Understanding how composites are made and what their properties are is key when it comes to applying them in any industry. Today we are talking about how composites changed the engineering industry.
What are composites?
Composites are a blend of two or more base materials. One of those materials is the matrix and acts as a binder, meaning it surrounds and binds together fibres or fragments of the other material. This process is called reinforcement. By mixing these materials, manufacturers get the best properties of each.
Why composites are used in the engineering industry
When compared to metals and woods, composites are lightweight which is an important factor especially in the automotive and aerospace industries. This is due to less weight being equal to better fuel efficiency. Interesting to mention here is that NASA and Boeing engineers are testing a composite cryogenic tank used to carry fuel on deep space missions. Success in this project could lead to rocket tanks that are more than 30% lighter and 25% cheaper to fabricate compared with current metallic tanks.
The strength-to-weight ratio of any material is a comparison of its strength and its weight. If you divide the strength by density, you have specific strength. The great thing about composites is that you can create a composite to meet specific strength demands of any application. This is done by combining specific resins and reinforcements.
Composites can be tailored to stand up to acids, alkalis, fuels, hydraulic and brake fluids, paint strippers and many other chemicals. A lot of the resin systems offer corrosion and temperature resistance, but fewer choices for reinforcement materials. Because of this property, composites are often used in chemical manufacturing plants, as well as in air-pollution control, mineral processing, mining, oil and gas, and other industries.
Unlike metals, composites are not susceptible to fatigue. The first composites put to work more than 50 years ago are still going strong. This is why composites are widely used in construction. Entire homes can be framed using composites instead of traditional wood framing. By reducing the risk of rot or termite damage, they are extending the structure’s life expectancy. Not to mention that using fibre-reinforced cement shingles provides a maintenance-free roof that lasts decades.
Flexibility in design
Composites can be moulded into complex shapes far easier than most other materials. There is no need for high-pressure tools because of the resin system (composites form when the resin solidifies). Composite parts can take on any shape you can dream of and manufacture the product at any volume using automated processes. Thermoset composites tend to be a popular material in these applications due to cost.
We appreciate you taking the time to read our blog post on how composites changed the engineering industry. If you are thinking about studying abroad, take a look at our Master’s degree in Lightweight Engineering & Composites.
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