A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

9. October 2015

NASA has declared Mars the next tangible frontier for expanding human presence and the space agency has released a report detailing how it will reach the red planet in the 2030s. Since it will take plenty of ingenuity and originality to allow astronauts to live on Mars, NASA and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, known as America Makes, held a $2.25 million competition to design and build a 3D-printed habitat for deep space exploration. The design competition challenged participants to develop architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3D printing offers to imagine what habitats on Mars might look like using this technology and in-situ resources.

NASA recently announced the winners of the design competition. Teams were judged on many factors, including architectural concept, design approach, habitability, innovation, functionality, Mars site selection and 3D print constructability. I read up on the finalists and found composites was involved in several of the designs.

The runner-up was the team Hybrid Composites, which is a multidisciplinary group of experts who are conducting research in architecture, digital fabrication, computation, material science, additive manufacturing, robotics, mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering. The team’s approach was to pursue the use of composite materials and robotic fabrication techniques to challenge and go beyond the current cement based 3D printing approaches. The group’s proposal is a combination of a 3D-printed composite lattice that is extruded through robotic arms, serving as structure, and inner layers of robotically formed composite shells as high performance enclosures.

Here’s their explanation:

"Rather than using extrusion of powder based cement based materials, our team proposes a hybrid approach that integrates multiple robotically controlled fabrication techniques that employ the use of high performance composite fibers and fast curing polymers that react to heat or UV light. Primary structural systems and shell enclosures can be 3D-printed by extruding composite fibers woven into various profiles such as strands, sleeves and fabrics through robotically controlled mandrel systems. Primary material for strand production can ideally and abundantly be made by using the local basalt, which can be sourced and produced at sites that have a history of volcanic activity in any terrestrial or extraterrestrial context. If special technological requirements need to be met, conductive metal fibers, fiber optics and other fibers that transmit electricity, data and light can be woven into the composites at designed locations."

The Mars Terrain Intelligence Collaborative put together a design called Marsapia. The group said that the most ubiquitous and accessible material on Mars is the high (6-14%) iron content silica sand, which covers the vast majority of the planet’s surface. Once the iron and silica have been separated from the soil matrix, using thermal and magnetic processes, these materials will be moved to hoppers and become the media for induction extrusion/plasma arc sintering heads, positioned by multi-axis CNC hydraulic/servo-driven arms. The robot controlled print-heads could produce the first permanent structures on Mars.

According to the group: "The monolithic composite shell will be composed of a sintered ferrous latticework on the internal and external surfaces of the structure and a vitrified then devitrified silica core, effectively granite. The lattice and core will provide tensile and comprehensive properties approximating yet surpassing the structural efficiency of ferro-cement or reinforced concrete due to an algorithmiclly regulated deposition of material possible only by through 3D printing. This variable rate of deposition will allow the section modulus of the sintered medium to respond to the specific structural requirements of the form. The resulting steel and silica forms will serve as bunkers, protecting the Martian inhabitants against solar radiation, small bolide impact, strong prevailing winds, and related sand storms. They will also provide structural reinforcement, insulation, and protection for a nested system of prefabricated graphite/resin inflatable containment units which will provide beta radiation protection, and contain the inhabitable atmosphere."

The Red House team, a collaboration among a group of graduate and undergraduate students studying industrial design, graphic design, architecture and physics, undertook an iterative design process to arrive at its approach to Martian habitation. With a focus on near future feasibility, the group’s design adapts an existing industrial process, basalt composite rod manufacturing, to 3D print a structural frame which serves as the core of their proposed habitat.

