“By changing glass chemistry we can provide new features, and who knows where the composite fabricators will take things or what future applications might be?” says Richards. “We tailor reinforcing fibers by using the periodic table and combining that with melting technology and organic chemistry.”
Dane Jackson performs a loop at the 2012 Freestyle Kayaking World Championships, where he finished second. In 2013, Jackson won the competition with a new kayak incorporating shatter-resistant Aerialite X materials from BGF Industries.
Owens Corning will launch the third generation of its Ultrablade™ fabric solutions this month at JEC Europe. Skinner says the proprietary glass fiber reinforcement system can reduce the weight of wind blades by six to 10 percent. “The focus [in wind energy] is on getting the initial capital cost down, and one of the ways we can contribute is by offering the capability to make a longer blade with the same amount of material or the same size blade with less material,” says Skinner.
While suppliers are hesitant to reveal details about their proprietary systems – or what new fibers are under development – they agree that making advancements is a delicate balancing act. It combines chemistry, extrusion processes, secondary operations such as chopping and more. “We’re playing with all those variables all the time to meet the requirements of our customers,” says Skinner.
The Future of Reinforcements
Chomorat is a 100-year-old company with 50 years of experience in composites. Its recent foray into advanced composites for the automotive industry is exciting – and challenging. “Everyone is trying to pursue this market, so we are working with RTM equipment manufacturers, resin suppliers and others to identify what set of properties can best meet the end use application,” says Leatham. “You’re looking for a Class A finish, durability, non-warpage – a host of attributes that everyone is trying to solve. It’s a big puzzle at the moment.”
And then there’s the issue of the high cost of carbon fiber. “[The industry] needs to look to the future with experts like the Oak Ridge National Lab on things like lowering the cost of carbon fiber,” says Leatham. “That’s going to be integral to market acceptance.”
Suppliers of glass fiber face challenges, too. “Many applications are 30 to 40 years old,” says Skinner. “There’s a lot of pressure from customers to provide solutions that enable them to drive productivity in their processes.” Last year, Owens Corning launched OptiSpray™, reinforcement solutions for spray-on applications in marine, sanitary, transportation and other industries. Skinner says OptiSpray enhances productivity by reducing scrap, resin loadings and consumables.