Tag Archives: Composites

Technology & design expertise enabling composites scale new frontiers

Hello all,

Welcome to another post……

Fingers crossed


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

Growth is back, albeit…

Stay optimistic on ESSJAY COMPOSITES

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

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

Moving on…..

2015 – a record year for wind power


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

US – offshore wind debut


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

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

Resin chemistry – up to the challenge


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

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

Composites – designer’s delight


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

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

CNG – to the fore


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

Leaders walk the talk and UPS is doing exactly that.

Conquering the next frontier


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

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

Seismic reinforcement – a marvel

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

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

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

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

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

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram

Twitter: @essjaycomposite

Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

We specialize in customized Market Analysis Reports in Composites



Composites growth in tandem with global GDP – albeit a touch aided by lower energy costs

Hello everyone,

As we head into the final month of Q3 2015, the stock market is agog with frequent mention of the “September swoon”. Crude oil has been trending parabolically and the world is preparing for oil prices to be “lower for longer”.

Agony and ecstasy


Economic turmoil has roiled the world and the downturn in China has lent credence to the “if China sneezes, the world catches a cold” syndrome. The battle for oil supremacy continues – though there are no real winners when it comes to the double dip in oil prices as it hurts the economy of all oil producing nations alike, albeit in different degrees. The supply glut is expected to persist through 2016 if one were to go by the statements of industrialized nations and oil majors. Globally, the trend is veering towards a command-and-control economy.

Northward growth


Per International Monetary Fund (IMF), the global economy is expected to expand by 3.3% this year compared to 3.4% in 2014. The U.S. is forecast to grow by 2.5%, up from 2.4% in 2014; the eurozone by 1.5%, up from 0.8% in 2014; China by 6.5%, down from 7.4% in 2014 [BBC News].

Live-and-let-live motto


Oil price swings did not act as a deterrent to automobile sales in the first half of 2015. Car sales in Western Europe accelerated to an 8% y/y increase. Passenger vehicle sales in North America were almost on a tear and advanced by 5% y/y through July, with full-year volumes likely to surpass 20 million units for the first time on record [Scotia Bank]. Though gasoline prices have not proportionately followed that of crude oil, the focus on lightweighting continues to be a relentless pursuit for the automotive industry. Unsurprisingly, the steel and aluminum industry announced new stronger and lighter grades of the respective metals in August. Novelis says it has developed a new grade of weight-saving aluminum sheet designed to replace steel in bumpers, doors and other safety-critical areas of vehicle bodies and which is 2-3 times stronger than the grade currently in high-volume production [Automotive News]. Steel makers’ collaborating with automakers is at an all-time high. The latest ultra-high strength steel to develop lightweight vehicles is more formable and saves the cost of converting factories from spot welding to riveting and bonding. It is a live-and-let-live approach of using a judicious combination of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber by automakers. Case in point is the next version of the BMW 7-series sports sedan and the Audi R8 sports car that use a combination of all three materials.

Constant innovation

VW Volkswagen Lightweight car

The versatility of polyurethane (PU) foam cores in sandwich construction is well known and a proven concept. Mass production of the roof module of a car has been achieved using honeycomb sandwich structure with Class-A film. It features a paper honeycomb and two surrounding glass fiber mats which are sprayed in an impregnation process with a low density, thermally activated PU foam (from BASF) and pressed together with a solid-colored Class-A film [Plastics Today]. It was possible to produce a roof module that was 30% lighter than its predecessor, in a single operation, while retaining the same strength and flexural rigidity. The process displayed uniform wetting of the glass fiber mats without any drip, resulting in good adhesion. Once the semi-finished product was impregnated, it was pressed into shape in a heated mold along with the Class-A film. The PU system foams up slightly at the edge of the sandwich and creates a solid material composite between film, reinforcing glass fiber mats and the paper honeycomb core. There was flexibility in adjusting the PU reactivity to achieve longer spray time of 120 seconds coupled with short demolding times of 60 seconds. Unlike conventional composite parts where the individual layers are glued together in a multistage process, the current process involves a single manufacturing step.

This is yet another example of reduced cycle time in composites to gain greater favor in automotive production.

Aerodynamics & fuel economy


Boeing has been successful in upping its monthly production of the 787 Dreamliner from 10 to 14 in August and predicts deliveries of 130-135 for the year. Airbus has commenced building the first wings for its new A350-1000 and currently holds the mantle of the largest CFRP composite wing at 105 feet for each wing [Puget]. This is likely to be rivaled and superseded by Boeing’s planned 777-9X wing which will be 106 feet long – extending to 117 feet with a unique folding wingtip. Both the Airbus and Boeing wings are relatively long and thin made possible by the structural strength of carbon fiber composites.

