Another challenge for the composites industry has been its inability to leverage its potential. Composites account for only about 1 percent of the total structural materials market by volume. This provides ample opportunity to grow in various industries by replacing traditional materials, such as steel and aluminum. The industry needs to work on four areas to drive growth and thus gain a competitive edge over traditional materials:
- Education to engineers and designers about the benefits and use of composites for mass volume markets. Most engineers are unaware of the advantages of composites and still rely on black metal for structural applications. Educating engineers is the first step toward designing innovative parts in new applications.
- Development of a cradle-to-grave infrastructure, thereby addressing composites repair and recycling issues.
- Development of a mature advanced manufacturing process targeting one to two minutes cycle time for mass volume markets where high cycle time is critical. Most current composite part manufacturing processes are either completely manual or partially automated and don’t meet the required cycle times.
- Reduction in the price of advanced fibers and parts to make them competitive with steel and aluminum parts. Most of the major markets for composites are highly cost sensitive. The high price of composites, especially carbon fibers, restricts potential leverage in many applications. For example, automotive OEMs demand carbon fiber within the range of $5 per pound, whereas the current price is approximately $10 to $15 per pound for automotive applications. Industry leaders are working on alternative precursors and advancements in manufacturing processes to curb material costs and reduce the overall energy cost with the ultimate goal of producing low-cost carbon fiber.
Overall, Lucintel is optimistic about the composites industry for 2016 and beyond. If all major players in the industry work together – researchers, suppliers and manufacturers – the future is bright.