Advances in composite materials

A composite material combines different materials, using the strengths of one to compensate for the weakness of the other. We are all familiar with steel-reinforced concrete. Even our bones are composite materials – the strong but brittle calcium phosphate (60%) is given resilience by collagen (40%).

Composite materials based on plastics are widely used already but advances are enabling new progress.

A New Age of Materials Is Dawning, for Everything From Smartphones to Missiles

Labor-intensive manufacturing has limited the use of lighter, stronger composites but that may change with emerging techniques

By Christopher Mims, The Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2024

The labor-intensive nature of composite material manufacturing has made them expensive, which has limited their application to a handful of areas where their advantages outweigh their costs, such as the aerospace industry…

In just the past couple of years, a number of startups have developed processes for creating all sorts of small objects from composites, in a way that is fast and inexpensive. These include Berkeley, Calif.-based Arris Composites, 9T Labs in Zurich, Orbital Composites in Silicon Valley, and others… [end quote]

The article describes various automated techniques developed by these companies, including 3D printing. The challenge is to produce plastic-based composites that can replace expensive metals, such as titanium. The challenge to overcome is fatigue and delamination. Otherwise, composites can be stronger, tougher and lighter than metals as well as cheaper and without supply chain problems.

As the technology of automated manufacturing develops the composites will be incorporated into consumer products.



The composite most people know best is fiberglass plastic. It is usually fiberglass fiber embedded in unsaturated polyester resin. Grafite composite is in the news. It is usually sintered polyacrylonitrile embedded in a better resin, often epoxy. The fiber can be woven into mats. That adds to costs. Composite are often cured in vacuum chamber to minimize air bubbles.

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There are also nano manufacturing processes.

My BIL MIT prof won’t second guess his colleagues. He won’t pass the message on and the different material science professors are not on the track I am about to discuss.

Back around 2005 Frito Lays came up with Sun Chips and put them in a biodegradable plastic bag. Great? No, the bags close to the consumer sounded like a jet plane taking off. The Sun Chips would not sell in that bag.

Fast forward with the newer nano industrial production methods, it seems no one is looking into making those bags quieter.

I tried to talk my MIT nephew into material sciences but the biggest group of MIT grades were computer science.

Imagine a stadium with LOTS of those bags…