Fiber-Reinforced Plastic Composites
US demand to reach 4.3 billion pounds in 2017
US demand for fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) composites is forecast to reach 4.3 billion pounds in 2017. Advances will rebound from the moderate declines experienced during the course of the recession-impacted 2007-2012 period, when opportunities were restricted by a steep drop in construction activity, reduced motor vehicle output, and the collapse of the recreational boating market. These markets are anticipated to register renewed growth as economic conditions improve. In addition, FRP composites will continue to supplant conventional materials such as aluminum and steel due to a number of performance advantages, including stiffness, light weight, and corrosion resistance, as well as greater design flexibility and improved part consolidation capabilities.
Glass fiber to remain dominant reinforcement material
Glass fiber is by far the leading reinforcement material used in the composites industry, benefiting from its low cost, high strength-to-weight ratio, good processability, and chemical resistance. However, much smaller volume types such as carbon and aramid fibers are forecast to achieve rapid gains based on rising requirements for higher performing materials, particularly in motor vehicle, aerospace, military, and industrial sectors.
Best growth prospects to be seen in motor vehicle & construction markets
Motor vehicles and construction represent the major outlets for FRP composites and will provide the best opportunities for growth through 2017, spurred by an improving outlook for vehicle output and a strong rebound in building construction activity. Together, these two markets will account for more than three-quarters of new demand for FRP composites through 2017. Ongoing efforts by automakers to enhance fuel efficiency will continue to drive composites demand, as vehicle weight reduction -- which represents a key strategy utilized by OEMs to boost fuel economy -- is often accomplished through the use of lightweight composite materials. Advances in the construction sector will be propelled by rapid spending gains in the residential sector, which will generate demand for a variety of products, including fiberglass bathroom components and entry doors.
Prospects will also be bright in the small aircraft and aerospace sector, driven by the expanding utilization of carbon fiber composites in the production of commercial airliners such as Boeing’s 787 DREAMLINER, which has more than 50 percent composite content. Rising consumer spending levels will bode well for composites used in the production of marine and consumer durable products.
Thermoset polyester, epoxy to lead market advances
Thermoset polyester is by far the leading resin in the FRP composites market, with demand stemming largely from its widespread use in construction applications, where it is favored for its low cost, durability, and corrosion resistance. Although it remains a relatively small segment of the market for the foreseeable future, epoxy is forecast to see much faster growth, fueled by the rising use of carbon-epoxy composites, particularly in aerospace applications. Demand for thermoplastics such as nylon, thermoplastic polyester, and polypropylene will be fueled by these materials’ fast processability, cost competitiveness, and design flexibility. However, overall advances will be restrained by a lack of familiarity with thermoplastics among many composites producers and the need for alternative processing techniques.
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