Category Archives: Infrastructure

Future trends for composites growth have never been better

Hello everyone,

It feels good to be back again….albeit after a not-too-short break!

2018 appears to have begun with a bang, with stock markets on a high (barring the roller coaster ride in the past few weeks), oil prices bouncing back and the global economy poised to grow at 3.1% – a tad higher than the stronger-than-expected 3% growth achieved in 2017.

Markets – on a high

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Growth in advanced economies is expected to moderate slightly to 2.2% in 2018, while growth in emerging markets and developing economies is projected to strengthen to 4.5% [World Bank]. The growth spurt has been helped by a turnaround in trade, years of low interest rates and a rebound in oil prices, which have all boosted confidence.

Justified optimism

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Global trade could take a hit thanks to recently announced U.S. policies that seem to flout the “no man is an island” axiom. Will this embolden other nations also to embrace the proverbial “charity begins at home” philosophy or will it be the U.S. versus ROW?

Time will tell.

The manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. is an accepted reality thanks to the shale oil boom driving down energy costs due to technological advancements in fracking.

Technology breathroughs

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The composites industry continues to be on a roll globally as is evidenced by planned geographical expansion of glass and carbon fiber plants with significant investments especially taking place in the U.S. Recent significant technological breakthroughs in carbon fiber manufacturing entailing multi-fold increase in production output alongside reduced energy consumption that result in cost-effective solutions to meet the projected 300% increase in demand for carbon fibers over the next decade, augurs well for the industry as a whole.

RTP – on a tear

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Reinforced thermoplastics (RTP) appear to be on a tear with a host of new applications across a wide spectrum of sectors – from automotive to infrastructure and aerospace. For composites applications, the gap between thermoplastics and thermosets is gradually narrowing, thanks to exceptional development work being carried out by thermoplastics majors jointly with end users and fiber reinforcement producers. The rapid strides made by long-fiber thermoplastics (LFT) in the past few years that enabled higher fiber loading resulted in several breakthrough applications as a viable alternative to metals. Recent developments in short-fiber reinforced thermoplastics indicate that they are making a strong comeback. Piper Plastics claims to have developed a unique short-fiber technology which enables complex parts to be consistently molded with high mechanical properties that eliminates the processing and fiber breakage concerns with LFT compounds. Weld line strength losses and fiber length reduction during processing considered the bane of LFTs, which are reportedly overcome with this short-fiber technology that permits use of lower filler loadings [Plastics Today]. Molded components are 20% lighter and 20-50% stronger than their LFT counterparts. Tensile strengths above 352MPa and flexural modulus exceeding 44,816MPa have reportedly been achieved with PA, PPA, PEI and PEEK thermoplastics.

Success begets success

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Continuous fiber reinforced thermoplastic composite (CFRTC) tapes are poised to find use in a variety of industrial applications, thanks to some pioneering work by SABIC. One such product is a glass-filled high density polyethylene (HDPE) composite suitable for applications in water distribution and oil & gas sectors. Glass fiber filled PP tapes with a running length of 4,000 meters can be used in automotive bulkheads and industrial pressure vessels [Plastics Today]. Unidirectional CFRTCs feature a proprietary high- pressure fiber impregnation technology (HPFIT) that quickly and precisely enables the spread and combination of numerous glass and carbon fiber strands in a thermoplastic matrix, yielding a resin-rich surface containing a high density of continuous fibers, very low void content and fewer broken fibers. The lightweight, high strength UD CFRTCs provide a replacement solution for metal, plywood and other traditional materials that includes automotive and aerospace applications.

Offshore wind power – bigger and better

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Bigger and better is the name of the game when it comes to wind turbines – both onshore and offshore, especially the latter. Bigger rotors and blades cover a wider area, thereby increasing turbine capacity (total potential production). Taller turbines get the blades higher up in the atmosphere where the wind blows more steadily. This increases the turbine’s capacity factor as it runs more often (more revolutions). Greater height and higher winds result in increased stresses [Vox]. Bigger turbines harvest more energy, more steadily – the bigger they get, the less variable and more reliable they are and the easier they integrate into the grid. Offshore wind power is at an all-time high in Europe, with the concept of floating offshore wind farms now a commercial reality. GEs  proposed monstrous 12MW offshore wind turbine will be the largest to date – rotor diameter of 722 ft, blade length of 351 ft and an unusually high capacity factor, producing around 67GWh annually. Wind power costs ($/MWh) have already dropped 65% since 2009 and expected to fall another 50% by 2030, driven primarily by technological innovations. CFRP composites are expected to play a major role thanks to the lighter weight (compared to GFRP) which is so relevant when it comes to dynamic balancing of larger turbine blades.

BIG is obviously beautiful and better when it comes to offshore wind turbines!