"First, the required basalt will be collected directly from the Martian surface. Next, the structural frame will be printed in place as a series of spiraling and interlacing ribs from one continuous rod, requiring no assembly. Once the frame is in place, the crew lander will be integrated as the habitat’s airlock. The resulting assembly will be covered with spent parachutes used during landing. This nylon fabric, pulled tight over the ribs of the frame, will support the raw regolith which will be piled on top of the habitat. The parachutes will also act as backing for a series of other layers used for environmental protection. In this way, only the frame must be made from highly processed in situ material and very little material is required from Earth. This system is optimized for quick, lightweight and practical construction," the group stated.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

30. September 2015

The 2015 Intl. BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference (IBEX) was held Sep. 14-16 in Louisville, KY. The show drew 4,700 attendees and 545 exhibitors, 110 of which were new to IBEX. The Composites Pavilion featured almost 80 different companies as well as the 3D Digital Workshop — highlighting Stratasys and Cincinnati Inc. (see Editor’s Picks at right) — and the new Future Materials exhibit, co-curated by Professional BoatBuilder magazine and CompositesWorld.

IBEX 2015 Future Materials Exhibit
TOP PHOTO: The KittyHawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can be seen in the background fabricated by VX Aerospace using Carbon Conversions’ recycled carbon fiber nowoven mat. BOTTOM PHOTO:  Materials Sciences Corp. demonstrates the vibration cancelling of COUNTERVAIL in marine boom structures (left) while IBEX attendees peruse dozens of new products in the FUTURE MATERIALS exhibit. SOURCE: CW.

Future Materials featured a collection of the latest composite materials and process technologies from around the world. The goal was to offer IBEX attendees the opportunity to interact with cutting-edge composite products from a wide range of industries — aerospace, automotive, sporting goods, etc. — that they might not normally get to see.

Each station within the exhibit showed a product and/or part along with a display card describing the new technology and its potential for revolutionary impact in improved composite strength & stiffness, aesthetics, processing, multifunctionality and/or sustainability. A full list of the companies and products showcased with links to additional information is at .

Composites were also featured in the IBEX 2015 seminar line-up:

  Aerospace Bond Testing Comes to Marine Composites
 Chris Moody, NDT Systems Inc. (Huntington Beach, CA)
 Ed Green, Arcadia Aerospace Industries (Punta Gorda, FL)
  Adhesives for Boatbuilders
 Al Horsmon, Horsmon & Assoc.  (Three Rivers, MI)
 Tom Gast, Scott Bader-ATC (Taylorsville, NC)
  Infusion Troubleshooting
 Belle Blanding, Composites Consulting Group (DeSoto, TX)
 Scott Lewit, Structural Composites Inc. (West Melbourne, FL)
  Improving Cosmetics for Infused Laminates  
 Belle Blanding and Dean Callander, CCG
  Beyond Cold Molding: Advanced Wood Composites
 Craig Blackwell, Blackwell Boatworks (Manns Harbor, NC)
 Steve White, Brooklin Boat Yard (Brooklin, ME)
  Advances in Products for Infusion
 Belle Blanding, CCG
  Advanced Composites Repair
 Jeff Wright, Gougeon Brothers Inc. (Bay City, MI)

There were also two very interesting seminars on 3D printing:

  Digital Design and Fabrication:
from Rapid Prototyping to
Specialized Low-run Final Parts
 Nathan Thompson and Kevin Houghton, Hodgdon Yachts (Damariscotta, ME)
  3D Printing of Working Components: Oracle Team USA and Girlfriend Foiling Trimaran Case Studies
 Kurt Jordan, Jordan Composites Inc. (Mill Valley, CA)
 Greg Lynn, Greg Lynn Form (Venice, CA)

The first of these 3D printing seminars was presented by structural/design engineers at Hodgdon Yachts (well-known projects include MAKO and the all-carbon 100-ft sloop Comanche). It was a very educational rundown of how Hodgdon is using 3D printing, showcasing the types of unique parts and manufacturing solutions it enables in marine construction.

