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Wind, road and air – three huge opportunities

Adrian Wilson

The biggest growth markets for the composites industry will be in the BRIC countries and other parts of South East Asia, Adrian Wilson reports.

20th November 2014

Adrian Wilson
 |  Birmingham

Industrial, Civil Engineering, Construction, Transport/​Aerospace

The raw materials – fibres and chemicals – going into the composites industry were worth $23.9 billion in 2013, and annual growth over the next few years will be at 6.8%.

This is according to the latest figures from consultant Lucintel and excludes the value obtained from the conversion of basic fibres into technical textiles and prepregs, or the chemicals that are subsequently turned into compounds and the processes employed to shape these materials into solid parts.

The UK is currently the sixth largest benefactor from this industry, behind China, the USA, Japan, India and Germany. © Adrian Wilson

Of that $239 billion, 44.6% of the value is in Asia, 31% in North America, 19.3% in Europe and 5.1% elsewhere.

Glass fibres currently account for 82.5% of the fibres being supplied to this market by volume, carbon 16.7% (although much higher by value) and aramids, speciality materials and natural fibres representing just 0.8%.

Speaking at the Composites Engineering show held at Birmingham NEC from November 11-12, Lucintel’s Nigel O’Dea said the composite raw materials market would consequently be worth $35.2 billion by 2019, and the UK’s interest will not be insignificant.

Technology pull

The UK is currently the sixth largest benefactor from this industry, behind China, the USA, Japan, India and Germany. At present, the UK raw materials for composites market is worth around $500 million, with services to aerospace amounting to 70% of it.

The industries that composites are serving are well-established and there is a demand pull from them for new technologies, says Lucintel’s Nigel O’Dea. © Adrian Wilson

The biggest growth markets for the composites industry will be in the BRIC countries and other parts of South East Asia.

“The industries that composites are serving are well-established and there is a demand pull from them for new technologies,” O’Dea said. “The key at the moment is in weight savings, and companies successful in making them achievable can expect premiums of between fifeen to twenty dollars per kilo of their product.”

The current limitations, he added, are in respect of high material cost – especially for carbon – a lack of high volume processing, aesthetics (particularly print-through of fibre reinforcements), the ability of materials to be repaired, recycling and adequate joining technologies.

“Areas of innovation will really focus on a reduction in the cost of fibre, and faster and cheaper high volume processes,” O’Dea said.

Thermoset composites accounted for 75.2% of the market in 2013, and thermoplastics 24.8%, but the latter will grow significantly in the next few years.

Aerospace

“The key markets remain aerospace, wind energy and automotive,” O’Dea said, adding that both Airbus and Boeing currently have a huge backlog of planes – 5,559 for the former and 5,0005 for the latter. As a consequence, they are both intensifying their activities. The monthly production of Boeing 737 planes will increase from 35 in 2013 to 42 by 2019, and B787s from five to 14.

The key markets remain aerospace, wind energy and automotive. © Adrian Wilson

Likewise, Airbus A320 planes will increase from 42 in 2013 to 44 over the same timeframe, while the A350 programme will increase from one per month to ten by 2019.

In addition to weight reduction, the replacement of steel with composites also brings other advantages. The number of parts overall, for example, has been reduced by 26% on the latest composites-intensive planes. Perhaps even more significant is a 30% reduction in maintenance costs, since it’s been calculated that such costs for a current Boeing 767 amount to $11.8 million over the plane’s lifetime.

Automotive

 “In automotive meanwhile, legislation is currently driving a lot of development and resulting in manufacturers such as BMW making investments in their car programmes to meet forthcoming fuel efficiency emissions caps,” O’Dea said.

The Obama administration’s CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency) programme aims to see US vehicles achieve an average of 36.3 miles per gallon by 2017, and 54.5 mpg by 2025. The current average in the US is 28.9 mpg. In Europe, meanwhile, CO2 emissions are being lowered to 130 g/km by 2015 and to 95 g/km by 2025. The current average per car is 132.2 g/km.

Wind energy

There is also recovering investment in government spending on wind energy, driven currently by offshore investments in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, China and the US. The offshore business in Asia Pacific will become the largest in this market by 2018.

Recycling remains a challenge, but BMW and Boeing, as one example, already have a collaboration and the race is on to find applications for recycled composites. © Adrian Wilson

There is a trend for bigger wind turbine blades and a cut-off point which demands that blades which are over fifty metres will have to employ carbon fibre composites.

The price of carbon fibre, O’Dea stressed, has to come down.

“The ORNL – Oak Ridge National Laboratory – and Weyerhauser are currently working in the US on the technology to get low cost carbon fibre down to between five and seven dollars a pound,” he concluded. “There is also a lot of work going on to make physical enhancements with polymer-matrix type systems.

“Recycling remains a challenge, but BMW and Boeing, as one example, already have a collaboration and the race is on to find applications for recycled composites. Meanwhile, over fifty per cent of the European patent applications made in respect of composites in 2012 related to robotics and automated manufacturing systems.”

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