Hydrogen economy – coming to town

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The low carbon hydrogen economy of the future is showing signs of rapid acceleration. Toyota’s concept car Mirai (FCV) apparently has paved the way for buses and trains also to be powered by hydrogen in the near future. The U.S. Air Force is touting a zero emission renewable hydrogen fuel cell bus as a step towards additional Department of Defense (DOD) applications. Canada is hinting it would like to be the first country in the world with a full size hydrogen fuel cell passenger train [Triple Pundit]. Van Hool, an independent bus, coach and industrial vehicles manufacturer has landed a contract to supply 40 hydrogen FCVs to Germany in what is the largest order for H2 powered FCVs ever placed in Europe. The first in a fleet of 11 Toyota Mirai police cars was delivered to London’s Met Police earlier this week (mid-March) as the force begins the roll out of the world’s biggest fleet of H2-fuelled police vehicles. Per Toyota, the Mirai police cars will cost around half the price of a diesel squad car to run and can theoretically cover more than 300 miles on a single tank [Auto Express]. A common factor in all these developments is the use of CFRP pressure vessels for storing the hydrogen plus a host of lightweight components in composites for the cars, buses and trains.

Are we on the cusp of a zero emission hydrogen revolution with composites riding on its coattails? You could definitely say so!

Lightweighting innovations abound

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A new generation of thermoplastic composite sheet based on a modified Styrene- acrylonitrile (SAN) matrix with woven glass fiber reinforcement reportedly combines structural stiffness with surface aesthetics, thereby opening up potential applications in the automotive sector. The thermoplastic composite sheets can be thermoformed, back-injection-molded and decorated in just a single processing step [Plastics Today]. Simultaneously, the lower shrinkage during the solidification phase of the styrenic copolymer matrix reduces the surface roughness (waviness) significantly, resulting in superior surface quality. This composite offers a thickness reduction potential of up to 50-70% compared to injection molded parts resulting in a weight reduction /sq meter of 40-50%. Potential semi-structural applications in automotive interiors include seating modules, lower consoles, instrument clusters and tailgate modules. The composite is said to offer excellent mechanical properties including stiffness and impact strength.

Carbon fiber SMC has been used by Toyota for the liftgate in the 2017 Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (improves package space even with additional room needed for batteries) and in doors and deck lid for the Lexus LC. The composite allows Toyota to make narrower rear pillars, thereby enabling drivers to have an improved sight line [Plastics News].

Metals bastion – narrowing the gap

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While technology developments abound with all materials of construction, clearly those taking place in the composites sector merit special mention as they are truly “composite” in nature – variation in form and type of reinforcement(s), cure characteristics of the resin (chemistry),  equipment processability, mold design, adhesive bonding of different substrates ++. It is  the successful confluence of all these aspects that ultimately results in a commercially viable product. Fortunately, the stakeholders in the value chain share tremendous synergy in all these developments which makes the end results all the more commendable, worthy of encore “high fives”!

Composites have still a long way to go when it comes to being the preferred material of choice for several industrial applications, where metals still rule roost. Storming the metals bastion is difficult, but not impossible as the recent spate of successes of composites would show. The fact that ACMA‘s perseverance in promoting composites in the infrastructure sector in recent times is paying rich dividends, bears ample testimony  to the inroads made by innovative technology advancements in this field which can further progress from “good to great” in the near future.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

We specialize in Authentic Market Research Reports on Composites!

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Composites on sedate growth, albeit global economic headwinds

Hello everyone,

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

Growth, albeit tepid

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

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

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

Cool, stronger alternative

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

Confluence of pluses

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

The nano revolution

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

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

Persevere to succeed

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

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

A step ahead in the learning curve

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

Relentless pursuit

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

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

Versatility prevails

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

Drill, drill, drill!

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

Points to ponder and plan for the future.

Chemistry spinoffs

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

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

Space propulsion ahoy!

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

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

Optimism – the elixir

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

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

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites

Next-shoring : the latest strategy for business competitiveness and growth

Hello all,

Here we go again with another post on the latest in global economics, composites and polymers while chipping in occasionally with tidbits on entertainment and sports. A truncated February has been the prime reason for deferring the publication of this post.

RESHAPING THE WORLD

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The impact of GDP growth of nations on the composites industry in the respective countries has never been so obvious since the beginning of the global economic downturn in 2009. Questions abound on whether regions/countries have hit the bottom of the “U” and there is an uptick in the economy. While experts continue to be flummoxed at times by conflicting reports on the health of the Chinese economy (the debate is unending), the U.S., UK and Germany continue to forge ahead with bright 2014 prospects.

The theme of the 2014 World Economic Forum meet in late January in Davos was aptly “Reshaping the World”. Leaders recognized the skills of nations to navigate the complexity and interconnectivity of the changing world, with profound political, economic, social and technological forces shaping our lives. There could not have been a better way to succintly sum up the global scenario. A discerning feature was the U.S. vs. Europe competitiveness on the energy front with the former being adjudged the clear winner much to the dispirit of the Europeans [CNBC]. The American euphoria could perhaps be short-lived if one were to go by reports of the recent shale gas exploration success in the UK – not a real match in terms of barrels per day of oil or cubic feet of natural gas, but still a significant step.

For those who followed the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the (healthy) U.S.- European rivalry was all too obvious, driven largely by sportsmanship and adrenalin pumping (will to win) !