The second talk was given by Kurt Jordan, a well-known composites design engineer who has worked on multiple America’s Cup teams (including 2013 champion Oracle Team USA) and Greg Lynn, world renowned architect and pioneer in using digital design and carbon fiber composites in buildings and industrial design. Again, the theme was how 3D printing can be used to provide unique solutions in composites and boat construction. However, the side stories presented by both were equally absorbing. Jordan’s discussion of the engineering challenges in the AC 72 foiling catamarans and how the team has already used 3D printing to help explore solutions was extremely interesting. Lynn’s 42-ft carbon fiber trimaran Girlfriend, also pushed limits, including a 100% digital design completed before construction ever started (VERY rare in boatbuilding), a 23-kg (50-lb) interior fabricated before the hulls were completed and which dropped into the finished hulls perfectly, serving as both furniture and hull stiffeners, and 3D-printed fiber reinforced nylon steering quadrants and rudder arms with strength similar to CNC-cut aluminum billet but at 1/3rd the cost and zero milled material waste. All four parts weigh less than 4 kg (9 lb).

New Products
Even outside of the Future Materials exhibit, the IBEX exhibit floor showcased a variety of new products for composites.

AIREX T92.320 high-density PET foam core

3A COMPOSITES BALTEK INC. (High Point, NC) highlighted its higher density AIREX T92.320 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) foam core for boat transoms and other applications where it offers less weight vs. high-density polyurethane (PU) foam, for example 20 lb/ft3 (pcf) vs. 24-26 pcf for PU products. Representatives at the show said it is also a good product for through-bolting, easily drilled and tapped, with very high screw retention strength. AIREX T92.320 boasts higher properties vs. plywood and lower water absorption vs. PU foam, plus it is fully recyclable. Previously, the highest density product in the T92 lineup was 12 pcf. AIREX also has its US-based PET foam extruder coming online, which will be its third machine globally.

BIO-SOLV bio-based solvent

BIO BRANDS LLC (Cinnaminson, NJ) exhibited its BIO-SOLV, sustainable, bio-based solvent, which is 5 times stronger than petroleum-based solvents and lasts up to 10 times longer because it has such a low evaporation rate. It’s non-toxic so it presents less risk to workers and is made from environmentally-friendly ingredients, so no HAZMAT restrictions and handling costs. It also doesn’t require chemical, C02 or foam extinguishers like acetone, methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) and other solvents.

SAF 30 MMA adhesive NIDAPLAST honeycomb panels
Composite Essential Materials displayed SAF 30 structural MMA adhesives and Class 1 ASTM E-84 fire retardant panels for structural applications. SOURCE: CW

COMPOSITE ESSENTIAL MATERIALS LLC (CEM, Port St. Lucie, FL) displayed new SAF 30 methyl methacrylate (MMA) structural adhesives from partner company, Arkema / AEC Polymers (Le Barp, France), touting their low exotherm — reportedly 100°F/40°C less than most MMAs — and also low shrinkage (<1%) during cure. SAF 30 products range from very flexible (400% elongation) to hyperstructural (30% elongation) and open times ranging from 5 to 90 minutes.

Composite Essential Materials has also successfully sold its lightweight, high-impact fire-resistant NIDAPLAST polypropylene honeycomb panels into the hotel building and construction industry. The panels have achieved a Class 1 ASTM E-84 fire-retardant rating, and have lowered installation costs due to their low weight while still meeting structural and fire requirements. An added value of the composite panels is their inability to rot, which helps to eliminating water intrusion and mold. The panels also provide sound deadening between stories in both floors and ceilings.

Composite Fabrics of America (CFA) new hybrid fabrics

COMPOSITE FABRICS OF AMERICA (CFA, Taylorsville, NC) showed CW samples of new hybrid fabrics that not only offer toughness, but also truly unique aesthetics. The 2x2 twill at left features 3K carbon, aramid and E-glass fibers in a 7.3 oz (248 gsm) areal weight fabric while the 3K carbon fiber/Innegra S houndstooth at right is a 218 gsm fabric.

Mahogany Company new hybrid carbon fiber faced panels Viking Yachts uses Mahogany prefabricated composite panels
Mahogany Company’s prefabricated composite sandwich panels with carbon fiber and hybrid skins (left).  Viking Yachts uses a variety of Mahogany composite panels, for example in the Viking 92 bulkheads (right), to reduce weight and boost performance.
SOURCE: CW (left) and Mahogany Company and Viking Yachts (right).