Fuel efficient aerial dream machines? You can call them that.

What waste?

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The quest for commercially viable technology breakthroughs in recycling carbon fibers and composites is perennial. At the forthcoming Fakuma International Trade Fair for Plastics Processing in Germany, Cannon will reportedly present its innovative EU-funded project CRESIM (Carbon Recycling by Epoxy Special Impregnation) aimed at the development of proper processing methods for the manufacture of CFRP parts using recycled carbon fiber through  closed loop manufacturing. The project addresses waste reuse by demonstrating a new innovative manufacturing process that potentially reuses up to 100% of the carbon fiber waste and scraps from different industrial sectors, thereby providing an opportunity for greening the production process and making efficiency gains [European Plastic Product Manufacturer].

Recall the Adidas slogan – impossible is nothing? The above just about sums it.

A glass fiber reinforced polyphthalamide (PPA) injection molding compound with high burst pressure and impact strength essential to withstand alternating stresses in dynamically stressed casing components in the automotive industry, has been introduced by Evonik. The molding compound also has good flow characteristics resulting in the molded parts having smooth defect-free surface [Plastics Today]. PPAs are semi-crystalline thermoplastics with high temperature stability and outstanding chemical resistance that can effectively replace metals in several applications.

Quick and efficient


Additive manufacturing (aka 3D printing) has taken the world by storm in drastically shortening the concept-to-commercialization cycle. If you think additive manufacturing and the aerospace sector make strange bedfellows, you may want to think again. SABIC‘s lightweight polyetherimide (PEI) flame-retardant resin coupled with Stratsys‘ Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) has addressed one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturing for the aerospace sector – the ability to produce small volume parts quickly and effectively [European Plastic Product Manufacturer]. The additive manufactured PEI (SABIC’s ULTEM) affords greater design flexibility, lower cost production runs and accelerated cycle times compliant with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and OEM flame smoke toxicity (FST) regulations. SABIC’s PEI has been certified to Airbus material specifications and the resin has been used to additive manufacture more than 1,000 flight parts in the A350 XWB aircraft fleet. The 3D-printed parts replaced traditionally-manufactured parts to increase supply chain flexibility. This success story has shown that additive manufacturing technology is making metal replacement development easier for OEMs than trying to upgrade a metal component to a traditionally-manufactured plastic replacement. It makes the whole cycle faster and less expensive. SABIC has an extensive range of carbon fiber(CF) reinforced PEI – can we expect a slew of 3D-printed CF reinforced PEI aircraft components in the future?

A beginning has been made. The first step has been taken. Could this just be the tip of the iceberg for additive manufacturing to make a big splash in composites usage in the aerospace and automotive sectors?

Blowing strong


According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 1,994 megawatts (MW) wind turbines were installed in the U.S. in the first half of 2015 – which is more than double the installations in the same period last year. Looking forward, more than 100 wind projects are under construction in 24 states, representing more than 13,600MW of total wind capacity. There are now 67,870MW of installed onshore wind capacity in the U.S.[Renewable Energy World]. Wind energy pricing is at an all-time low according to a new report released by the Department of Energy (DOE). The prices offered by wind projects to utility purchasers averaged under 2.5 cents/kWh for projects negotiating contracts in 2014 [Windpower Engineering & Development]. Wind projects built in 2014 had an average installed cost of $1,710/KW, down almost $600/KW from the peak in 2009 and 2010. In Europe, 584 offshore wind turbines were installed, adding 2.3GW capacity to the European electricity grid in H1 2015, per data released by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). In total there is now 10GW of connected offshore wind [The Guardian]. The average turbine size increased from 3.5MW in 2014 to 4.2MW in the first half of 2015. Commercial orders for 8MW turbines are trickling in. In August, the U.K. authorized the Forward consortium of four European utilities to build the joint-largest offshore wind project in the world. The two 1.2GW wind farms total almost four times the capacity of the largest operational project [Bloomberg]. The U.K. is banking on offshore wind to help meet its renewable energy and carbon targets and had about 4.5GW of capacity out of a total of 8.8GW at the end of 2014.

The turbine blades, whether onshore or offshore continue to rely on composites. The trend in using a carbon fiber/glass fiber hybrid in offshore to reduce cost is gathering momentum.

