2. New fabrics are slimming down sporting goods.
In 2011, composite supplier Saertex partnered with Bombardier Aircraft to supply advanced non-crimp fabric for use in its CSeries upper wing skin, lower wing skin and front and rear wing spars. At the time non-crimp fabrics – unwoven material made from layers of fiber laid down on top of each other at different angles – were relatively new in the aerospace industry. The experiment was a success, and other aerospace companies started using non-crimp fabrics.
For example, last March Airbus showcased the same advanced fabrics on the maiden voyage of its A350 XWB. The twin-engine jetliner used carbon non-crimp fabric in nonstructural components of the airplane such as the window frames, center wing boxes, keel beams and floor panels. Today these same advanced fabrics are being used to reduce fabric in structural components for sports equipment.
Trey Sawtelle, co-president of non-crimp fabric supplier VectorPly in Phenix City, Ala., and a member of ACMA’s board of directors and the High Performance Council, has been working extensively with competitive U.S. ski and snowboard manufacturers during the past few years. He’s noticed that the use of multi-axial fabrics has been particularly beneficial to the sports market. “The increased use of carbon fiber in these competitive sports applications has been the holy grail for that industry,” he says. “You can go as strong and as light as you want using advanced fabrics.”
Modern engineered fabrics are capable of reducing the amount of fiber in nonessential areas. This has been a crucial change for ski manufacturers. “Not long ago, we were making snow skis, which are long and narrow, using woven rovings or chopped strand mats. These didn’t allow the builder to optimize the product,” says Sawtelle. “You don’t need a chopped strand mat or a 90 degree [fabric] to build a long, thin ski; really you just need a fiber and a zero degree fabric. With a non-crimp fabric you can design a strictly unidirectional [fabric]. So you take out unnecessary weight, but you still meet the mechanical specification for that part.”