MAHOGANY COMPANY (Mays Landing, NJ) celebrates its 75th anniversary this year and highlighted its prefabricated sandwich panels made with a variety of skin materials, including carbon fiber, carbon fiber/E-glass hybrids and KEVLAR aramid fiber/E-glass hybrids. The panels can be cut to net-shape and kitted for boatbuilder use as doors, bulkheads, floors/soles and more. Panel skins most often feature quadraxial and biaxial noncrimp fabrics, but the company’s 4’ x 8’ and 5’ x 10’ presses are amenable to a wide range of materials, depending on customers’ needs for weight and labor savings. Renowned builder Viking Yachts (New Gretna, NJ) is using lightweight composite panels from Mahogany in all of its models to reduce weight and boost performance.

PRO-SET's new Surfboard Epoxy resin systems Comparison of Surfboard Epoxy vs. other resins in natural light

PRO-SET has launched its new Surfboard Epoxy (SBE) resin systems, formulated for high-volume production, excellent sandability and great UV and color stability for outstanding graphics. The company tested numerous formulations to ensure its final product range was the best possible to meet the needs and expectations of surfboard builders, including the whitest white, to brighten and enhance graphics.

UBIQUE (Clanton, AL) is not so much a new product as it is a new company, for me at least. Gurit has supplied materials into this manufacturer of prefabricated composite kits for some time.

Vectorply CR-LCX 3610 carbon fiber multiaxial fabric Vectorply CR-LCX 3610 features pultruded carbon fiber rods Vectorply E-BXCFMP8 for skin laminates
Vectorply’s new pultruded carbon fiber rod-reinforced VectorUltra CF-LCX 3610 fabric offers high stiffness, low-weight and channels for resin infusion (center)
while its new skin coat fabric (right) saves time and weight. SOURCE
: CW.

VECTORPLY publicized the new web-based version of its proprietary VectorLam laminate analysis program. VectorLam Cirrus 2.0 is cloud-based and multi-platform compatible, helping users to design composite laminates that best meet their stiffness, strength, weight and cost requirements.

Vectorply also highlighted two new products. The first, CR-LCX 3610, a combination of pultruded carbon rods and dry carbon tow VectorUltra fabric, has been designed for applications requiring increased compressive strength and stiffness from a vacuum-infused unidirectional. Typical vacuum infused carbon uni fabrics do not produce high in-plane, fiber-direction, compressive properties due to several factors including low fiber alignment which is inherent in the process.  The pultruded carbon rods provide increased fiber alignment and compressive properties, and the combination of rods and dry carbon tow allow for easier handling compared to precured or fully pultruded carbon fiber materials.

The second, E-BXCFMPB, is part of the VectorFusion product line. It combines flow media, 2-mm thick core, knit reinforcement and additional veil layers into one product. Designed to aid resin flow during infusion, minimize print, reduce layup time and also the number of products a shop has to inventory and manage, it provides a total print blocker laminate solution in one fabric. Vectorply has made machine modifications to manufacture fabrics with up to 7 different material layers and thickness as high as 9.5mm. "Many of our customers want to move to infusion, but they don't want the cycle time to take longer than open molding," says Vectorply's composite engineering director Trevor Gundberg. "They also want the infused products to have cosmetics that are equal or better than their current open molded parts." He says that using VectorFusion Print Blocker can reduce layup time by over 50%, adding, "We nailed the cosmetics performance and with this product, cycle times are no longer a challenge."

Posted by: Sara Black

30. September 2015

This surfboard from Firewire is made with a bio-sourced epoxy resin supplied by Entropy Resins.

I’ve been thinking about sustainability recently, and renewable, “green” resins, because I was tasked with writing a feature article for an upcoming issue of CW magazine. Initially, I was stumped, because I hadn’t heard a lot of news or activity around bio-sourced polymers. But, at the recent Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) Automotive Composites Convention and Exhibition (ACCE) event in Detroit (link to the show report here: ), wow — the automotive sector appears to be really taking the lead in this area, and had much information to share. That led to more information from some innovative green resin companies and research groups, including National Research Council Canada, Entropy Resins, Dixie Chemical, Eastman Chemical, and Solvay, in addition to well-known composite resin companies who offer bio-sourced resins (Ashland, AOC, DSM, and Reichhold).  