THINWALLING – THE NORM

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Automotive instrument panel retainers in composites have been around for more than a decade. However, developments never cease in making parts thinner and lighter. An injection-molded thinwall instrument panel retainer in the 2014 Chrysler Jeep Cherokee is reportedly the industry’s first to attain 2.0mm thickness employing long glass fiber reinforced polypropylene (PP) with a 30% fiber loading. The part is reportedly 27% lighter than the previous talc-filled PP version (2.5 to 4.0mm thickness). Thinwalling enabled a cycle time reduction of approximately 30% versus the conventional 3.0mm thick part due to faster cooling time and a nominal cost reduction. Advanced fiber orientation was employed in the design of the new part to properly set up the injection mold for warpage mitigation [Plastics Today].

Lightweighting has almost become a fetish in the automotive industry and the collaborative efforts of OEMs, fiber producers and machinery manufacturers continue to reap rich dividends.

Another recent development has been a weight-optimized commercial vehicle storage compartment flap with a 70% uni-directional glass fiber reinforced PP tape. The thermoplastic tape laying method provides outstanding mechanical properties, resilience and ability to form complex shapes apart from reducing waste and cost. Yet another automotive development has been an injection-molded glass fiber reinforced polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) head-up display that shows important information directly at the driver’s eye level. This rigid, temperature-resistant material features high dimensional stability and low warpage, enabling very low tolerances that allow precise dimensions for various components. The components of a head-up display-case bearing housings, the optical rail and mirror holder should not change shape even slightly, that makes the reinforced PPS an ideal material for this application [Plastics Today].

CARBON FIBER – ALL THE WAY

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It was mostly about carbon fiber composites at the January 2014 Detroit Auto Show. The auto industry’s carbon fiber dreams are increasingly making it to the street. GM and BMW introduced cars at the show that use more CFRP than their previous models [Plastics News]. The Chevrolet Corvette Z 06 has a standard removable carbon fiber roof panel enabling drivers the luxury of an open air option without losing their composite cover. This is a follow up on the 2013 Corvette Stingray with a carbon fiber hood and fixed roof. BMWs new M3 sedan and M4 coupe both have carbon fiber roof systems with potential weight reduction of 80kgs in each model. Toyota’s FT-1 concept car utilizes a carbon fiber exterior door panel made in a single step in one large mold. The large one-piece hood swoops down for a split front end with exposed carbon fiber trim that skims over the surface. Nissan’s Q50 Eau Rouge concept luxury car utilizes aerodynamics for the carbon fiber exterior trim. The curving capabilities available through molding is used to funnel passing air directly where it is needed to cool the rear brakes of the sports car.

Another way to reduce drag co-efficient and improve fuel economy, apart from conventional weight reduction techniques.

NEXT-SHORING IS THE NEW TREND

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Demand for manufactured goods in emerging markets is surging and fragmenting, as factory costs shift technological advances with more powerful robotics and the internet creating a new range of opportunities for manufacturers to digitize operations. Manufacturing strategies built on labor-cost arbitrage are becoming outmoded. The race is on to get ahead of what comes next. The new trend is to place greater emphasis on proximity to both demand and innovation while making location decisions that balance economies of scale against the growing diversity of tastes within and across global markets. First it was offshoring (arbitrage labor costs by using low-wage workers in developing nations). Then came reshoring -return of manufacturing to developed markets as wages rose in emerging nations. The latest mantra is next-shoring, which  places emphasis on proximity to demand and proximity to innovation. Both are crucial in a world where evolving demand from new markets places a premium on the ability to adapt products to different regions. Next-shoring strategies encompass a diverse and agile set of production locations, a rich orientation of innovation-centered partnerships and a strong focus on technical skills [Mckinsey].

Recent examples from an array ? Toray’s latest announcement on plans to invest in a new carbon fiber integrated- manufacturing facility in South Carolina in the U.S.; Jushi venturing out of China and setting up new glass fiber manufacturing plant in Egypt. Watch out for many more announcements of new plants by both fiber and resin manufacturers in the near future.

Dynamics of change….embracing it and being proactive is essential for businesses to survive. More so, a fundamental prerequisite for market leaders to retain numero uno status in their respective market segments.

INNOVATIVE POTENT COMBOS

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A recent trend in thermoplastic composites features not only a glass fiber reinforced prepreg, but also the cutting and incorporation of long fibers into the overmolding material at the injection machine itself. Arburg highlights the ability, using the latter, to modify glass fiber length according to the application and the cost advantage of not having to buy pre-compounded LFT granules. Sophisticated robotics and infrared cameras monitor the effectiveness of the preheating station for the prepreg. However, it is not clear at this stage as to how many applications will require the use of both LFTs and prepregs [Injection World]. In what can be considered as a 21st century version of RTM, manufacturing automotive products in thermoplastic composites using in-situ polymerization of caprolactam into polyamide6 in a modified injection molding machine, is making waves. In a prototype demonstration, the liquid components were injected over a 3D glass fabric preform. The stated advantages over preforms created by thermoforming a prepreg sheet is that the preform is impregnated and formed at the same time – hence, more complicated geometries and more surface finishes can be obtained.

