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A comprehensive collection of news and information about composites.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

18. December 2014

CW Mystery Photo #1: CW snapped this photo at a JEC Europe show sometime in the last four years. The first person to correctly identify what, specifically, this is a photo of, and on what particular structure it was found, will win a brand new CompositesWorld t-shirt, the wearing of which is sure to win you friends and admirers. Send your educated guess to editor Jeff Sloan at jeff@compositesworld.com.

As 2014 races to an end, CompositesWorld looks back on the year that was and offers this list of top 10 most viewed CW Blog posts. Click on any headline to revisit the report. 

  1. Composites flywheels: Finally picking up speed?
  2. Composites boon from hydraulic fracturing?
  3. No oven, no autoclave (NONA)
  4. ORNL demonstrates 3D printing with carbon fiber
  5. Two visions of 3D printing in CFRP
  6. More from JEC: High-quality carbon fiber monocoques in two hours
  7. Video: Morphing wing technology update
  8. The making of the BMW i3
  9. SAMPE Europe highlights: Composites faces challenges in next commercial airframes
  10. Move over honeycomb, thermoplastic sandwich is commercialized as DYNATECH

Do you have an idea for a CW Blog post? We are always open to suggestions. E-mail CW editor Jeff Sloan (jeff@compositesworld.com) with your idea.

Happy holidays from CompositesWorld, and we look forward to seeing you in 2015.

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

17. December 2014

This carbon fiber manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, UT, US, is one of several operated by Hexcel. Hexcel's VP and GM Americas, Mike Canario, talked at CW's Carbon Fiber 2014 conference last week and noted the numerous economic challenges associated with carbon fiber manufacturing expansion.

Mike Canario, VP and GM Americas at carbon fiber manufacturer Hexcel (Stamford, CT, US), spoke at CompositesWorld's Carbon Fiber 2014 conference in La Jolla, CA, US, last week, addressing opportunities and challenges associated with being a supplier of carbon fiber to the composites industry.

Canario provided a rare and frank glimpse of the economics of carbon fiber production and offered revealing insights about how Hexcel sees the market and calculates when and how to expand capacity to meet market demand for carbon fiber.

Carnario noted first that since the mid-1980s, carbon fiber demand in the aerospace industry has been fueled by a variety of important but relatively low-volume military programs, including the B-2, V-22, F-22 and F-35. On the commercial aircraft side, carbon fiber has seen limited use on a variety of Boeing and Airbus planes for many years, but it wasn't until the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 XWB were developed that carbon fiber firmly established its place in the aerospace industry. Each plane features carbon fiber in every major structural component (wings to fuselage to tail) and together, at full-rate production, said Canario, will consume more carbon fiber in one year than the F-35 program will over its entire life. 

Looking ahead, through 2018, Canario said carbon fiber is expected to growth healthily in ever major market:

  • Sports and leisure: 5.7% CAGR (compound annual growth rate)
  • Aerospace: 10% CAGR
  • Industrial: 14.4% CAGR
  • Overall: 12.3% CAGR

What does this mean? Canario said the industry should expect 40,000 metric tons of additional carbon fiber demand in the next five years. 

Good, right? Well, yes and no. In short, said Canario, carbon fiber ramp-up is not cheap. Carbon fiber manufacturing requires a polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor, the expense of which is exacerbated by the fact that it takes 2 kg of PAN to produce 1 kg of carbon fiber. Further, the high-temperature ovens used to convert PAN to carbon fiber are energy- and capital-intensive. Finally, construction and commissioning of a new carbon fiber plant can take 12 to 18 months, which prolongs return on capital expansion investment.

The real question, Canario said, is this: "Can the current carbon fiber economic model work?" For emphasis, he noted the following costs to manufacture the two basic types of carbon fiber:

  • Aerospace grade: $85,000 to $220,000 per metric ton
  • Industrial grade: $25,000 to $95,000 per metric ton

Given the current economic model, Canario noted, a carbon fiber manufacturer will expand capacity only if a sustainable rate of return can be guaranteed. This means minimizing risk and capital costs and emphasizing long-term contracts — like that which Toray has with Boeing for the 787 and Hexcel has for the A350 XWB.