It’s not as if the composites industry is going to change to bio-sourced, green technology overnight. My take is that a lot of investigation is happening, and some promising applications are developing, that will slowly gain market share, particularly in areas, like automobiles that are marketed to consumers who value a renewable/biodegradable/biobased value-add. Here’s a preview of the article, which will appear in full in our December issue.

CW first wrote about bio-based resins in 2008, when the price of a barrel of oil topped $110, which made plant-based polymers look pretty good. We tackled the subject again in late 2011, when it appeared that sustainable resins would break through, noting significant investments by several market players in bio-resin processing facilities. It was a hot topic at that point, says Robert Moffit of Ashland Performance Materials (Dublin, OH, US), and was attracting a lot of attention and money.

What’s happened since? Fracking, the technology that enabled extraction of oil and natural gas from tight formations, changed the picture, especially in the US, helping to drive the price of oil down significantly (its present level is about $42 USD per barrel). “The drop in oil prices made petroleum-based monomers such as olefins much cheaper, and the green-based materials had trouble competing,” states Moffit. “Cost has been the big influence, depressing the sales of the green products.”

That said, an ever-increasing push for sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint, especially from younger consumers coming to the marketplace, has helped maintain an interest in renewably sourced resins. While they might not be widely used, yet, nevertheless green polymers are being created and used in some surprising ways. One automotive source says “Bioresins have been around for decades, and a low oil price won’t stop their development. Bio-materials offer light-weighting opportunities better than any other products, and they’re not going away.” This article’s focus is on bio-based resins; watch for our story in 2016 on the growth of renewable biofibers and biofillers for composites.

A bit of bio background

Bioresins can be derived from a huge range of biological carbon sources. As we reported in our 2011 article, the biomass is broken down using adapted chemical processes in a bio-refinery, to produce monomers that in turn can be polymerized to obtain bio-based polymers. Dr. Karen Stoeffler, leader of the Polymer Bioproducts team at National Research Council Canada (NRCC, Boucherville, Quebec, Canada) explains, “For example, fermentation of sugarcane molasses leads to bio-ethanol, which has exactly the same chemical formula and the same properties as ethanol derived from petroleum. With a conventional dehydration reaction, it’s converted to ethylene, which in turn is polymerized into 100% bio-based polyethylene, with exactly the same properties as petroleum-based polyethylene.”

Plant-based materials are more costly to process than a straight petrochemical, at least for now, because it typically takes a lot of plant matter to produce a biochemical compared to hydrocarbons. According to the web-based Polymer Innovation Blog by Jeff Gotro (Mar. 11, 2013), bio-refiner Braskem (São Paulo, Brazil) requires approximately 28 tonnes of sugar cane to make 2 tonnes of ethanol, which is converted to 1 tonne of bio-PE. In contrast, it’s been reported that 1 tonne of conventional PE can be produced from 1.6 tonnes of crude oil. Further, there is currently an unfavorable economy of scale compared to a traditional hydrocarbon sources, says Stoeffler: “The oil industry has been optimizing its processes for a century, but modern bio-refineries have only started working on the production of building blocks for polymers in the past 15 years. The processes are not yet necessarily optimized to ensure competitive costs.”

The added cost has inhibited the use of bioresins in a lot of composite applications, explains Moffit: “Typically, a bio-based resin historically has cost about 10 percent more than a petroleum-based resin, and as oil and petro-based raw material cost declines, this differential increases. Eight years ago, some bioresins cost the same compared to petroleum-based equivalents. For green resins to really take off, we need better cost parity compared to petrochemical products.” Despite these factors, bioresins are proven to perform. Researchers have routinely documented composite properties of bio-based composites as equivalent to traditional (petrochemical-based) composites.