NOVELTY IS THE KEY

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A company claims that it can boost the flexural stiffness of fiber reinforced profiles by more than 500% by incorporating continuous long glass fibers in the profile – but only in the places where the reinforcement is needed. It claims lower cost than equivalent metal or pultruded products. By eliminating the need for metallic reinforcements, the profiles (displayed at K2013) are the ideal solution in environments where thermal conduction and corrosion are an issue. The use of glass fiber instead of aluminum or steel improves the thermal efficiency of buildings [Pipe &Profile Extrusion]. The successful product was developed through a combination of pultrusion and extrusion technologies. In a similar fashion, a German company has developed endless fiber reinforced polymer composites ideal for lightweight, high strength applications. During extrusion the profile is uni-directional reinforced through pre-impregnated ribbons in a longitudinal direction ensuring reliable transfer of the high pull-off forces. This also counteracts the majority of stress conditions experienced by a prismatic profile. The profiles consist of a thermoplastic matrix reinforced with continuous fibers with a specific fiber orientation which are created in an integrated winding station. The products can be made with different thermoplastics reinforced with glass or carbon fiber. Use of carbon fiber enables production of pipes and profiles that are more lightweight than extruded aluminum profiles. By selecting the correct combination of profile geometry, thermoplastic material, fiber and its orientation, the profile can be adapted to suit the load in terms of torsion, tensile rigidity and tensile strength. The profiles have impact strength, low weight, exhibit low thermal expansion and a high degree of insulation. Products are available as tubes and a variety of profile shapes including triangular, I-beam, square and rectangular [Pipe &Profile Extrusion].

Combining pultrusion and extrusion processing…..novelty has no limits.

NATURAL GAS POWER

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Improved hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has helped unlock vast new tight oil supplies in several states in the U.S. Per International Energy Agency, crude oil production rose by 990,000 barrels /day in 2013 – an increase of 15% over 2012. That’s the fastest such absolute growth of any country in 20 years [Time]. The fracking revolution has simultaneously unearthed vast stores of natural gas. Corporate America is on a spree in converting their trucking fleets to natural gas and building more fueling stations. Proctor & Gamble, United Parcel Service and Frito-Lay North America are expanding their natural gas fleets. Trucking companies are increasing their number of natural gas vehicles while energy firms are busy building infrastructure for natural gas in the U.S. Technology has made natural gas a real game changer. CNG tanks will continue to be in great demand, resulting in a significant increase in use of carbon fiber for the tanks.

RESIN PRICES – ON THE RISE

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The shale gas revolution that has resulted in the U.S. unearthing a bounty of oil and hence becoming less dependent on imported crude oil, continues to have a profound effect on availability of propylene (thereby causing PP price to rise by more than 5 cents/lb). Ditto for thermosetting resins due to the benzene-styrene effect (as forecast in our January post). Benzene price was at a record high in January. Almost all major thermosetting resin producers globally announced price increases in early February for unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resins (blame the styrene effect!). While plans are already afoot on the propane dehydrogenation route for increased production/supply of propylene (with a bit of luck, from 2015); the quest for a commercially viable alternate route to benzene (and hence styrene) needs no overemphasis. Brace yourself for further price hikes in 2014 and beyond.

Time for Low Styrene-Emission (LSE) thermosetting resins to make a greater impact through more widespread use ? Perhaps……..

Global warming has been the reason attributed to the bitterly cold weather in several parts of North America, chiefly the U.S. Hedgehog day in early February threw up contradictory predictions on an early spring. Change is everywhere – be it political, the economy, business investment climate or the weather.

As mortals, we have no option but to embrace change at each stage. Ditto for change in this blog’s format, which is in the works.

The Oscar awards are round the corner and the world expectantly awaits the winners. Fingers crossed on this one…….

Till the April post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello everyone,

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

CHARTING OWN COURSE

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

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

TAPERING OFF ?

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

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

NOD TO COMPOSITES

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

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

UPPING THE ANTE

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

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

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

JOINING THE BANDWAGON

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

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

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

PLASTICS TO THE FORE

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

A dent to aluminum ?

 LOWERING CYCLE TIME

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

PARADIGM SHIFTS

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

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

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

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

NA – MAKING THE DIFFERENCE

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

TALL, TALLER…

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

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

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

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

Allowing imagination to run riot ? 

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

Its a small world, eh ?

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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 ……..

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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

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

Hello all,

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

TRENDING ENERGY 

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

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

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

HEAT IS ON !

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

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

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

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

 SURFACE ELEGANCE

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

INTERFACIAL BOND

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

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

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

LIGHT…..LIGHTER

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

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

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

TIDAL POWER – EMERGING FORCE

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

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

RENEWABLES – ACING THE REST

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

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

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

BIO- (R)EVOLUTION

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

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

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

 GFRP REBAR – CONFIDENCE BOOST

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

BEST OF THE BRAINS

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

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

WATER…THE NEW GOLD ?

