CW Blog

The coming decade: Clarity with a strong dose of uncertainty

As we enter the decade of the 2020s, it’s worth reflecting what the 2010s brought to the composites community and how these innovations may or may not shape the future. In the traditional composites market of aerospace, the Boeing 787 entered service in 2011, with the similarly composites-intensive Airbus A350 XWB following in 2015. Bombardier’s CSeries single-aisle plane, with resin-infused wings, entered service in 2016. Airbus then acquired the CSeries product line in 2018, rebranding it the A220. Finally, and sadly, 2019 marked the cancellation of the Airbus A380, a larger-than-life airplane that pioneered many composite innovations.

On the automotive front, BMW shook up the industry by introducing the i3 and i8 in 2013, establishing a global vertical supply chain and causing many to speculate that the age of carbon fiber-intensive vehicles would soon arrive en masse. Two years later, BMW brought forth the redesigned 7-Series, a multi-material vehicle with approximately 15 structural parts in carbon fiber, suggesting perhaps an alternate path to mass adoption. Late in the decade, General Motors unveiled a the Sierra Denali pickup truck with a compression molded carbon fiber-reinforced thermoplastic box, and in 2019 a rear-engine version of the Corvette with a curved, pultruded rear bumper beam.

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To boldly go . . .

I was just nine years old in 1977 when the first movie from the Star Wars franchise was released. I was 52 in 2019 when the 11th and final movie was released. By virtue of its longevity and sheer quantity of films, Star Wars has become the de facto source of our understanding of traveling through and living in space, augmented by other notable space-based films and television series, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, the Alien series, Interstellar, The Martian, Gravity, Battlestar Galactica (classic and reboot) and, more recently, First Man and The Expanse

One of the things that has enabled all of these depictions, and has helped draw audiences to them, is the special effects made possible by rapidly advancing computer technology. I remember, in 1977, watching Star Wars for the first time, and feeling like a whole new reality was unfolding before me, replete with hovercraft, speed-of-light space travel, laser weapons and tractor beams.

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IACMI Winter 2020 Meeting


The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI, Knoxville, Tenn., U.S.), held its winter membership meeting in Dayton, Ohio, U.S. January 21-23 and provided an update on activities of the public-private US Department of Energy consortium, which works to accelerate material and processing technologies for composites manufacturing.

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Composites Index ends year on production boost


The Composites Index closed 2019 with a December reading of 49.2. Readings during the second half of 2019 averaged 48.5, representing a mild contraction in the industry’s activity level. Index readings above 50 indicate expanding activity, while values below 50 indicate contracting activity. The further away a reading is from 50, the greater the change in activity. Gardner Intelligence’s review of the December data found that the Index was supported by an expansionary, six-month high reading for production. This boost to the Index was offset by a sharp contraction in backlog activity. Employment, supplier deliveries, new orders and exports all reported mildly contractions activity levels, thus having little impact on the Index, which is calculated as an unweighted average of these six components.

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CFRP preform technology is fast, flexible, efficient

In the ongoing quest to make carbon fiber composites more affordable and better suited for high-volume automotive production, Teijin Carbon Europe GmbH, a Teijin Group company (Wuppertal, Germany) has developed a process it calls part-via-preform (PvP). Specifically designed to meet the needs of the automotive industry, PvP is a method for rapidly creating near-net-shape preforms using binder-modified carbon fiber rovings. Preforms are subsequently infused with epoxy or polyurethane resins and formed via resin transfer molding (RTM) or high-pressure RTM (HP-RTM). When combined with RTM/HP-RTM, the process is said to optimize material use, reduce waste, offer high levels of design flexibility, use commonly available equipment, produce both structural and aesthetic (automotive Class A) parts and reduce production steps, labor, waste and costs compared to manufacturing with other fabrics or prepregs. Presently, Teijin is only selling finished parts made via the PvP process rather than licensing the technology itself.

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