Chemistry at work


Extensive use of Sheet Molding Compound (SMC) composites in automotive applications has been prevalent since the 80s. Progressive developments in reduction of the specific gravity have evolved over the years through recipe changes involving chemistry. The successful use of chemically (silane) treated glass microspheres (from 3M) by CSP in lowering the specific gravity of SMC to 1.2 has paved the way to allow significant weight savings in composite body panels for the 2016 Chevrolet Corvette. A total of 21 composite body panels including doors, decklids, quarter panels and fenders have been developed for the Corvette. The low-density SMC is reportedly cost competitive with aluminum with considerable savings on the tooling cost vis-a-vis aluminum [Plastics News].

The trend in use of biotechnology for recycling of carbon fibers is embryonic. Around 3,000Tonnes of CFRP waste is generated in Europe alone. The Hohenstein Institute in Germany has reported success in using suitable microorganisms  to break down the epoxy resin matrix in CFRPs and returning it to the materials cycle as a metabolite. Simultaneously the carbon fibers are extracted without damage so that they can be reclaimed for use in new products [Innovation in Textiles]. This biotechnology route could supplement the existing multi-stage pyrolytic process for recycling carbon fibers.

Recycling trendsenvironment-1445492-m

A discerning global trend is the focus on a green environment and emphasis on recycling/conversion of all forms of waste to usable products. Typical examples are denim wear and sneakers from ocean plastic waste, ultra-clean fuel from unwashed waste plastics, to name a few. The fact that leading brand names such as Adidas and others are involved in such green projects underscores the relevance in today’s context. Believe it or not, the next great renewable energy source is tipped to be algae biofuel according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It is the newest and seemingly most viable form of clean energy, besting even solar. Algae, found throughout the oceans employ photosynthesis to create energy using sunlight. Some types of algae produce oils that they use to store energy – implying certain algae can be grown and harvested to produce biofuel, a net carbon-neutral process [Yahoo Finance].

When it comes to technology, we are living in a world where breakthroughs are imminent – be it graphene which is being touted as the material of the future (read next decade when it should be commercially viable) or biofuels where aviation tests have already shown promising results.

Millennials are bound to reap the benefits from such exciting technology breakthroughs that have the potential to fructify commercially in the coming decade.

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

Composites march to the beat of revolutionary concepts in approach to design

Hello again,

Welcome to another post on developments in polymeric composites and interrelated news on the global economy.

As we approach the end of H1 2015, it has obviously been a roller coaster ride thus far.

Dare to predict?


The oil market wears the look of a burst bubble as also base metals, with copper retracting by more than 12%. Precious metals such as platinum have fared no better (much to the glee of glass fiber producers). Oil price swings (a case of politics playing spoilsport?) continue to confound experts and even crystal ball gazing at this juncture would be dismissed by many as a futile exercise. Naysayers continue to have a field day.

Uncertainties aside, it is important for the show to go on. Right?

Road to recovery


In early June, the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD) cut its global economic forecast for this year to 3.1%, but says it expects lower oil prices to ensure a gradual recovery even if weak investment remains a worry [International Business Times]. Global GDP is now projected to grow at 3.8% in 2016 with China’s heady GDP expansion rate of recent years tapering to 6.8% in 2015 and 6.7% in 2016 from 7.4% in 2014. Credit Suisse expects the U.S. GDP to grow at 2.2% in 2015. The Japanese economy is expected to grow at 0.7% this year (better than the flat growth of 2014), buoyed by strong foreign demand for its goods [Business Insider]. Cheap oil has had a dramatic effect on European consumer spending in 2015. The combination of savings from cheaper fuel, a more functional financial system, monetary easing and a cheaper euro is expected to keep the region’s economic trajectory on course in H2 2015.

The fact remains that the global economy is on the mend and growth, though tepid, is being observed in most regions. Oil price continues to wreak havoc, but we are slowly getting used to taking it in our stride.

Trade shows – one too many?


The number of global trade shows in composites has witnessed a major jump in recent times. Visitors continue to stream in at most shows that hold relevant technical conference sessions/tutorials in tandem. The quest for knowledge in keeping abreast of the latest developments, remains unabated. Organizations revel in showcasing their latest wares, while extolling the numerous benefits that accrue through use of their raw material(s), machinery, simulation software and/or processing techniques for novel applications backed by sane analysis of the commercial viability through Life Cycle Assessment. One never ceases to be amazed by the plethora of offerings at these trade shows.