For the future, Canario listed several factors that he expects will influence the type and quantity of carbon fiber on the market:

  • Alternatives to PAN being developed might prove viable, but will trade performance for cost
  • Capital costs will become increasingly important and challenging and will drive much capacity expansion decision-making
  • Full use of carbon fiber assets will be the only way to perpetuate the current economic model
  • Qualification of carbon fibers for aerospace is time-intensive and represents asset underuse.

"Under-utilized assets are the scariest thing for carbon fiber makers," Canario said. 

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

16. December 2014

Top left to right: Univ. of Southern California (USC) Performative Composites workshop; composite cladding designed in partnership with Snohetta and fabricated by Kreysler & Associates for new expansion at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) eliminated 1 million lb of steel; USC and UCLA students gain hands-on experience with composites. Bottom left to right: Greg Lynn explored new shapes integrating interior structure and furnishings in the GF 42 carbon fiber trimaran; Lynn’s Room Vehicle (RV) PROTOTYPE House, a cored carbon fiber monocoque weighing only 50 kg. SOURCES: USC Architecture, Snohetta (overlay CompositesWorld), Greg Lynn.

Last month, I attended an event hosted by the University of Southern California’s (USC, Los Angeles, CA, US) School of Architecture titled “Performative Composites: Sailing Architecture.” Organized by USC School of Architecture professor Geoffrey von Oeyen, the event centered around the first exhibition of  renowned architect Greg Lynn’s project to design and build the GF 42, a 42-ft carbon fiber foiling trimaran (three-hulled sailboat which “flies” above the water on thin foils protruding down from the rudder and keel). That project served as a vehicle for introducing architects and students to composites and how they can actualize digital designs and allow exploration of new paradigms like tension-based structures and designs which integrate structure and surface.

Left: Coupled hydro-aero dynamic computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis developed by Naimish Harpal of CFD Max (St. Louis, MO, US). Right: 3-D printed fiber reinforced nylon steering quadrants and rudder arms: four less pieces of metal on the boat. SOURCE: CFD Max and Greg Lynn.

Left: Lynn exploited digital and composites technologies to explore new shapes for interiors and surfaces as multifuncitional structures. Right: Traditional portholes get “punched out”, adding width to create a feel of space inside without sacrificing the performance of a narrow hull at the waterline. SOURCE: Greg Lynn.

Recognized globally as a pioneer in applying digital technology and computer numerically controlled (CNC) machinery in design, Lynn has also been a leading advocate for the use of composites in architecture. He has likewise championed composites in collaborations with BMW, Disney and others.

The Performative Composites event featured an exhibition which included parts and design documents from the GF 42, an actual carbon fiber composite foil from the 2013 Oracle Team USA America’s Cup catamaran, and images and design documents for the fiberglass-reinforced composite cladding fabricated by Kreysler & Associates (American Canyon, CA, US) which is currently being installed on a new expansion at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA, San Francisco, CA, US).

USC Performative Composites exhibit, featuring GF 42 models, molds, structures, photos and design documents as well as (center) a 3Di sail from North Sails and a CFRP foil from the 2012 America’s Cup Oracle Team USA foiling catamaran. SOURCE: Greg Lynn and CompositesWorld.

The exhibition was prefaced by a series of presentations reviewing how composites have been used in high performance sailing structures and how their design principles and performance benefits could be exploited for architecture, design and building construction. Speakers included:

  •  Greg Lynn — Greg Lynn FORM
  •  Bill Kreysler — President, Kreysler & Associates
  •  Kurt Jordan — Structural Design and Analysis, Oracle Team USA
  •  Fred Courouble — Courouble Design & Engineering (design team for GF 42)
  •  Lynn Bowser — Owner, Westerly Marine (builder for GF 42)
  •  Bill Pearson — Technical Director, North Sails (pioneer in thin ply composites for sails and  structures, now expanding beyond marine, e.g.: sporting goods, motorsports, aerospace)


Both mornings of the two-day event featured “Composites 101” classroom lectures and hands-on workshop exercises, organized and conducted by Composites One (Arlington Heights, IL, US), CCP Composites (North Kansas City, MO, US) and Kreysler & Associates. The turnout was impressive, including both USC and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) design and architecture students, varying from 30 to 60+ throughout the sessions on both days, with the hands-on exercises drawing the largest crowds.

