Composite materials are popular because they’re strong, lightweight, and versatile. The market for these materials will grow to more than $112 billion in value by 2025, indicating that we’ve only begun to break the surface of what composites can do. They’re in virtually every industry, from packaging for consumer goods to building the bodies of airplanes and automobiles. Creators developing new products will find that composite materials are likely to play a role.
That’s because the range of composite materials examples is virtually endless. They’re versatile, coming in well-known staples like plexiglass and carbon steel as well as custom-made materials for specific projects. Understanding composites will go a long way towards helping creators build cost-effective, easy-to-manufacture products that will please consumers.
Composites: A General Overview
Composites have a long and storied history. The first example of these materials is traceable to Mesopotamia in 3400 B.C. Those early people created a primitive version of plywood by gluing wood strips at different angles to create more flexible, moldable panels. Modern uses started with the military, and the creation of glass-fiber reinforced composites. Military airplanes were under a lot of stress, so materials had to be strong. At the same time, using heavy metals made them weigh more so they were unable to carry a lot of cargo. By reinforcing the materials, they enjoyed the strength of heavy metals while cutting down on the weight.
To summarize, a composite combines two distinct manufacturing materials to gain the benefits of both, while avoiding their inherent weaknesses. These unique materials have since gained attention in the private industry and now play a prevalent role in just about every market.
Breaking Down Composite Material Examples
It would be impossible to list all the different composites as the combinations available are near-infinite. However, most composites are developed using a specific method that falls into one of the below three categories.
|Laminar composite is a process where thin sheets of materials bond together. The layers will have opposing orientations to build in strength, flexibility, stiffness, or some other attribute.||A laminar composite is suitable for making large, flat objects or reinforcing parts. A typical example of this type is plywood.|
|A type of polymer is reinforced with fibers to give it strength and help it resist shattering. This material is especially popular when the part has to be thin or translucent, but must also be durable.||This is useful for thin-walled designs where lightweight is vital. Plexiglass is a good example because it is used heavily in the automotive industry.|
Particulate (both Flake and Filled)
|In this, particles are suspended in a carrier material to provide strength and durability. There are two subcategories of particulate composites: flake and filled. Flake means the particles are large and suspended in the material itself. Filled indicates the particles are filling an internal skeletal structure.||An example of flake particulate composite would be concrete, where flakes of gravel and sand provide strength. A filled composite may be insulation that uses an internal honeycomb structure filled with fire-resistant materials.|
A product may have several different types of composite structures within it. Consider airplanes that include fiberglass bodies, plexiglass windows, and filled insulation. All these composites work together to make the plane more efficient and safer for passengers. When creators are considering composites for their project, they shouldn’t just limit themselves to one. They should meet with someone who can go over all the options for the best possible products.
Which Composite is Right for Your Project?
The decision on the composite material best for a project will depend on what the creator wants to accomplish. Are they looking for an extensive, light material that must be fuel efficient? Do they need a thermal or electromagnetic resistant film to protect a part? Is the goal noise suppression or a realistic, life-like feel? All these different goals require different composite materials.
In some cases, a composite that already exists will be ideal for the project. In others, they may need a custom material. This is especially true when it comes to noninvasive medical device product development, where the materials must be life-like yet cost-effective.
It’s imperative to work with an experienced partner who has a broad portfolio of completed projects to inform decisions. Different composites require different processing methods, so they should also have wide access to manufacturing machinery and a deep understanding of production methods. Finally, they should take a design for a manufacturing approach which considers how the product’s production process will layout as they’re developing it.
Composite materials examples run the gamut from simple, existing materials like plexiglass to complex, custom created options. Creators trying to decide must work with a partner familiar with their industry. This allows them to get the best, most cost-effective material for their product and ensure an easy transition to manufacturing.
PRL’s engineers have dozens of manufacturing options available to help you solve any challenge facing your product: CNC machining, custom tooling, 3D printing, thermoplastic molding, reverse engineering, and more. No matter what stage your product is currently at, we can create it and optimize it for manufacturing.