“The global composites industry is ready to fly. There are lots of opportunities coming,” says Sanjay Mazumdar, CEO of Lucintel. “We have been on the runway for a long time, but now we’re ready to take off.”

Speaking at the CAMX session on the Global State of the Composites Industry, Mazumdar said that innovation and partnership will be necessary if the industry is going to achieve that growth potential. Innovations should include:

  • Cost reduction in composites, especially in carbon composites parts.
  • Lightweighting trends driven by government regulations on fuel efficiency.
  • Development of transformative technologies with low cycle time for mass production vehicles.
  • Parts made with a mix of metals and composites utilizing the best properties of both.
  • Development of environmentally-friendly resin and fiber systems and improvement of mechanical properties of natural composites.
  • Development of repair and recycling technologies for composites.

While wind energy powered the growth of the industry from 2000 to 2010, the growth engines in the coming decade will include aerospace, automotive and consumer goods, says Mazumdar. Once the industry develops the technology for those market segments, there will be more opportunities in civil engineering, oil and gas and medical.

Mazumdar encourages composites companies to develop more consumer applications. Cell phone cases, purses and luggage, musical instruments and sporting goods made from composite materials can make them a household name.

He predicts three major disrupters that should help composites win market share from competing technologies. They include a cost reduction in carbon fiber; improvements in productivity; and mass customization, with 3-D printing for applications in automotive and healthcare applications.

In another presentation, Shuxiang (Richard) Li, president of Weihai Guagwei Composite Co., spoke about PAN-based carbon fiber activities in China. He noted the growing global demand for carbon fiber, which was 53.5 tons in 2008 and is projected to reach 131,000 tons by 2020.

While Chinese research into carbon fiber dates back to the 1960s, the research and production of the material has boomed since the new millennium. Today, the Chinese use approximately 8,200 tons of the material; by 2020, that demand should reach 29,588 tons. The most important application for carbon fiber in China is sporting goods.

Roberto Frassine, president of the European Composites Industry Association, noted that Europe, Asia and America today have equal shares of the carbon market. In Europe, the two major market segments for composites are aerospace and automotive, but upcoming changes in European building codes may open up more opportunities in the construction industry.