My take away from this event is that architecture and design communities are hungry for information about composites and hands-on experience with them. ACMA’s Architectural Division has been trying to meet this need, spearheaded by the trio who supported this event as well as Ashland Performance Materials, which maintains the CompositeBuild website.

According to industry estimates, composites comprise less than 0.5% of the 3 billion tons of materials used in buildings annually. There is certainly room for growth. I’ve seen firsthand how interested designers and architects are in using composites. The issue is a widespread lack of education — how to design with composites and fabricate structures with them. This must be addressed before designers can use fiber-reinforced composites as cost-effective alternatives to traditional materials.

Michael Lepech at Stanford University has published a study showing that lightweight composites often outperform wood, masonry and steel, achieving a lower carbon footprint because the heavier traditional materials require more energy to manufacture, transport, assemble and support. But composites are rarely included in the Materials and Studio classes required as part of Design and Architecture programs. Why? Because design texts and tables are easier to obtain for masonry, metal and wood, as are the materials themselves, compared to composites. For example, where do these programs go to source training curricula and materials for hands-on exercises?

Relaxed — This barrier wall system came from an interest in complex curvatures supporting standardized glazing modules. Windows perpendicular to the building envelope (see arrow) provide the depth necessary to make the FRP panels self-structural. This structural facade permits reflected light while creating intimate niche spaces. SOURCE: California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo.

Emerging Web — Vertically curved FRP panel units connect seamlessly into a web-like structure with unique spatial opportunities. Panels are made by covering CNC milled foam molds with fiberglass and resin, the foam providing built-in insulation. Embedded with windows, the integrated façade modules are easy to install during construction.
SOURCE: California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo.

The above studio projects were completed by the Materials Innovation Lab at California Polytechnic State University–San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly SLO) with funding from Kreysler & Associates and ACMA's Architectural Division, enabling architecture and design students to become familiar with composites and work with them to explore new concepts for integrating structural support into the building envelope, which normally just provides an aesthetic wind and rain barrier.

The potential for composites in architecture, building and construction is huge. Case histories are mounting where composites are used to save millions of dollars, reduce the number of subcontractors and cut months off the construction schedule. Building codes have started to change and new systems have passed flammability and installation hurdles. However, fulfilling composites’ potential will require more education and more materials in the hands of designers and architects, especially those already developing their visions for tomorrow’s structures as they prepare to enter the workforce.

For more information on how you can be involved contact ggardiner@compositesworld.com

USC Performative Composites lecture highlights:

Bill Kreysler: The productivity of the construction industry has not doubled like most other industries — it’s actually gotten worse. Composites offer a chance to improve construction design, performance and speed of fabrication and installation. Digital technology is allowing building design to take first steps toward the efficiency seen in nature. Traditionally, buildings have been heavy structures that rely almost exclusively on compressive strength. Even the complex shapes of modern architecture are often merely torturing of traditional, heavy materials. Building codes have helped maintain this arcaneness. Structures in nature, however, often have material oriented only where it is needed to bear load efficiently. Composites can actualize new digital designs and new design paradigms, for example, shape becoming structure— e.g., monocoques. The Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University (Stanford, CA, US) uses a quasi-monocoque construction but could have eliminated steel structure entirely. The new expansion of SFMOMA was able to eliminate 1 million lb of secondary steel structure by attaching fiber reinforced composite panels as an integrated rain screen/“rippled” façade directly to a unitized aluminum panel framing system. It was also the least expensive solution.

Greg Lynn: A sailboat is a good example of a structure with multiple criteria being met with a single form. Instead of a hull, deck and cabin, the idea with GF 42 was to look at a 100% surface design, a shell construction using adhesive bonding to eliminate mechanical assembly as much as possible.  This is not only light, but also more cost-effective. “I tried to explore surface minimalism by integrating components.” For example, the boat’s chine is used not only to resist cartwheeling (predicted reaction when fast foiling boat hits a wave), but also to add interior width to a hull that must be very narrow at the waterline for performance. Attachment points for hardware were also designed into surfaces. All of the furniture was designed to be multifunctional, also serving as support structure for the hull and providing storage.

