CW Blog

If you quarry rock originally formed from the rapid cooling of magnesium- and iron-rich lava, and find a way to produce fibers from this rock, it should come as no surprise that the fiber would exhibit excellent thermal insulation and fire resistance properties, as well as very high service temperatures. These key properties have made basalt fiber a standard material for insulation products in high-temperature applications, such as industrial furnace lining and fireproof rope. Basalt fiber producer Kamenny Vek (Dubna, Russia), for example, is supplying a large amount of its product to the U.S. automotive industry for exhaust system insulation, and also to producers of heat-resistant materials for industrial applications.

In addition to its thermal properties, basalt fiber’s combination of strength, impact resistance and chemical inertness also have made it an attractive candidate for composites applications. So the question remains: When will basalt fiber-reinforced polymer composites (BFRP) enjoy significant market penetration?

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For the first time since 1992, the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE, Bethel, Conn., U.S.) returned to the Motor City for its Annual Technical (ANTEC) conference. SPE honored the city of its origin by holding its 77th ANTEC conference there from March 17-21, 2019. The engineering society got its start in Detroit 77 years ago when a group of plastics salespeople who covered the automotive industry first got together and dreamed of an engineering society dedicated to the newly emerging field of plastics. The rest, as they say, is history. The Detroit area still plays an important role in SPE with its Detroit Section and Automotive Division, among the society’s most active groups, annually hosting three technical conferences, an international awards competition, and a materials auction. Both groups also donate significant proceeds to advance educational efforts ranging from Christmas toys for underprivileged children to undergraduate and graduate scholarships to travel funds so students can attend technical conferences like ANTEC to the innovative PlastiVan program for middle school students.  

This year’s program was held at the iconic Renaissance Center (RenCen), which also currently is the world headquarters of General Motors Co. (GM, Detroit, Mich., U.S.). The conference took over a significant portion of two floors of the building and its exhibition filled a large ballroom on a third level. ANTEC attracted a global audience estimated at 1,226 people to watch 438 regular presentations, keynotes, plenary talks and panel discussions in 67 technical sessions over four days. Additionally, SPE’s sixth-annual Plastics for Life parts competition displayed novel plastic and composite parts from a number of industries that already had won competitions held by SPE divisions/sections the previous year. Those parts were then voted on by a committee of judges, with winners being announced in six categories: Protecting Life, Improving Life, Sustaining Life, Quality of Life, as well as Grand Prize and People’s Choice awards (the latter selected by conference attendees). A busy student poster competition attracted 56 students from 43 schools in 24 countries to showcase their latest research and get valuable networking experience with industry professionals. 

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On April 15 the world watched as the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris burned. The staff of CW were texting and emailing each other as the tragedy unfolded — the team had just visited the cathedral a month ago while in Paris for JEC World 2019. Like the rest of the world, we took a few minutes of the day to swap our Notre-Dame stories and photos with coworkers;  we kept checking in to see if the fire had been extinguished yet — to see how bad the damage was. Having just visited the cathedral made the thought of the damage to such amazing architecture and art all too vivid. 

And also like the rest of the world, our thoughts quickly turned to the rebuild of the cathedral. Nearly $1 billion has reportedly been raised for restoration efforts already and the donations show no sign of slowing down. However, as the funding grows, so does the debate over what a rebuild should look like. What kind of materials and technology will be used? Will the design replicate the original spire or offer some sort of evolution? And shouldn’t composites, with their ability to offer low-weight strength and stiffness as well as fire resistance, play a role?

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Recently CW attended the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., U.S. The event was an exciting look at what appears to be the very near future of space exploration. There was an undercurrent of urgency as high-profile speakers including Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the importance of the U.S. working to maintain dominance in space in terms of both exploration and defense. Speakers emphasized the need to increase collaboration with commercial entities and foreign partners. 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA, Washington, D.C., U.S.) administrator Jim Bridenstine offered the agency’s response to an address by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at a meeting of the National Space Council on March 26, which called for a return to the Moon by U.S. astronauts by the year 2024. Bridenstine explained how the agency plans to achieve such a monumental goal in the accelerated timeline by moving up programs that were already in development: 

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EconCore (Leuven, Belgium), at JEC World 2019 showcased its ThermHex honeycomb process technology with high-performance thermoplastics (HPT). The next generation honeycomb materials are well suited for applications requiring lightweight solutions but still have demanding performance requirements, such as high heat resistance in structural automotive and fire-smoke-toxicity (FST) in aerospace and public transport. Additional benefits of the material are said to include improved cost-efficiency, lightweighting and additional functionalization, such as acoustic absorption.

EconCore says it is breaking new ground with high-performance core materials and techniques for the commercial production of such materials. By combining high-performance honeycomb cores (polycarbonates, PPS, PEI, PA, etc.) with fiber reinforced, thermoplastic composite skins EconCore reportedly provides thermoplastic solutions for sandwich panels and parts.

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