Although the effects of the 2008 global financial downturn are still felt in some sectors, the composites industry, in general, showed health, growth and a renewed focus on innovation. Issued in June 2014, market research and consulting firm Lucintel’s (Irving, Texas) companion reports, “Composites Industry Outlook 2014” and “Innovation Mega Trends in Composites” forecasted that the end-product market for composites would reach US$72 billion in 2014. North America and Europe were expected to experience significant growth. But Asia, an expanding sector for the past decade, was considered likely to lag behind. The aerospace market was expected to experience double-digit growth, while global construction, transportation and electrical and electronics markets for composites were to grow by 4-5%.
Lucintel president, Dr. Sanjay Mazumdar, said the composite materials market had expanded in 2013 by 1.7% to reach US$7 billion in value and 2,132 MT, by weight, in annual shipments.
In the foreseeable future, Lucintel saw lightweighting and cost reduction as two megatrends that would drive composites growth. Major innovations could include development of lower-cost carbon fibers for automotive, wind, and industrial applications, based on low-cost alternative precursors, such as textile polyacrylonitrile (PAN), lignin and polyolefin. A third thrust will be focus on reducing energy cost. Significant megatrends in composite technologies, therefore will include faster cycle time — without sacrificing product quality — lower capital investment and lower processing cost. A fourth megatrend is the recycling of carbon fiber: the reclamation and reuse of supplier and fabricator waste materials and of fiber reclaimed from composite components on retired aircraft and scrapped automobiles, is seen as one significant way to make this lightest of lightweighting materials practical, particularly in the auto industry. To read more about what’s happening with composites in the automotive industry and other target markets, click on the individual market sectors listed under “Editor’s Picks” at top right.
Horizons in sight
Despite the tendency for promising market applications in the composites industry to remain on the horizon — never quite within reach — the future, overall, bodes well. Aerospace, wind energy and now automotive gains in this decade have proven that persistence pays. Continued trends toward automation, streamlining of composite manufacturing methods and continued development of new material forms should make composites more user-friendly — not to mention more cost-effective — encouraging their use in greater quantities in existing markets and making them even more attractive to new industrial and consumer-driven markets. Greater availability of key materials, such as carbon fiber, and the resulting stability in their pricing, will encourage OEMs to take prototypes into production. Proponents of composites have always taken the long view. As they and a growing number of their satisfied customers know, those sometimes-distant horizons are always within reach.