As more OEMs utilize composites, the future of GFRP looks promising. There are many applications – rebar, window profiles, utility poles, leaf springs, etc. – where composites penetration is less than 1 percent. Investment in technology and innovation will help grow the composites market significantly in such applications. But that will require the development of disruptive technologies, significant collaboration among industry companies, reinvention of value chains and new ways of selling composite materials and end-use products.
The composites industry is complex and knowledge-intensive, with hundreds of raw material product portfolios and thousands of applications. Therefore, the industry needs to identify and prioritize some big-volume applications based on synergy, capability, innovation potential, opportunity size, competitive intensity, profit potential, sustainability and other factors to drive growth. Transportation, construction, and pipe and tank are the three major segments in the U.S. composites industry, representing 69 percent of the total volume used.
Overall, the glass fiber industry has significant potential to grow as it accounts for a small fraction of the total structural materials market, where materials such as steel and aluminum continue to reign. To gain a competitive edge over traditional materials, the industry needs to focus on several key areas, including the following:
- Education of engineers and designers about the benefits of composites for mass-volume markets such as civil engineering, automotive, and pipe and tank.
- Development of cradle-to-grave infrastructure similar to steel and aluminum by addressing repair and recycling issues with composites.
- Development of mature advanced manufacturing processes targeting 1- to 2-minute cycle times for mass-volume markets.
- Reduction of material and parts costs to make composite parts competitive with steel and aluminum parts.
- Development of disruptive technologies to gain competitive advantage in terms of life cycle and performance benefits.
The Carbon Fiber Market
By Daniel Pichler, Managing Director
The market for carbon fiber continues to grow at 10 to 15 percent per year. In 2018, global demand for carbon fiber totaled approximately 85,000 metric tons. Last year’s growth was led by incremental volume gains in carbon fiber use in aerospace programs, wind turbine blades and a variety of industrial applications.
Continued growth at this rate is expected for the foreseeable future. Aerospace and wind blade applications each made up about one-fifth of the market, while automotive and sporting goods accounted for approximately one-sixth each. The remaining 25 to 30 percent of the market comprised a variety of applications, including compounding for injection molded plastics, pressure vessels, construction and infrastructure reinforcement, tooling, marine, and oil and gas. All segments are growing as additional applications and programs come into production.