Manufacturers have discovered the benefits of using lightweight composites in their products. Carbon fibers have become a popular constituent of some composites.
Today carbon fiber products involve the use of carbon obtained from graphite, coal tar, or other sources. Manufacturers employ proprietary processes to align crystals of carbon atoms in strands to produce fibers measuring only 5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. They usually combine the fibers in a matrix with other materials, frequently polymer resins and epoxies.
Carbon fibers contribute to a variety of in-demand products. When used in fabrics these fibers typically display high tensile strength and stiffness. Manufacturers sometimes combine carbon fibers with metal alloys. Coatings and other finishing processes enhance corrosion and wear resistance, creating very tough, durable products.
Today, many public and private research facilities work to develop lightweight composites. A composite consists of the combination of two or more materials which display changed chemical and physical properties in a finished condition. While most composites widely used in industrial manufacturing also display strength, a few do not. The goals of a specific manufacturer dictates the selection of materials utilized in the preparation of lightweight composites.
The ultimate purpose of the product, manufacturing costs, the availability of materials, proprietary processes, and other factors may determines the raw materials used in specific composites. Companies often prefer strong, lightweight, recyclable composites.
Manufacturers have developed a number of different techniques for forming lightweight composites. These technologies differ widely, due to the huge disparities between different types of constituents. Manufacturing processes from industries as different as textile manufacturing and nanotechnology bioengineering illustrate the diversity of these processes:
Fiber Placement: Both tailored fiber placement and automated fiber placement remain popular ways to insert fibers into fabrics within the textile industry.
Filament Winding: A manufacturer relies upon a rotating mandrel to supply tension for the placement of filaments in specific locations.
Tufting: Also derived from the textile industry, this technique holds nanotechnology manufacturing potentials today. A manufacturer inserts fibers into a substrate through one surface only.
Spray On (or “Spray Up”): Some manufacturers reportedly spray fiberglass components directly into reusable molds. They then add successive layers of composite materials, such as resins, before applying pressure and curing. This technique remains exceedingly hazardous for workers, so plants utilizing it must employ rigorous health and safety protocols in most nations.
Z-pinning: This technique used frequently to insert fibers into position on a microscopic level occurs in some medical bioengineering labs creating composite materials.
Lanxide: This patented technology reportedly obtained limited use in lightweight composite manufacturing for the automotive industry due to the expense of the process. In the past, it helped create composite light weight brake discs specially designed for the 1996 Lotus Elise sports car produced by the British manufacturer Lotus Cars in England and Malaysia.
The development of commercially utilized composites has become a profitable business. Consequently, numerous companies and research labs invest money every year seeking to develop new composite materials for specific purposes. Whether they seek to produce lightweight composites, waterproof composites, fireproof composites, or composites displaying other in-demand properties, these firms frequently utilize proprietary manufacturing technologies unavailable to the general public. Consequently, few broad generalizations apply.
In the past, manufacturers have employed a wide variety of materials to create lightweight composites. Just a few of these ingredients include:
Carbon Fibers: Carbon fibers serve as components of many lightweight composite products. This material may display somewhat different properties based upon the particular proprietary manufacturing method employed to create the carbon fibers.
Plastic: Manufacturers have developed a large number of plastic polymers to use in conjunction with composites. Plastics often form matrix materials, for example. Some composite manufacturers rely upon either thermoset or thermoplastic resins during this process.
Wood: One of the earliest materials to obtain widespread commercial use as a lightweight composite, today wood appears in many of these products. Some commercially important composites include plywood, fiberboard, particle board, chip board, glue-laminated timber (“glulam”), and a wide array of wood polymers.
Silicon: As a component of glass, silicon plays an important role in fiberglass composites. It also figures prominently in many lightweight ceramic composites.
Manufacturers have developed many commercial applications for lightweight composites, such as carbon fibers or particle board. Carbon fiber composites today display both light weight and excellent strength. Metal parts manufacturers have reportedly used this material in automobiles to decrease vehicle weight without sacrificing strength, for instance. Carbon fibers also play a prominent role in some types of body armor, helping to protect wearers against harm from penetrating objects.
Other popular light weight composites on the marketplace today include the manufactured wood composite boards used to help secure glass windows and doors against high winds in locations subjected to hurricanes. Manufacturers combine the wood chips and sawdust byproducts from lumber yards with other materials in order to generate comparatively light weight, sturdy boards.
Lightweight commercial components offer numerous advantages. First, high strength-to-weight ratios combined with low weights create high demand for these products. Second, manufacturers may obtain economic advantages by developing proprietary composite manufacturing technologies. This form of intellectual property represents a business asset. Third, many composites, such as particle board, use manufacturing byproducts (e.g. saw dust) which might otherwise supply limited market value. Composites represent a more efficient use of resources.
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