to full frames in composites. High temperature resins such as nylon (polyamides) are most likely to be the preferred choice (in lieu of PP) as the resulting thermoplastic composite can withstand the high temperatures of an electrocoat process (for corrosion resistance).

The new generation automotive structures are poised to be in composites — exciting prospects indeed.

Washington’s announcement last month of a multi-billion dollar investment in the U.S. rail network implied a potential high-speed link from Montreal to Boston and New York City. It left Canada and Bombardier on a high with the exciting prospect of extensive use of composites in this ambitious project & serving the mutual interests of  neighbors-north and south of the border.

So much for love-thy-neighbor policies, though not directly intended.

BETTER GOLF BALLS = BETTER GOLF PLAYERS!

I end this post  with an interesting development that would thrill all golf lovers. Nike recently announced development of a golf ball (jointly with Du Pont) that goes further, straighter and is easier to control. The revolutionary design (British Plastics, UK) incorporates a core with up to 40% material weight from renewable sources that replaces the traditional rubber core. Golfers should have access to the ball this spring.

Enjoy teeing, weather permitting, till the next post!

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Email: SS@essjaycomposites.com
Twitter: @essjaycomposite