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Composites 2016: A multitude of markets

The composites industry, in general, continued to show health and growth in 2015, powered particularly by its aerospace, automotive and wind energy sectors. But the biggest news was probably the year’s steep incline in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity.

Posted on: 2/16/2016
Source: CompositesWorld

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                        Ferno ambulance cot

Innovation was a key driver for composites industry growth again in 2015. That included continued pioneering design efforts in the medical services field. One example is emergency medical services OEM Ferno's (Wilmington, OH, US) recognition of a need in the patient transport market for a ambulance cot system that features motorized and independently operated front and back legs to help minimize weight-bearing by EMTs who, with traditional cots, suffer repetitive stress back injuries that can shorten a first responder’s career. Ferno worked with Citadel Plastics (North Kingsville, OH, US) to develop carbon fiber SMC legs for this cot shown here, called iN∫X, which feature a clamshell design to accommodate cables and pulleys for let extension and retraction. Each leg on the cot is designed for a load of up to 318 kg, which is equal to the overall load rating of the entire cot. Source: Ferno Composites

Strength and stiffness and weight-savings are alluring but composites also offer acoustic properties and dimensional stability attractive to makers of musical interments. In 2015, musical instrument maker, David Woodworth owner of Heartland Harps (Zirconia, NC, US) — inspired by the weight saved by carbon fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) vs. aluminum in the boatbuilding world while sailing — joined a growing and fascinating group of industry niche builders who fashion faithful composite versions of classic instruments once built only of wood and brass. Working with Crawford Composites (Denver, NC, US), Woodworth now turns out CFRP harps (pictured) that have joined a growing collection of other composite instruments, violins, cellos, bass viols, guitars, and more, that have found increasing acceptance even among the masters. Source: Heartland Harps

The composites industry, in general, continued to show health and growth powered particularly by its aerospace, automotive and wind energy sectors. But the biggest news, as 2015 closed out was probably the year’s steep incline in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity. After an M&A lull mid-year in 2014, CW guest columnist David Schofield, co-founder and managing director of independent strategic advisory firm Future Materials Group (FMG, Cambridge, UK), noted in January 2015 that “Industry pundits forecast protracted growth and expect the sector’s value to increase to US$10 billion or more by 2018, so the timing could not be better for those interested in either acquisition or divestiture.” (Read more from Schofield in “Hidden potential: An indifferent year for M&A belies a rich vein of opportunity for acquirers” under “Editor’s Picks,” at top right.)

Indeed, before 2015 had dawned, the M&A announcements were beginning to stack up: Hexcel (Stamford, CT, US) took on FORMAX (Leicester, UK), SAERTEX (Saerbeck, Germany) nabbed Fiber Glass Industries (Amsterdam, NY, US), Toray Industries (Tokyo, Japan) acquired Saati (Milan, Italy) and North Technology Group (Auckland, New Zealand) absorbed Future Fibres (Valencia, Spain). 

The summer was even busier: On July 14, Precision Castparts (Portland, OR, US) announced that it would acquire Composites Horizons LLC (Covina, CA, US).

Then there were four deals of significant magnitude within eight business days. Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD, US) reported on July 20 that a “definitive agreement” had been reached to acquire rotorcraft manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft (Stratford, CT, US), for US$9 billion. That same day, Avcorp Industries Inc. (Delta, BC, Canada) announced it had done the same with regard to HITCO Carbon Composites (Gardena, CA, US), the composite aerostructures division of a subsidiary of SGL Carbon SE (Wiesbaden, Germany). The following Tuesday, July 28, GKN (Redditch, UK) revealed that it would acquire Fokker Technologies Group (Papendrecht, The Netherlands), a move that puts GKN into the number two position for lightweight aerostructures. Not to be left out, the very next day, Brussels, Belgium-based Solvay touted an agreement with Cytec Industries Inc. (Woodland Park, NJ, US) that makes Solvay the world’s second largest provider of materials for aerospace composites. On Aug. 10, Meggitt Plc (Bournemouth Airport, Dorset, UK) followed with its acquisition of the advanced composites businesses of Cobham (Brook Road, Wimborne, Dorset, UK), which will be integrated into Meggitt’s Polymers & Composites division.

Two deals were of particular note: GKN, well known as a supplier of composites structures, particularly for commercial aircraft wings, works mostly with thermoset composites. In Holland-based Fokker Aerostructures (which is part of Fokker Technologies), GKN gets immediate access to one of the most innovative fabricators of thermoplastic aerocomposites. On the other side of the same coin, Solvay, a major supplier of chemicals, including thermoplastics (primarily polyamides), acquires carbon fiber and thermoset prepreg supplier Cytec and, thus, puts itself in the middle of a composites supply chain that has direct access to automotive, industrial, tooling and other fast-growing markets.

Fast forward to the third quarter of 2015: General Electric (GE, Fairfield, CT, US) buys modular wind blade manufacturer Blade Dynamics (New Orleans, LA, US); Solvay Specialty Polymers (Friedrichshafen, Germany) acquires EPIC Polymers GmbH’s (Kaiserslautern, Germany) long-fiber thermoplastic business, Toray purchases a 55% stake in Italian prepregger Delta Tech SpA (Provincia di Lucca, Italy); and machinery builder Fives (Paris, France) acquires composites specialist Lund Engineering (Seattle, WA, US).

No less newsworthy than the corporate acquisitions, however, were the activities that made such acquisitions attractive: innovative design and engineering. They’ve powered the composites industry from its beginnings and show no signs of waning. The resulting growth and expansion continued in 2015, despite the multiple challenges designers and engineers faced in the continually increasing number of market sectors served by composites materials and the processing equipment suppliers and composite component manufacturers who use their products.

A third observation, one that takes nothing away from other dimensions of composites development, is that the decade of which 2015 is the halfway point is likely to be viewed by composites historians as the tipping point when carbon fiber came of age. This lightest, stiffest, strongest fiber now presents potential answers to engineering questions in a growing number of markets, and also presents enormous challenges to designers and supply chains — an exciting story with no clear end in sight.

The highlights of current happenings and, where available, predictions of possibilities presented here for the major markets served by the composites industry are a taste, but can in no way be considered a complete banquet, of what’s in store for 2016 and beyond.

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