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

Water…the elixir of life ?

AAH! RECORD OF SORTS

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

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

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

Till then,

Happy holidays !

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Polymers & Composites – Leading the Green Revolution

Hello again,

Most readers would be back at their desks after the summer vacation, bracing  for the last month of Q3 and possibly an eventful Q4 to round off 2012.

WORLD BANK’S TAKE

The World Bank’s Food Price Index sparked a 10% gain in July as a result of the worst U.S. drought in decades resulting in corn and soybean prices hitting a new high. Drought in the former Soviet Union and weak monsoon in India added to the concern. Stable rice prices are mitigating possibility of a crisis situation – this could however change, should energy costs increase or bad weather persist [Yahoo Finance].

The global economy continues to falter. Countries like Germany, China & Brazil that kept the global economy expanding; appear to be losing steam, of late. The World Bank expects a soft recovery with global growth of 2.5% – however, there appears to be a clear divide between developing economies forecast to grow by 5.3% and advanced economies by a mere 1.4% [BBC News-Business]. Geopolitical tensions, hurricanes and presidential campaigns continue to have a profound impact on both energy and the economy.

A case of confusion compounded ? That apparently sums up the situation which is likely to play out for the rest of 2012. Even eternal optimists would perhaps grudgingly admit to such a scenario.

SHOWCASE – POLYMERS/COMPOSITES

The London 2012 Olympics has concluded. But the hangover from one of the best Olympics ever, persists. There could not have been a better advertisement for practical use of polymers and composites. The carbon fiber revolution was on display for millions of viewers across the globe. The telling moment was Oscar Pistorius giving his all in the 400-meter dash on his carbon fiber blades. Material advances of carbon fiber and aluminum in the arms of the modern recurve bow were on display in the archery event that witnessed faster, quieter, more accurate shooting than previous designs. One could see badminton rackets with carbon fiber handles and shafts engineered to fit players’ needs and enhanced for power and speed [Composites Manufacturing]. Bicycle frames in carbon fiber are well known – but the velodrome witnessed cutting edge technology in the extensive use of carbon fiber. Team GB’s smashing success (read haul of gold medals) has been partly attributed to a Plymouth University composites engineer’s design in crafting high performance carbon fiber frames and bike parts through computer design and stress analysis techniques to harness the immense power of the riders [Plymouth University]. At the swimming pool, divers jumped off the concrete platform shaped in sturdy GFRP molds while the gymnasts exhibited their balancing skills on GFRP pultruded uneven bars. To those accustomed to the traditional green artificial turf hockey pitch, the pink-fringed electric blue pitch would have appeared frivolous. But visually, it was stunning. Made from DOW‘s octene-based linear low density polyethylene resin (LLDPE); the soft, flexible and strong engineered grass yarn had excellent splitting and tear resistance and sufficiently high melting point to cope with high pitch temperatures, apart from increased abrasion resistance compared to butene-based LLDPE [Plastics Today].

Did you know that the Olympic Stadium was constructed using more than 50% recycled materials ?

BLOWING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Unmindful of its economic woes, Europe continues to march ahead in offshore wind power. 50% more offshore wind power capacity was installed in H1,2012 compared to the same period last year, with a total of 4,336MW operating – up from 3,294MW in June 2011 & producing electricity to the equivalent of 4 million households. A further 160 turbines totalling 647MW are being built and awaiting grid connection [EWEA]. According to a Technology Innovation Needs Assessments [TINAs] report, offshore wind power could deliver 20-50% of UK’s total electricity generation [Click Green]. It further states that innovation has the potential to drive down costs 25% by 2020 ($160/MWh) and 60% by 2050 ($96/MWh).

Ambitious numbers indeed; but with the UK’s successful track record, definitely not beyond their means.

GOING GREEN – WITH WIND POWER

Welcome to the world’s first wind powered charging station where wind-powered electric cars are becoming a reality ! In early August, Spain took the lead with the world’s first fully integrated wind-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Barcelona. A 4KW turbine, developed by New York’s Urban Green Energy (UGE) and GE’s WattStation charging system gives electric car users clean, abundant, renewable energy to power their EVs [Torque News]. In an interesting article published end August by five researchers  titled ” The Economic Impact of Wind Energy”, stats showed that 47,000 MW of wind turbines were installed in the U.S. as of end 2011 contributing to 2.5% of the nation’s electricity supply. For each MW of wind capacity, reportedly, a county gains half a job and just over $11,000 in total personal income [Daily Yonder].

In another development, a metro rail project linking two major cities in Western India (in the state of Gujarat) spanning a distance of 44 kms in the first phase, is poised to have a dedicated wind power generation plant to run its trains and meet power requirements at its stations and other utilities. This would be the first metro rail project in India to run on “green power” for which carbon credits would also be claimed [Indian Express].

Fascinating and revealing stats….each country adopts its own methodology in driving home the advantages of clean wind energy. The icing on the cake is the use of wind power to drive EVs and trains. Mother Nature would definitely be sporting a smug smile !

