Will high-tech composites replace traditional materials?

Many scientific and technical advances have led to conclusions that the properties of composite materials are often superior to more traditional choices. Here, Emily Newton, guest author for materials database, Matmatch, looks at some of the benefits that make them so promising.

Improve sustainability

Global attention is focused on pressing issues such as climate change and excessive waste generation. People are increasingly concerned with developing sustainable materials to replace those that are likely to be discarded more frequently. Many ecological composite materials can fill this need.

Carbon fiber composites are popular alternatives for replacing conventional metals used for everything from airplane parts to golf clubs. However, most of them are virtually impossible to repair or recycle once they break.

A new advance by researchers at the University of Washington could overcome this drawback. The team created a new material that is as light and strong as conventional carbon fiber composites, but easy to repair if it cracks. People can repeatedly repair damage traditionally or with radio frequency heating.

This material belongs to a relatively new category called carbon fiber reinforced vitrimers (vCFRP). Unlike other carbon fiber composites, this material allows you to bond, untie and re-bond without compromising strength or hardness.

An advantage of composite materials is that they can outperform their original properties, such as reclaimed wood treated to resist heat. This means that people might be surprised to learn more about how composites could alter the characteristics of common materials they thought they knew well.

Improvement of essential processes

People who work with composite materials often study how they could help users improve their processes. For example, composite screws are common choices for joining decking because they are generally denser than traditional wood versions. They also have finer threads and relatively smaller headsmaking them easier to drive into the deck.

Improving screws can save labor costs and increase the chances of getting great results, and this is just one example. Ways to strengthen an existing process can appear at virtually any stage, from designing a product to submitting it to quality checks.

Much of the ongoing work associated with composite materials relates to futuristic approaches, such as the application of robotics. For example, Rolls-Royce has a new facility dedicated to the development of new composite materials. One approach is to use robots to help manufacture composite fan blades used in jet engines.

Each component has approx. 500 layers of carbon fiber material, each applied in a fully automated process supervised by factory workers. Robots lift and move parts between stations on the assembly line, ensuring smooth and efficient operation.

Futuristic systems are not the only strength of composite materials. Valuable research has gone into the materials themselves to speed up factory processes. Researchers have developed a color changing composite laminate in response to the deformation.

They believe this will help catch problems at earlier stages and alert people to possible hardware failures. So far, people have only used the material in the lab. However, if it works as well as developers hope, the innovation could improve processes in many ways.

For example, it could prevent workers from fabricating composite parts with internal weaknesses and minimize future callbacks. The team also reported that their new material, which is made up of layers, is break-resistant and lightweight. Since these are some of the most desirable properties of composites, this invention could have wide applications and appeal.

Pursue material-based improvements

Another advantage of composite materials is that they allow engineers and scientists to develop new options that meet needs not covered by conventional choices. People are always looking for feasible ways to improve products. Composites often show the way forward.

Nonwoven fabrics are those derived from binder fibers that do not require knitting or weaving. Researchers recently created a new composite material that falls into this category. They think their innovation could be ideal for medical products, such as bandages and masks.

Tests showed the new fabric to be more absorbent than traditional options. It also performed well in stretch recovery tests, suggesting that the material would hold up well to repeated use. The team recognized that while other options have good breathability and stretch capabilities, choosing to add cotton should provide another noticeable benefit.

Other research has focused on changing the material on smartphone screens. The project of an international research team resulted in a glass composite which could minimize More screen breakage provide a brighter display. The materials are based on lead halide perovskites, which function like miniature solar panels as they capture and store energy. The basic approach is to wrap nanocrystals in porous glass.

This method should improve upon current nanocrystalline technologies used for device screens. The group working on this project cautioned that while they believe their techniques are evolutionary, there is still a lot of work to be done. They must find the best ways to create materials with desired properties.

These are just a few of the many benefits of composite materials that get people excited about what the future holds. Traditional materials still have a place in many cases, but these examples show the benefits of working with composites to generate specific results. Using a material database like Matmatchmaterials engineers can research and anticipate different composites that could replace traditional materials.

About Tracy G. Larimore

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