Can we achieve global standards for composites?
During JEC World, this past March, the leadership of seven composites-focused research consortia, or clusters, met to explore creation of a communications network between them and the potential for international collaboration. The meeting, representing countries in European, North American, Asian and Australian regions, was organized by the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI, Knoxville, TN, US). The plan is to grow, adding clusters from other countries and, perhaps, pursue a global composites “roadmap” to drive research into critical industry needs.
The industries we serve are global, and our industrial members operate in multiple countries. Many have asked if such coordination between clusters can help them leverage their industrial contributions to achieve greater results. A significant focus of our discussion, therefore, was to identify pre-competitive areas of research where international coordination can have a major impact on composites adoption. Every cluster is attacking the issue of increasing production speed and reducing the cost of composite structures, but looming issues tabbed for collaboration included composites recycling, improved modeling and simulation tools, and drafting international standards for the composite properties necessary for effective part design.
It is the relative lack of such standards that presents one of the highest hurdles to composites adoption, and also is incredibly difficult to address. The problem is variables: Compared to metals, our endless permutations of resin and fiber types, combinations, properties and varieties of manufacturing processes create an almost impossible-to-fathom range of possibilities. With near unlimited options, it’s easy to throw up your hands and surrender.
Yes, several segments of the composites industry have developed ways to address this situation. Aerospace OEMs, for example, have for decades, used a building block approach that goes from physical testing of coupons to subelements to substructures to full structures. However, the development of design allowables, based upon molding and testing thousands of coupons, is so costly that it creates large barriers to entry for new materials and processes. Hence, materials and processes qualified more than 20 years ago are used to build current commercial and military aircraft primary structures. These databases are privately held, for the most part, by aircraft OEMs, so they are not generally available for use by others. The Composite Materials Handbook (CMH-17), does have some publicly available systems characterized, and Wichita State University’s (Wichita, KS, US) National Center for Advanced Materials Performance (NCAMP) program, headed by the Wichita-based National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR), has established additional allowables data, mainly for secondary structures and general aviation.
The wind energy industry is working with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to develop and adopt standards for wind blade construction. Certification bodies for wind turbines, such as DNV GL, have published their own standards as an interim measure until the new IEC standards are adopted. The infrastructure landscape is very fragmented, yet the American Composite Manufacturers Assn. (ACMA, Washington, DC, US) is making steady progress, helping sectors adopt standards for composite rebar, FRP grating, architectural elements and utility poles.
Developing standards for automotive composites, however, appears to be the greatest challenge. Of the markets noted so far, automotive presents the largest set of material and process variables and a very wide range of performance requirements. In the US, the American Chemistry Council (ACC, Washington, DC) has launched a project with IACMI to develop performance standards for carbon fiber composites based on four categories: crash critical, strength critical, stiffness critical and appearance critical. The plan is to identify what properties are needed for each category to effectively model performance, agree on the test protocols to generate such properties, and allow suppliers and third parties to certify to these standards. It sounds like a simple task, but securing agreement from all parties in the value chain is anything but easy. In Europe, the German trade association AVK is working with industry and the Institut für Verbundwerkstoffe (IVW) in Kaiserslautern to develop test standards for characterizing continuous-fiber thermoplastic composites. ACC and IVW are discussing the possibility of coordinating efforts between these two projects. It’s a start.
These projects will need to resolve which of the various international test methods are best suited for a given property, or if several methods can be used. In my February 2016 column, I envisioned an idealized future where virtual allowables could be incorporated to reduce the number of physical specimens that must be tested. For these efforts to ultimately succeed — and it will take years, so patience is essential — the global automotive supply chain will need to come together and participate. The world’s composites research clusters, working in unison, can provide the leadership to achieve such an ambitious goal. It won’t be easy, but it is something we can all agree needs to be done.
About the Author
Dale Brosius is the chief commercialization officer for the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), a DoE-sponsored public/private partnership targeting high-volume applications of composites in energy-related industries including vehicles and wind. He is also head of his own consulting company, which serves clients in the global composites industry. His career has included positions at US-based firms Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI), Fiberite (Tempe, AZ) and successor Cytec Industries Inc. (Woodland Park, NJ), and Bankstown Airport, NSW, Australia-based Quickstep Holdings. He served as chair of the Society of Plastics Engineers Composites and Thermoset Divisions. Brosius has a BS in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA.
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