RECYCLED CARBON FIBER

Recycled aircraft-grade carbon fiber from Boeing’s 787 production facility has been converted into compounds that deliver high performance at lower levels than conventional CF. Kayak paddles made with the recycled CF have resulted in a smooth finish whilst simultaneously providing high performance and easier processing. Virgin CF for the same end use rendered the paddles visually unattractive. The system cost, when compared, is reported to be insignificant [Plastics News].

Optically excited locked-in thermography (OLT) is now being exploited for quantitative assessment of simulated sub-surface defects in thick GFRP composite laminates such as those typically used in yacht manufacturing. OLT has been effective in assessing defects geometry and depth as well as recognition of barely visible impact damage over the external gel coat layer. Results have shown that by using a transmission set-up instead of a reflection one, accurate assessment (standard uncertainty <1.4%) of impact damages could be attained. Estimation of delamination depths was found to be critically influenced by the actual area and aspect ratio of the discontinuity [Science Index].

An additional useful technique to the existing repertoire of Non-destructive Evaluation Techniques for composites.

POLYMER ALLOYS & GRAFTS

A Polycarbonate – Polyester alloy is said to combine unprecedented dimensional precision and an ultra-smooth surface for automotive applications. Jointly developed by Teijin Chemicals and Toyoda Gosei, Japan; the alloy’s key performance features include processability, design flexibility, high impact resistance, low linear expansion co-efficient and corrosion/heat resistance + the ability to reduce weight of components by 20% compared to metal. It has recently been adopted for the luggage door garnish of a Lexus sedan. Rear doors and fenders are additional potential applications on the anvil [Plastics Today].

A new grade of  acrylonitrile styrene acrylate (ASA) resin impact modified with acrylic ester rubber has opened up outdoor applications in automotive, electrical/electronics, building/construction and sports/leisure goods. The polymer is reported to display high thermal stability, excellent resistance to weathering, ageing and yellowing [Plastics Today].

The possibilities are endless when it comes to polymer alloys and impact modifiers for thermoplastics  to circumvent inherent limitations. Remember the adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” ?

Series production of  CFRP mono bloc bodies for an EV, using vacuum assisted RTM is slated to go into production in Germany. Molded from multilayer preforms and epoxy resin, the body would be 300kgs lighter than its metal counterpart. Unlike the 70-80 stampings required in metal, the composite part would require just 6-8 shells. The clamping  mechanism of the press deploys three hydraulic cylinders to ensure congruent bending lines [Plastics Today].

PLASTICS – RISING DEMAND

Leading global thermoset resin producers announced price increases for unsaturated polyester and vinyl ester resins for the European market from this month. While Polyethylene (PE) price in North America witnessed an increase in August, there was a marginal drop in that of Polypropylene (PP) [Plastics News].  A recent notification from the British Plastics Federation (BPF) states that the worldwide demand for plastics will increase exponentially over the next five years with the biggest growth being in Africa, Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. PE and PP capacity is forecast to grow worldwide, except for a slight decrease in Western Europe. The largest gains will be in China, according to BPF. More than 50% of the increased new PP capacity will be built in Asia Pacific. The largest increase in demand for PP over the next 8 years will be for the transportation sector which will see growth of 5.8% [Plastics News]. Unlike PE and PP, PET capacity is expected to outstrip demand, with most of the excess capacity coming from the Middle East. A new report from Europe states that worldwide demand for Polyurethane (PU) will grow at 5.8% CAGR, with Asia Pacific set to dominate the market by 2016 garnering >60% share [Plastics & Rubber Weekly].

A leading Long Fiber Thermoplastic (LFT) producer in the U.S. has developed a Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) based LFT that is translucent  and hence suitable for applications that require strength and optical transparency. The molded products with 20-40% by weight of long glass fibers offer advantages in medical devices, power tools, sports goods, filters where the “see-through” effect is desirable without compromising on strength [Plastics Today].

 MOLECULAR JUGGLE

Carbon dioxide (CO2) as feedstock for PE and PP ? Such a possibility could be reality in the next 5-10 years. Several countries, including Australia, China and the U.S. are already working on this. Once reduction to methane or methanol takes place with CO2 as reactant; conversion to ethylene /propylene is the next step, followed by polymerization. CO2 is already currently being used as a reactant for Polyurethane and Polycarbonate. Till such time as CO2 can be economically sequestered from the atmosphere, CO2 from combustion would be the way to fill the gap [Plastics News].

When it comes to advances in nanotechnology, amazement never ceases. German scientists have created the world’s lightest material. Christened Aerographite, the new carbon nanomaterial weighs 0.2 milligram/cubic centimeter, which is six times lighter than air. The team focused on building a network of branching nanotubules, thereby making the material stronger and better conductor of electricity. With a foam-like consistency, Aerographite is 99.99% air since its carbon nanotubes are less dense than the molecules in a cubic centimeter of air. Applications touted are better batteries and electrical components like supercapacitors [Bloomberg Businessweek].