Bill Pearson: North Sails operates in a space between textiles and composites. In the last 20 years it has reinvented itself twice. First, in the 1990s, it moved away from woven sails using high performance fibers like Kevlar and carbon, and embraced 3D laminate technology (3DL). This still utilized Kevlar and carbon, but is no longer woven. Instead, fibers are placed only where needed to resist loads by automated robots onto adjustable, actuated molds. However, the fibers were still laminated to mylar or other film in order to provide a solid “sheet” to resist the wind. Before that technology even saturated the market, North Sails embraced 3Di — “i” for isotropic because this technology comes very close to achieving the holy grail of sailmaking: balanced resistance to distortion in all directions. (See Donna Dawson’s article “Custom-engineered composite performance yacht sails.”) 3Di uses the same automated robotic fiber placement onto articulated molds, but the fibers are applied as ultra-thin, spread tow tapes preimpregnated with a very flexible resin. No mylar or other substrate is used. The layups are vacuum-bagged and cured, like any other advanced, high performance composite. And now that technology is saving weight and boosting performance in sporting goods, performance cars and airplanes via North Thin Ply Technology (NTPT). (See Sara Black’s article “Spread tow technology takes off.”)

Posted by: Jeff Sloan

12. December 2014

John Byrne, VP aircraft materials and structures at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, speaking at CompositesWorld's Carbon Fiber 2014 conference, Dec. 10, 2014.

One of the headliners on day one of CompositesWorld's Carbon Fiber 2014 conference this week (La Jolla, CA, US) was John Byrne, VP aircraft materials and structures at Boeing Commercial Airplanes (Seattle, WA, US). Byrne is, effectively, head of purchasing for Boeing and thus was and is on the front lines of the Boeing supply chain, and was a crucial decision-maker when the company chose to use composites to fabricate primary structures on the 787.

Byrne was decidedly optimistic to start, offering a variety of datapoints designed to highlight the health of passenger air travel. These data included:

  • Passenger air traffic up 6% in 2014
  • Global load factors (utilization) 80%
  • Utilization up 10-15% since 2003
  • Global airline profitability at an all-time high of $18 billion
  • Parked fleet rate of 2.5%, at or near an all-time low

In addition, he noted that the Chinese are traveling more and more outside of China, and overall passenger growth rates are more than the historical average. 

The upward trends carry through to Boeing, as well. The company is currently building 63.3 planes a month (all models) and has a record backlog that is geographically and model mixed. The company is building 10 787s a month right now, and plans to increase that to 14 by 2018. 

Yet, when it comes to composites and the 787, Byrne sounded more like a shopper suffering from buyer's remorse than the owner of an aircraft smartly assembled from the most advanced materials the world has to offer. As proof, he offered his take on several problems with the composites industry supply chain and the application of composites to the 787:

  • The composites industry (compared to the metals industry) is relatively immature and ill-equipped to meet the material and fabrication needs of Boeing
  • Composites in general are poorly understood by Boeing designers and engineers and therefore are not employed optimally
  • The same basic combination of fiber reinforcement and resin matrix were applied on all parts and structures on the 787
  • Composites use on the 787 should have been more varied and applied more selectively to meet discrete mechanical loading requirements

The crux of the problem with composites vis-a-vis the 787, said Byrne, is that the composites industry's immaturity makes capital outlay unusually expensive. This in and of itself might be tolerable at the right volume, but the 787 build rate has incrementally increased more than anticipated, Byrne said, which has driven material prices higher than Boeing would like. Byrne went as far as to state that if Boeing knew then what it knows now, "material decisions might have been very different on the 787."

The composites industry's biggest sin, however, seems to be that it's not similar enough to the metals industry. Byrne noted specifically that materials standardization in metals allows Boeing to avoid sole sourcing, which keeps costs low and the supply chain moving. It means, for example, that aluminum 123 from supplier ABC is manufactured with the same ingredients to the same specifications and properties as aluminum 123 from supplier XYZ. The carbon fiber supply chain, Byrne said, needs to follow the same model, which, he argued, only comes with better industrialization and more material standardization.. Bottom line, said Byrne, the composites industry needs to grow up, and quickly.