For sure, it augurs well for the composites industry at large.

Total rethink in designing


Demand for new cars and light trucks in the U.S. in May was more robust than anticipated. At 1.63 million, total sales was more than the 1.59 million units projected [J.D. Power]. The auto industry’s focus on lightweighting to boost fuel efficiency is nothing new. This has resulted in quite a bit of aerospace technology creeping into products with manufacturers employing a healthy mix of carbon fiber, glass fiber, aluminum, magnesium and high-strength steels. Ford recently showed how carbon fiber body panels enabled creation of “negative space” – open spaces through the body of the 600HP-GT vehicle to enable air to flow through it rather than around it [Design News]. The full carbon fiber driver/passenger cell has aluminum front and rear subframes with structural carbon fiber body panels. A concept car called the Fusion MMLV (multi-material lightweight vehicle) uses numerous carbon fiber and aluminum parts that would normally be made in steel. This includes carbon fiber brake rotors and seat frames, glass fiber epoxy front springs, carbon fiber wheels. Enough weight was taken out that resulted in an engine downsize from 1.6 liters to 1 liter. The focus is obviously not just on weight savings, but a reduction in rotating mass.

When the lightweighting concept extends to revolutionary approaches in basic design, the results can be phenomenal. In fact, this approach, in recent times, has begun to gain ground progressively.

Offshore blowing away onshore


Renewable energy in general and wind energy in particular is growing by leaps and bounds. A record 4.2GW of offshore wind turbines is anticipated to be installed in 2015, per a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance report. This is double the 2.1 GW installed in 2013, with Germany expected to lead installations in coastal waters with more than 2.3 GW this year, followed by 1 GW in the UK [Bloomberg Business]. Offshore wind power is increasing year-on-year and expected to reach 48GW by 2020, growing at a compound annual rate of 53% and aided, in part, by dipping technology costs. The Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) is now at around $179/MWh – down from $202 in H2 2014, in part due to currency fluctuations. Onshore wind power costs about $85/MWh. Siemens has recently come out with interesting stats. An offshore wind farm with 80 turbines produces 53 million MWh of electricity during its intended 25-year service life. It emits 7 grams CO2/KWh. In comparison, energy from fossil sources burdens the climate with an average of 865 grams/KWh. In other words, a wind farm saves 45 million tons of CO2 during its entire service life. This will result in continued increase in demand for industrial grade carbon fiber and, to a certain extent, glass fiber. Larger blades in offshore wind turbines entail lower weight and, consequently, a preference for carbon fiber, due to the density factor.

Considering the spate of expansions on the anvil by existing carbon fiber producers and new entrants waiting in the wings, there should be no dearth in availability of the reinforcement.

CFRP steps in…and how!


The extensive use of carbon fiber composites in the Boeing 787 and Airbus 350/380 models has prompted identification of more components to replace metals in aircraft applications. A proprietary fusion-core technology features the development of a carbon fiber reinforced PEEK fuel housing that allows for undercuts in injection molding. The end result – a 30% cost saving and 50% weight saving in the production of the complex fuel housings for the global aircraft industry [Plastics Today]. The CFRP composite offers superior fatigue performance and enhanced manufacturing speeds vis-a-vis traditional aluminum for this application and also meets all engineering requirements including stiffness, effective flame, smoke and toxicity performance (FST) and resistance to aggressive chemicals, including jet fuel and hydraulic fluids. Conventional injection molding technology cannot be used for the complex inner geometry of the fuel housings – this necessitated utilizing a near net-shape process for the fusible core that allows for 80% time saving versus machined parts. Secondary treatments for corrosion protection such as anodizing, are eliminated; lead times are reduced by 50%.

Broadened horizonsprecision-1-529519-m

The ability to process pre-impregnated unidirectional (UD) fabrics/tapes made from high performance thermoplastics such as PPS and PEEK to ensure high levels of process control has reportedly resulted in the successful development of a high-temperature contact heating table that can achieve processing temperatures of up to 425°C. UD tapes are placed precisely on a moving table in layers and spot-welded using ultrasound [Plastics Today]. The orientation of the tape and the fibers can be set in variable ways by rotating the table and adjusted optimally to any load. The fabrics are then processed further and consolidated in a two-step heat transfer press process. The contact heating table heats up the fabrics before they are pressed to make laminates with the best quality and reproduciblity. Individual layers are bonded without air pockets and temperature distribution ensures homogeneity [Fraunhofer]. The potential of this process in aerospace and automotive sectors is significant.

