Category Archives: Molding compounds

Composites on sedate growth, albeit global economic headwinds

Hello everyone,

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

Growth, albeit tepid


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

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

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

Cool, stronger alternative


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

Confluence of pluses


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

The nano revolution


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

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

Persevere to succeed


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

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

A step ahead in the learning curve

CNG tank

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

Relentless pursuit

Double decker bus

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

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

Versatility prevails


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

Drill, drill, drill!

669130_power_plant_1 (1)

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

Points to ponder and plan for the future.

Chemistry spinoffs


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

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

Space propulsion ahoy!


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

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

Optimism – the elixir

Hope image

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite


We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites


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

Hello everyone,

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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



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

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

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

The answer is an emphatic YES!

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



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

Hello everyone,

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



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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

A dent to aluminum ?



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



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

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

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

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



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



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

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

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

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

Allowing imagination to run riot ? 

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

Its a small world, eh ?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



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

Hello all,

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

Water…the elixir of life ?


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

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

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

Till then,

Happy holidays !

S. Sundaram



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.


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.


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 ?


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.


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 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.


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].


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].


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 !!


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,


S. Sundaram



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

Hello all,

Here we go again…….


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



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

Hello everyone,

We have just got past Q1, 2012.


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.


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.


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.


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].


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 ?


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.


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 ?


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 !


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.


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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Composites & Plastics – Foraying further into Metals domain

Hello everyone,

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

  Q1, 2012 – light at end of tunnel ?

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

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

Metals & Composites – clash of the Titans !

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

 Composites supremacy over Metals…one upmanship

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

Are SMC/BMC processors and glass fiber producers listening?

  Thermoplastics – untiring & to the fore !

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

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

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

Fight global warming… focus on wind energy

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

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

Epoxies : eternally reliable

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

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

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

Transition time –  Metals to Plastics

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

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

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

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

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

Till then…

Happy Holidays !

S. Sundaram

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

Hello all,

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Innovations in Composites : Perennial requisite to reign Supreme !

Hello all,

Here we go again……

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram
Twitter: @essjaycomposite