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Polymer-Matrix Composites

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About Polymer-Matrix Composites

Polymer-matrix composites (PMCs) consist of two materials that combine to create a material with unique glass characteristics. They can consist of high-strength fibers or nanoparticles (typically glass, carbon, or aramid) or other high-strength fibers in a thermoset or thermoplastic resin. The resulting materials are strong, stiff, and corrosion resistant. PMCs adopt flat, gently curved, or sharply sculpted contours with ease, providing manufacturers with design flexibility. In addition, composites offer the opportunity for parts consolidation and lower assembly costs.

Polymer-matrix composites provide a stiff, lightweight alternative to metals, including steel and aluminum, and traditional materials such as wood. Currently, composites find use in a broad range of applications. In the aerospace, automotive, rail, and bus sectors, their light weight leads to lower fuel consumption. Their resistance to corrosion enables their use in marine, construction and infrastructure applications, including piping and storage tanks. Composites' lightweight strength and vibration-damping properties protect athletes from tennis elbow and allow fishermen to cast with increased accuracy. In addition, polymer-matrix composites are the materials of choice for wind-turbine blades and—in the electronics sector—for printed-circuit boards as well as electricity-transmission and -distribution applications. Biobased feedstocks and natural fibers and fillers are also playing an increasingly important role in more sustainable composites and products for a wide range of industries.

Composites continue to make steady progress in new as well as established applications. In the aerospace industry, the current emphasis on fuel efficiency favors the use of PMCs instead of aluminum; in addition, new and emerging classes of aircraft—very light jets and electric urban-mobility aircraft—make extensive use of lightweight composites. In the automotive industry, manufacturers are recognizing the advantages of weight reduction, parts consolidation, and design freedom that PMCs afford. In the energy sector, the growing use of wind energy has led to increased demand for PMC turbine blades. Suppliers and OEMs across composites supply chains are also ramping up methods to enhance the materials' recyclability (an important factor in markets such as automotive and wind power) to ensure that the outlook for PMCs remains bright.