Feeling lightheaded after reading about this new wonder material ? Aah, the marvels of science !!

PLASTIC BOTTLES TO CLOTHING

Plastics packaging (such as water bottles), prevously destined for a landfill, now have a new use – clothing ! Clothing makers are using Post Consumer Resin (PCR) and spinning it into fibers that are then used to make a type of polyester…which is now the “green fabric of choice” to create T-shirts, sports jerseys and summer beachwear. Nike‘s You Tube video touts the “most advanced football jerseys on the planet” made from 96% recycled polyester. Each jersey is made using an average of seven plastic bottles and each short using an average of six plastic bottles – adding up to 13 bottles per kit. Compared to virgin polyester, energy consumption is reduced by 30% [Plastics Today].

Just do it OR just recycle it ?

I sign off on this post, enthused by the fact that the blog’s readership has now extended to 91 countries worldwide. ESSJAY is pleased with the encouraging response.

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello all,

Here we go again…….

BATTLING FISCAL PRESSURE

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

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

 RIDING IN COMFORT…WITH COMPOSITES

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

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

ALLIANCES – MEETING OF THE MINDS

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

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

STRATEGIC CHOICE OF PLIES

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

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

OFFHORE WIND – GIANT STRIDES

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

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

PLASTICS : ONE-UPMANSHIP

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

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

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

STRETCHED TO THE LIMIT

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

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

STRONGER INTERFACE

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

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

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

 AMERICAN PRIDE

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

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

TOWERING HEIGHTS

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

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

Till the next post,

Cheers,

S. Sundaram

EmailSS@essjaycomposites.com

Twitter@essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Leading-edge Technologies….satiating Competitive markets & Customer demands

Hello everyone,

We have just got past Q1, 2012.

MORE THAN A GLIMMER OF HOPE ?

Without doubt, the driver has clearly been stock markets with the Dow breaching the magical 13,000 mark and indices in other regions also doing well. The global prediction for Q1 may not have hit the bulls eye; but was not way off the mark either. As we brace ourselves for Q2, a factor that stands out has been rising prices ….be it food, gasoline, plastics or raw materials for composites – this is almost a universal phenomenon. How long will this continue ? Looks like at least into H1,2012, going by current trends; though the Cassandras would opine that it would extend deep into Q3.

STANDARDS –  INSTILL CONFIDENCE

In recent times, one fundamental reason for increasing use of composites in structural applications has been the continuous work by ASTM, ACMAEuropean Committee for Standardization and other bodies in developing Standards and Codes of Practice for structures that will be subjected to cyclic loading. This calls for an understanding of fatigue response. The ASTM D30 International Committee on Composites Materials informs that a new Standard ASTM D7615/D7615M provides guidelines for development of open-hole fatigue data for material specifications. It is expected to help the industry in determination of fatigue properties of open-hole composite laminates [Composites World]. Designers could thus be less conservative in providing a factor of safety, thereby paving the way for more economical designs without compromising on performance & safety.

CARBON FIBER – EXOTIC TO MUNDANE

It appears that we are in for a carbon fiber revolution. Applications abound by the day. Blackberry has revealed a one-of-a kind carbon fiber and titanium-clad Porsche Design smartphone described as “engineered luxury at its best”. Sunglasses [Kolstom] made of compression molded carbon fiber with scratch resistant lenses are making waves as it is considered unbreakable (even if one accidently sits on it !). An advanced hinge technique that acts more like a spring is considered the Achilles’ heel of the sunglasses – though admirers dismiss it as a no-brainer !

If you thought that carbon fiber is  more relevant to the exotic aerospace, infrastructure & automotive applications, think again. Product designers’ minds are always working overtime on such novelties !

But, hey….. we are not done yet with CFRP in this post. Processing carbon fiber reinforced plastics using laser in large scale production is an exciting development on the anvil. Composites are inherently inhomogeneous (unlike metals). In the event of incorrect process control, the high heat conductivity of CF in CFRP and differing properties of the fiber and plastic can result in serious damage to the plastic matrix. The challenge for laser processing lies in achieving the highest possible surface effectiveness at a homogeneous energy input for large components. The technique focuses on efficient diode lasers when processing composites which are currently manufactured up to 15,000W and corresponding optics.

If you would like to see the technique in action, visit Lasys 2012 at Stuttgart, Germany in June.

GFRP SHOWS STEEL THE DOOR

Touted as one of the largest uses of GFRP in civil infrastructure to date, the 2.4- mile elevated Metrorail extension near Miami International Airport, Florida has used composite rebar for the project. The contact rail provides power to the transit vehicle and the running rail acts as the negative return for the power. Corrosion of the reinforcing steel was a concern due to stray currents. Previously, the reinforcement in the deck of the guideway girders was welded to create a grounded grid. With steel, during an electrical short at one location, the grid can become energized when current passes from the reinforcement to the rail fasteners at a few locations, causing damage to some of the systems equipment. To address this issue, an isolation system was chosen using GFRP bars to prevent this type of damage. Testing is currently in progress at the culmination of installation on the 3-year project. There are several  metro rail projects at various stages of implementation in Europe & Asia Pacific. Authorities could perhaps take a cue on choice of GFRP rebar to provide electrical isolation in an elevated high-voltage rail system.

