The term composites in the terminology of modern day technology, refers to a mixture of structural fiber and a plastic. This is known as Fiber Reinforced Plastics, or FRP for short. The fiber provides the structure and strength to the composite, while a plastic polymer holds the fiber together, just like straw and mud were used to create adobe in the old days.
Common types of fibers used in FRP composites include:
- Fiber Glass
- Carbon Fiber
- Aramid Fiber
- Boron Fiber
- Basalt Fiber
- Natural Fiber (Wood, Flax, Hemp, etc.)
In the case of fiberglass, hundreds of thousands of tiny glass fibers are compiled together and held rigidly in place by a plastic polymer resin. Common plastic resins used in composites include:
- Vinyl Ester
The above advanced performance fibers, along with fiberglass, carbon fibers and other mineral fillers, have led to tremendous developments in aerospace, armor (structural and personal), sports equipment, medical devices, and many other high performance applications. The development of new and improved resins has also contributed to the expansion of the composites market, especially into higher temperature applications and applications where high corrosion resistance is needed.
In architectural surfacing and building construction industry cast polymer products take significant part. Granular materials like Calcium Carbonate, Alumina Trihydrate, Quartz, etc, of a specific particle composition are used as reinforcement in combination with Polyester or Acrylic resins of various properties depending on a specific application.
Most of the markets continue to grow. Composites have found their place in the world and seem to be gaining market share, especially in products where performance is critical.
In comparison to common materials used today such as metal and wood, composites can provide a distinct advantage. The primary driver and advantage in the adoption of composites is the lightweight properties. In transportation, less weight equates to more fuel savings and improved acceleration. In sporting equipment, lightweight composites allow for longer drives in golf, faster swings in tennis, and straighter shots in archery. While in wind energy, the less a blade weighs, the more power the turbine can produce.
Today, common everyday uses of fiber reinforced plastic composites include:
- Boats and marine
- Sporting equipment (Golf shafts, tennis rackets, surfboards, hokey sticks)
- Automotive components
- Wind turbine blades
- Body armor
- Building materials and architectural surfacing
- Water pipes
- Structural sections and profiles
Besides weight savings, the most important benefits of composites include:
- Flexible, will not dent
- Low maintenance
- Long life
- Design flexibility