3. Advanced materials are being tailored to specific products.

When Sawtelle started working in the composites industry, the market was primarily filled with woven roving fabrics. “I’ve noticed significant growth for advanced fabrics in the past five years,” says Sawtelle. “This has changed how we’ve been able to overcome woven roving fabrics for end-use applications.”

Thanks to material research, advanced fabrics are becoming stronger and more customizable based on product-specific needs. “As a result of increased regulations in the aerospace market, we can now be much more specific on where we lay the aerial weight of our fabrics,” says Sawtelle. “Say you have a zero degree, a sixty degree and a minus sixty degree, you can create a triaxial specific to the requirement of the end-use product from a mechanical property standpoint. This has changed everything and has truly allowed us to design anything with any material that our customers might need.” Sawtelle says manufacturers can now create thinner, more aesthetically appealing composite parts geared toward the end-use product.

Mike Bracey, vice president of sales at BGF Industries in Greensboro, N.C., which recently partnered with Innegra Technologies, LLC to produce advanced fabrics for water sports, agrees that customizable products are the future for the advanced material market. “Slowly but surely engineers are moving away from traditional metals in favor of composites that can do exactly what they need,” says Bracey, a member of the High Performance Council. “With the new fabrics on the market – for example, bi-directional, unidirectional, multi-axial – end users are getting more bang for their buck with composites than they ever have before.”

But fabrics aren’t the only materials working their way from aerospace to other industries and being adapted to meet specific requirements. Resins such as phenolic resins, which are traditionally used in high-temperature aerospace or ballistic products, are being modified with lower molecular weights to be used outside of autoclave machines. This has opened up the possibility of using phenolic resins in corrosion-resistant products. One high-profile example of this is the recent use of phenolic resin in the water pipes under the fountains of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the New York’s World Trade Center. There are approximately 4,300 lineal feet of large-diameter piping, comprising an inner layer of glass-reinforced vinyl ester and an outer layer of approximately 60 percent glass-reinforced phenolic.

Advancing the FRP Industry

For most of the FRP composites industry, the use of high performance materials has been considered a luxury reserved for aerospace companies. But rising demand for advanced materials suggests that more companies are interested in using advanced fibers: The total demand for carbon fiber alone is expected to increase from 52,560 tons in 2013 to 102,460 tons in 2020, according to Composites Forecasts and Consulting LLC.

“As high-end materials have become more commercialized, the value translation of those materials is much more transparent,” says Sawtelle. “Manufacturing processes have changed, material production has increased, therefore overall pricing has come down on advanced materials, and it’s made them much more relevant to everyday applications.”