Can there be a more effective, practical way to demonstrate superiority of composites over metal ? Proof of the pudding…….

Scintillators are the core material used in radiation detectors and medical equipment and have generally been made with special plastics containing fluorescent agents. Teijin, Japan now offers a low-cost, easily moldable polyester resin alternative that is superior to conventional scintillators in terms of luminescence, refractive index and density [European Plastics News].

SELF – HEALING PLASTICS ? MAMA MIA !

Ever heard of plastics that bleed when cut or scratched, thereby mimicking the human skin? A new genre of plastics with warn and self-repair capabilities could well be the answer to scratches in cell phones, laptops, cars. The water-based plastic (eco-friendly!) has small molecular links spanning the long chain of chemicals that compose the plastic. When scratched or cracked, these links break and change shape – the shape changes trigger a visible color change in the form of a red splotch that forms round the defect. In the presence of normal sunlight or visible light from a bulb, pH changes or temperature; the bridges re-form, healing the damage and erasing the red mark [R&D].

Fascinating prospects indeed….no wonder, self-healing plastics have become a Holy Grail of Materials Science !!

Interface between resin and glass fibers and increase in glass fiber orientation can drastically affect mechanical properties of composites. Compared with steady-state injection molding, deploying screw-axial vibration force field has been found to positively impact orientation and distribution state of short glass fibers (chopped strands) and the distribution state of interfacial modifiers [Sciencia]. Tests with short glass fibers for reinforcement of HDPE showed a significant improvement in tensile and impact strength. Could this be a trendsetter for other  glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics also ?

GLOBAL WARMING – RESPONSIBLE NATION(S)

The wind power industry experienced a strong 2011, bringing online over 40GW – an almost 20% year on year growth over 2010 [Offshore Wind]. In it’s latest Energy Outlook report, BP predicts the renewable energy sector, including biofuels will grow at an average of 8% per year through to 2030 and that it will far outpace natural gas, the fastest growing fossil fuel, which is expected to expand at 2% a year. As a result; the report claims, global CO2 emissions will rise by 28% over the next two decades [Greenbiz]. While Europe has been targeting  a 20% carbon reduction target by 2020, Denmark is all set to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020. It also aims to supply 35% of its total energy from renewables, with half of its electricity through wind farms. The nation has set it’s sights on supplying 100% energy from renewables by 2050. A pipe dream? No way, if one considers Denmark’s enviable track record of achieving its objectives through meticuluous planning and steadfast implementation.

CRUDE OIL & RESINS – STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Thermoplastic (polyolefinic) and thermoset resins witnessed an upward trend in prices – the latter, no doubt, being driven by increase in crude oil price and resin majors in NA and Europe announcing price hikes. Surprisingly, Polyethylene price in NA witnesssed an upward trend in spite of the fact that it uses natural gas based ethane as feedstock rather than crude oil [Plastics News]. Make hay while the sun shines ?

 AUTOMOTIVE – THE FUTURE IS CFRP ?

The March announcement of a $14.2 million grant by the U.S. Department of Energy [DOE] to accelerate the deployment and development of stronger and lighter materials for advanced vehicles will serve as a fillip to composites.The fact that “predictive molding of CFRP” will be one of the specific areas of research should be of interest, since CFRP has been described as having the potential of saving up to 50 %  component weight vis-a-vis steel [Science and Environmental]. Little wonder that SGL has already announced increase of its CF capacity in Moses Lake, Washington through an additional line.

The collaborative ventures between global auto majors and leading carbon fiber producers are not without reason and have synergistic success written all over.

Most of us start the day with a hot beverage (coffee or tea). Beverage packaging may be in for a revolution of sorts….would it not be wonderful to know whether the coffee/tea in your plastic cup is hot or cold just by a glance?Developed in Australia, the disposable color changing HIPS (high impact polystyrene) lid changes in color from dark to bright red with the application of heat. As the beverage cools, the color of the lid changes to the regular starting color – from red initially, when it is hot ! A food grade compliant color changing additive meeting FDA and EU requirements makes all the difference. Very soon, an UK distributor will introduce the lid into the food service, healthcare and airline sectors throughout Europe [British Plastics].

A plastic lid that wakes up and smells the coffee ? That’s what this revolutionary design is all about !

DUBAI – PHOENIX RISING

The Middle East region is showing definite signs of breaking the shackles and emerging from the downturn. Hotel occupancy rates in the GCC are on the rise. Not surprisingly, the 355 meter JW Marriott Marquis Dubai will become the world’s tallest hotel when it opens in Q4,2012 [Arabian Business].  It is a tad shorter (26 meters to be precise) than the Empire State Building in New York. A prime objective of the hotel is to target business travellers and the growing MICE market.

EXPANDING READER BASE

ESSJAY is enthused by the fact that this blog  is now viewed by readers in 67 countries across all continents.

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