Viable option in GFRP


The powertrain system that includes the engine accounts for a large proportion of the weight of an automobile. The recent development of the cylinder block (engine component) in glass fiber reinforced phenolic composite in lieu of traditional aluminum has been encouraging with a weight reduction of 20% and comparable costs. To ensure a robust engine design, metal inserts were used to strengthen wear resistance in areas subject to high thermal and mechanical loads, such as the cylinder liner [Plastics Today]. The geometry of the parts was also modified to ensure that the composite is exposed to as little heat as possible. Sufficient rigidity, resistance to oil, gasoline, glycol & cooling water and good adherence to metal inserts were some of the criteria that enabled zeroing in on  phenolic GFRP with 55% fiber loading. Use of carbon fiber was also a technically feasible, though not an economical option. Test runs on the new engine showed lower running noise, lesser heat radiation to the environment and proven reduction in elimination of numerous finishing operations associated with conventional metal engines.

A total relook at overall component design rather than mere material substitution in recent developments, appears to be the hallmark of new applications in composites in the aerospace and automotive sectors.

Natural gas to the fore


The shale gas revolution in the U.S. has resulted in an abundance of natural gas. Vehicles being powered by natural gas are on the increase. Consequently, the demand for CNG composite tanks is growing and more fueling stations are being commissioned to factor this upsurge. Momentum Fuel Technologies has debuted a CNG fuel system solution for Class 6 to Class 8 trucks that features lightweight glass fiber composite using 3M nanoparticle-enhanced matrix resin technology. The tanks display 6% increase in burst strength, 25% weight reduction and 27% higher weight/volume efficiency compared to tanks made with conventional resin [Plastics Today]. Adoption rates for U.S. Class 8 NG-powered commercial vehicles is poised to grow from 4% in 2014 to 10% in 2018 and 23% in 2020. A five-fold growth in NG vehicles in the next five years is the forecast.

As natural gas is a low-carbon, clean burning fuel, the upside is a significant reduction in hydrocarbon, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Bio-plastics: a quantum leap


The focus on green energy, lower VOC and reduced GHG continues at a frenetic pace globally. Replacement of traditional polymer building blocks with bio-based materials is on the rise. According to a 2015 published report, bio-based production capacity is projected to triple from 5.1 million metric tons in 2013 (2% of total polymer production) to 17 million metric tons (4% of total polymer production) in 2020 at a CAGR of almost 20%. Bio-based drop-ins led by bio-PET (from plant-based materials) and new polymers such as polylactic acid (PLA) and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PA) will show fastest rates of market growth. Bio-based polyurethanes (PU) are also showing impressive growth. Most investments in new bio-based polymers is expected to take place in Asia because of better access to feedstock (such as sugarcane) and a favorable political framework [Plastics Today]. This is one more stab at the negative environmental effects of using fossil fuels.

Bio-based resins for the composites industry have already been around for several years, with leading resin producers offering a range of “green resins”. The list, no doubt, is growing.

Winning concept


Ever since the Toyota Mirai was launched as the first mass-produced hydrogen fuel cell car (using CFRP tanks to store the hydrogen), the battle of zero-emissions has raged between EVs and HFCVs. As matters currently stand, EVs need recharging of batteries after 150 -200 kms whereas HFCVs could be driven 300 kms before needing to fill up again. In essence, the range is almost twice with HFCVs. Though the infrastructure to support HFCVs is patchy at present, it can change over time. Recall how the world scoffed at the first-generation Prius in 1997 – the rest is history [BBC News]. Hydrogen is the most abundant available element in the universe [Toyota] – its potential is huge as a clean energy source. The bottom line is that both EVs and HFCVs will use composites to a great extent – that’s what matters in the final analysis.

Both types of vehicles can co-exist with their USPs and are poised to take off in a big way by the end of the decade. Composites will continue to be the ultimate beneficiary.

Per latest stats from BP, the U.S. has dethroned Russia as the world’s largest producer of combined hydrocarbons – oil and natural gas. This is a clear demonstration of the seismic shifts in the world energy landscape emanating from America’s shale fields [Yahoo Finance].

Another instance of uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and that the numero uno status in any sphere is never a given?

Till the next post,


S. Sundaram



Website: www.essjaycomposites.com

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

Hello everyone,

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

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



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



Website: www.essjaycomposites.com