Composites are materials made up of at least two raw materials, with a view to producing a finished material with properties superior than the individual ingredients.
The Engineering Innovation Centre based at the University of Central Lancashire has been experimenting with composites to develop exoskeletons for children who suffer from Spinal Muscular Atrophy. The lightweight nature coupled with the strength of the composites make these materials perfect for this application. Let’s take a closer look at some key reasons that manufacturers are choosing to turn to composites.
Reduction of weight
As mentioned above, the exoskeletons produced with non composite materials were far too heavy for children to use. Composites provide increased strength and stiffness per unit weight, allowing for a range of benefits across all applications. These benefits include fuel efficiency, increase of acceleration or range, as well as making installation quicker and easier.
A great benefit of using composites is that they don’t rust. Nickel composites provide great resistance against oxidisation and other environmental corrosion which may otherwise take place. Using nickel composites within marine engines can also mean there is no need for lubrication, unlike with other metals.
Depending on the materials which are combined to make the composite, additional functional benefits may be enjoyed. These can include thermal insulation when used in applications which require extremes of temperature, whether high or low. Similarly, electrical insulation is possible when creating structures to go alongside a railway line.
Within a composite material, sensors or electrical cabling can be embedded, creating parts which are easy to install or replace.
Increases flexibility in design
Composite materials can give designers ultimate freedom when creating parts or products. For example, a range of parts can be combined into one part, with stiffeners or inserts integrated within the part in-mould.
The ability to select the materials which make up the composite, means that a composite can be designed with the ultimate form and function in mind, making products functional, effective and intelligently designed.
Due to these benefits, the composites industry has grown rapidly in recent years. New processes, composites and applications are being developed constantly, as well as manufacturing processes being refined. With a 5% year on year growth and an expected £12bn market share expected in 2030, composite materials are definitely on the up.