Composite market promises growth, for specific sectors

Author / Editor: Peter Königsreuther / Eric Culp

Surveys show that the market for fibre-filled plastics remains strong. The materials are enjoying greater use in auto construction, and components made of them are becoming more complex, which bodes well for composites specialists of all kinds.

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Fibre-reinforced plastics continue to enjoy lively demand, which is good news for tooling shops that supply the sector.
Fibre-reinforced plastics continue to enjoy lively demand, which is good news for tooling shops that supply the sector.
(Source: Königsreuther)

The latest surveys on market development of fibre-reinforced plastics, conducted by Germany’s industry associations AVK, are raising the pulses of fibre-composites specialists. The development of the market, according to Carbon Composites expert Bernhard Jahn, has been rising in recent years, and the global demand, compared to 2012, has increased from 43,500 t to 48,000 t. By 2015, experts expect a further increase of 20,000 t.

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Carbon Composites said all announced capacity expansion plans have been realised, and established firms, along with some newcomers, have begun to underpin their market positions.

CFRP market development

In 2013, the firm Toray extended its carbon-fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) capacity, for example, to over 21,000 t. Russia’s Argon. and Alabuga Fibers count as newcomers: each has raised production to 1,500 tonnes per year. Taekwang Industrial in South Korea only began CFRP production in March 2012 and has today already reached the level of the two Russian market companions. The investment plans announced by the Zoltek Corporation have come to fruition to provide a total capacity of over 17,500 t per year, while the SGL Group bought 86% of the shares in the Portuguese fibre manufacturer Fisipe, opening up another source of raw material for this carbon fibre manufacturer. All in all, the data for 2013 points to a theoretical total global CFRP capacity of 111,500 t. Fully a quarter of this is based in Europe, with similar capacity figures in Japan and the USA, followed by China with 11%, making it the fourth-largest global producer.

In manufacturing CFRP working materials and components, various production processes are used, in which different semi-finished fibre material products are required. Compared to 2012, however, there have been only superficial changes here. As ever, the use of prepregs continues to dominate.

Around 54% of the carbon fibres produced globally are used for prepegs, with 42% going to unidirectional scrims and 12% taken for fabrics. Some 5% of the fibres are processed to semi-finished fabrics, from which, in turn, CFRP components are manufactured using an infiltration process such as resin transfer moulding (RTM). The wrapping procedure, with about 15%, and the pultrusion process, with nearly 8 %, are likewise important factors in producing CFRP.

Analysts consider the CFRP market solid, with a high growth factor. An annual growth of at least 13% is anticipated; optimists predict 17%. Experts foresee a market volume of $25.2-$36 billion in 2020.