It is not only the strength of composites but their lightweight nature that makes them so useful.
What are Composites?
Composites are materials that have been engineered to provide specific properties. Composites consist of two or more distinct constituents that retain some of their identities after the composite has formed.
The individual components are called fibres, fillers, reinforcing agents, and matrixes. Fibres can be made from glass strands (fibreglass)for strength and stability, or they can be natural like kevlar fibre for strength and protection. Fillers are used to increasing the volume of a composite while reinforcing agents provide stiffness and/or toughness. Matrixes (resins) serve as the bonding between all the constituents of a composite.
The materials used in composites are a mix of polymers and fibres. The most common polymer is epoxy resin, which makes up the bulk of the mixture by weight. Fibres account for the rest of the composite mixture and can be made from glass, carbon or aramid material.
Fibre-reinforced composites are lighter than steel and have much higher strength to weight ratios than other engineering materials like aluminium or metals. Composites have also been shown to withstand high temperatures better than metals as well as being corrosion resistant against saltwater environments found on boats and ships.
The idea behind these materials is that they combine many benefits into one product: lightweight, strong, durable, inexpensive to produce – this means that composites are the perfect material for many applications.
There is a wide range of composite materials and each one has its own unique properties, so it’s important to find out what type you need before starting your project!
How are composites made?
The complex process begins by mixing together resins, solvents, fibres (such as glass or carbon), plasticizers, pigments, and additives such as flame retardants.
The mixture is then formed into a mould and heated. This can be done in several ways, including autoclave curing (where the part is cooked inside an oven) or simply by leaving it to sit while exposed to high temperatures.
When this process has been completed, the composite is left to cool and then removed from its mould. This can be done in several ways; either by cutting it out of a block, or machining it down to the correct size if required.
Finally, any additional finishing processes are applied such as painting or plating.
Properties of composites
Depending on the resin that is used, and what kind of fibres are mixed in.
The fibreglass composite can be used to make things that have the following attributes:
- Resistance to chemicals
- Mechanical (strength)
- Insulating properties (electrical and heat)
- Fire retardant
- Resistance to extreme temperatures
- Resistance to corrosion
- Its non-conductivity
- Lightweight compared to steel.
Why use composites?
It is no secret that composites are a great option for many applications. They are durable, lightweight, and easy to work with.
Composites are a great material to use in the manufacturing industry because they have many benefits. One of these is that composites can be used for both functional and decorative purposes. This means that you can use them in any area of your product where you want it to look good as well as perform its function.
Another benefit is that composites are cost-effective, which makes them a popular choice with most manufacturers.
If you’re looking for a material with all these features, then composites may just be right for your manufacturing needs!
Reasons to use composites?
Composites can be used to manufacture parts that are lighter and stronger than those made from standard materials such as steel. Composites offer manufacturers several advantages:
Composites can result in products of unlimited design aesthetics, unlike the more limited range of colours and surface finishes offered by metals.
- Composites can provide greater strength with less weight compared to metals, allowing for the development of new products which replace existing metal components.
- Composites can reduce production costs. For example, carbon fibre parts can provide increased component stiffness with less material than steel or aluminium, resulting in significant weight savings and potential cost savings. Composites are ideal for spare parts as they offer increased performance without any loss of serviceability compared to standard metal components. They allow manufacturers to bring an enhanced spare part solution directly from prototyping through to series production without imposing costly design changes.
- Composites can result in lighter and stronger components which enable manufacturers to add intelligence such as sensors and wiring into components that were previously inaccessible due to limited space available.
Composites provide increased design freedom due to their high-performance properties, which can result in innovative product designs (e.g., flexible composites). Composites are recyclable and offer decreased environmental impact compared to metal equivalents (i.e., there is no need for secondary metal treatment processes such as hot deformation, melting or annealing after recycling).
Composites enable manufacturers to create new business opportunities with third parties who specialise in parts made from composites, including those that deliver significant weight savings within certain vehicle classes (e.g., boat builders wanting light high-impact-resistant hulls).
Composites enable manufacturers to introduce novel products and solutions which deliver significant improvements in performance, capability and value. Composites offer weight savings in parts where this is desirable but they can also be used in certain applications where their stiffness or heat resistance properties are needed without the need for heavy metal components that would otherwise be required with metals alone.
The use of Composites enables manufacturers to create new business opportunities with specialist knowledge and expertise using these advanced materials. For example, Composite manufacturers may be able to provide light high-impact resistant hulls for boats. Composites enable parts previously considered impossible or impractical to manufacture from a metal part due to space restrictions or where particular physical properties are required (e.g., heat resistant components).
Composites enable the introduction of more intelligent parts with sensors and wiring embedded within them, which can result in power savings due to reduced wiring weights. Composites are recyclable, but the recycling process is not as straightforward as that for metals, so careful consideration should be given to their selection if recyclability is an important factor.
Composites have been widely used on cars since the 1980s but recent developments have led to increased uptake by car manufacturers across all vehicle classes for both new models and aftermarket replacement parts. Composites have been used in Formula One since the 1980s. Composites enable greater design freedom and different solutions compared to traditional materials such as steel or aluminium allowing manufacturers to meet customer demands for new and lighter weight products.
Composites often allow greater design flexibility by introducing features within the part itself rather than using external fixings (e.g., rivets). In certain applications, Composites offer greater strength at lower weights compared with metals alone therefore, they can be beneficial for reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles where overall vehicle weight is an essential factor. Composites are not suitable for all types of cars or parts. Careful consideration must be given to the application before Composites are used as they have different characteristics compared with metals.
Composites are used in the following industries:
- Defence / Military
- Renewable energy
- Construction (buildings, bridges, structures and more)
- Health care and leisure (fitness)
- Trucks, Buses, Trains and Trams
- Agricultural machinery
- Vehicle conversions
- Art and sculptures
- Prototype development
- And many more uses.
Composites can be used to create a variety of items. The article above provides additional information on the different types of composites and their uses in various applications.
Find out more about Fibreglass manufacturing.