Of course, this is not the first time that composites have been asked to be more metal-like. The non-linear nature of composites is at once attractive and repulsive to potential and actual customers alike, and has been for years. The demand, however, that carbon fiber manufacturers standardize their products is a tricky one. The recipe on which carbon fiber production is based depends greatly on the material inputs, and the number one ingredient is the polyacrylonitrile (PAN) precursor, which is proprietary to each manufacturer. The PAN, you could argue, is a substantial competitive advantage of Hexcel, Toray, Toho-Tenax, SGL, and every other carbon fiber supplier. Because of this, Toray's T1000 carbon fiber is comparable to but distinctly different than Hexcel's IM9, just as your mother-in-law's apple pie is comparable to but distinctly different than your mother's apple pie.

Carbon fiber standardization of the type demanded by Byrne seems highly unlikely given the parameters under which carbon fiber manufacturing operates today. Might it be possible, however, for carbon fiber suppliers to agree to make a certain fiber that meets a given and established set of mechanical specifications, even if the "ingredients" remain proprietary? Perhaps, and maybe that would be enough to satisfy Byrne. But such cooperation is not in the offing, and may never be.

In the meantime, and despite whatever misgivings it has about carbon fiber on the 787, Boeing has decided to equip the 777X with carbon fiber wings with the same material supplier (Toray) using the same basic architecture as on the 787. Perhaps most significantly, the 777X wings will be fabricated by Boeing in Seattle, which is a departure from the supplier partnership model established with the 787. 

Looking further ahead at the next big commercial aerospace programs — replacements for the A320 and 737 — there appears to be in the carbon fiber community some resignation to the fact that the fuselages in these craft will likely be aluminum, even if the wings are composite. But such programs are probably more than a decade away, which means the composites industry still has time to, as Byrne suggested, grow up and once again earn their way onto aircraft.

Posted by: Ginger Gardiner

11. December 2014

   Evutec composite snap cases for smart phones are made by Keyrou
using its proprietary 6D process. SOURCE: Keyrou.


The CAMX 2014 (Oct. 13-16, Orlando, FL, US) exhibit floor featured a wide array of new materials and products for the composites industry. One that particularly intrigued me was by the large exhibit area for Keyrou, which displayed row after row of unique and attractive phone snap cases, all of which were touted as using composites featuring Kevlar fiber for impact resistance.

The three main design themes were (1) unusual natural materials, (2) wood and (3) the Karbon line, which features the iconic “carbon fiber” weave but with colors like red, blue and orange, achieved with colored Kevlar. The natural materials included colored natural fibers, cork and even a case made from a shell veneer resembling mother of pearl. The wood cases — including bamboo, black apricot and ebony — are made using veneers from 100 % Forest Stewardship Council (FSC, Minneapolis, Minn., USA) certified farmed wood.

In order to get a better understanding, I talked to David Rojas, director of design for this new brand Evutec (Walnut, Calif.). Here is how he explained it to me. Keyrou is the manufactory for Xin Xiu Electronics Co., Ltd. (Dongguan, Guangdong, China) which has produced over 13 million Kevlar composite components for Motorola used in their Razr and Razr MAXX HD phones. Evutec showcases Keyrou’s unique composites and design technologies. Keyrou manufactures all of the Evutec cases.

Rojas explains, “Most structures made for phones and electronics generally use 3-D molding, which produces C-shaped edges that are easy to remove from the production tools. Keyrou has developed its proprietary 6D process that achieves full encapsulation of all edges, so that return flanges are gorgeous. It uses laser cutting to remove the parts and enables seamless parts with flawless finish requiring no further gluing or assembly at volumes of up to 10,000 per day.”

Rojas says Keyrou’s processing uses thermoset polymers with the mixture of Kevlar and other materials. “The Kevlar gives us demonstrable shock resistance,” says Rojas. The Evutec web-site shows phone drops and also outlines the 6D process steps:

Steps in Keyrou’s 6D composite molding process. SOURCE: Keyrou.

Rojas says Keyrou is exploring where its advanced composite molding technologies might enable new applications, “for example automotive, but also aerospace and military, where fibers like Kevlar are already well-proven.”

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