Bio-based resins have definitely found a place in consumer applications where buyers are willing to pay a premium for sustainability. Case in point is Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle, introduced in 2009, which contains 30% bio-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) derived from ethylene glycol from sugar cane molasses. Automotive OEMs are also actively researching use of biocomposites, particularly in interiors. Another big driver, says Moffit, is the Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council: “LEED is driving builders, architects, designers and others to search out lower-impact products and building methods, and more ‘transparent’ materials that use fewer synthetic chemicals, which is creating opportunities for alternative resins.”


Posted by: Jeff Sloan

24. September 2015

CW's Carbon Fiber conference is held each December and this year will be back in Knoxville, TN, the site of Carbon Fiber 2013 (shown here). More than 300 attendees showed up two years ago, and a big turnout is expected again. 

As we enter the final stretch of 2015, there are just a few big composites-related events on the calendar. One is CAMX, Oct. 26-29 in Dallas, TX. Another is our annual Carbon Fiber conference, which returns in 2015 to Knoxville, TN, US, Dec. 8-10 at the Knoxville Convention Center. As usual, Carbon Fiber will feature a slate of speakers and presenters offering updates on the latest in carbon fiber application, ranging from design to tooling to manufacturing. This year’s co-chairs are Tia Benson-Tolle, director of advanced materials, product development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes (Seattle, WA, US), and Andreas Wüllner, managing director of SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers GmbH, a joint venture of SGL Group (Wiesbaden, Germany) and BMW Group (Munich, Germany).

If you've not attended Carbon Fiber, I strongly recommend it. Conference director Scott Stephenson always puts together a strong lineup of compelling presentations, and it's likely that you will find the attendees just as interesting. 

In addition, Carbon Fiber’s pre-conference seminar this year features Chris Red, principal of Composites Forecasts and Consulting LLC (Gilbert, AZ, US), presenting his highly anticipated report, titled, “2015 Global Markets for Carbon Fiber Composites: Adaptations to High Growth and Market Maturity.” This will include his assessment of carbon fiber end-use demand, as well as a summary of carbon fiber global and regional manufacturing capacity. The morning of the pre-conference seminar includes a tour of the ORNL Manufacturing Development Facility (Oak Ridge), which will offer a demonstration of a Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, developed by ORNL and Cincinnati Inc. (Harrison, OH, US).

Other presenters and topics at Carbon Fiber this year will include:

  • Ryan Paul, GrafTech International Holdings (Parma, OH, US) and Amit Naskar, Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN), update on biomass as precursor for carbon fiber manufacture
  • Adrian Williams, Future Materials Group (FMG, Cambridge, UK), understanding the economics of the aerospace and automotive markets
  • John Russell, US Air Force Research Lab (Wright Patterson AFB, OH, US), next-generation military aircraft
  • Anthony Vicari, Lux Research (Boston, MA, US), roadmap and hurdles to carbon fiber growth
  • Avner Ben-Bassat, Plataine (Waltham, MA, US), RFID in carbon fiber composites fabrication
  • Mike Braley, A&P Technology (Cincinnati, OH, US), effect of carbon fiber age in finished product quality
  • Kelly Visconti, US Department of Energy, composites opportunities in clean energy applications

Other speakers are being added to the agenda. For the most current information on the conference and its presentations, and to register, visit

Carbon Fiber's sponsors are Harper International, Toho Tenax America Inc./Diversified Structural Composites, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Izumi International, Inc./Kamitsu, Knoxville Oak Ridge Innovation Valley, and C.A. Litzler Co. If you're firm is interested in joining this list, sponsorship opportunities are still available. Contact marketing director Kim Hoodin ( for information.

Posted by: Heather Caliendo

18. September 2015

The Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE) 15th edition of its Automotive Composites Conference & Exhibition (ACCE) returned Sept. 9-11, 2015 to The Diamond Banquet & Conference Center at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, MI in the Detroit area. Click here for our slideshow of the conference and exhibition to see some interesting composites parts, cars on display and more.  

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