The U.S. composites industry is highly fragmented, comprising approximately 3,000 companies. These include suppliers of fiberglass, resin, core, adhesive and other materials to fabricators making bathtubs, utility poles, pipes, tanks, automotive parts, aerospace parts, sporting goods and more. Fiberglass and polyester resin are the dominant materials and represent approximately 58 percent of all materials sold (in terms of dollar value) in the composites industry. Cost of materials typically ranges from 25 to 50 percent of total composites product cost based on the type of application and process used.
In 2013, the composite materials market grew by 1.7 percent to reach $7 billion in value and 4.7 billion pounds in terms of annual shipment. The U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 2.4 percent in 2013, which will help the U.S. composites market restore confidence again amongst composites part fabricators.
In 2014, the key economic indicators and market dynamics suggest a growth of 5.8 percent. Demand in the U.S. composites market is expected to reach $10.3 billion by 2019, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.6 percent. Strong recovery in the transportation, aerospace and construction sectors is expected to drive this trend through 2019 and beyond as shown in Figure 1.
Now let’s take a closer look at some industry segments and innovations on the horizon.
Auto sales were projected to reach 15.6 million vehicles in 2013, from 14.7 million vehicles in 2012. Growth in automotive demand is mainly driven by low interest rates, increasing consumer confidence and the increasing trend of replacing older cars. Composite materials are used in interior headliners, underbody systems, bumper beams and instrumental panels. The demand for composites in the U.S. automotive market grew by 8.8 percent in 2013. Increase in the use of composite materials in racing and high-performance vehicle components, such as chassis, hoods, wheels and roofs, is one of the driving factors for the increase in composites penetration in the automotive industry.
The Obama Administration’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency (CAFE) standards of 36.6 mpg by 2017 and 54.5 mpg by 2025 are likely to provide impetus to the usage of lightweight materials such as composites. To meet the CAFE standards, major OEMs have optimistic plans of reducing gross vehicle weight drastically in their future models. For instance, Daimler had set a target to reduce the gross vehicle weight by 10 percent in all of its new models by 2013. Similarly, GM and Ford set targets of weight reductions of 15 percent by 2016 and 250 to 750 pounds by 2020, respectively.