Composites Drive Innovation In Formula 1
From wind power to prosthetics, you never know where you might find polymer, glass or carbon composites.
“Though the composites market is well established and penetrated, the market has been providing new opportunities over time,” according to a report from market research firm IndustryARC, “mainly driven by the evolving needs of end-use applications and advancing material sciences and research.”
The latest in the composites market will be on display at CAMX from Sept. 23-26 in Anaheim, California. For now, here’s a look at five fascinating applications of composites.
Formula 1 Race Cars
As fast as Formula 1 cars zip around the track, it might be hard to tell that they’re made with carbon fiber composites.
According to Asia’s 3MB Co., a producer of advanced composite parts, carbon fiber composites have been almost as important in Formula 1 as the drivers themselves since 1981. That’s when McLaren Automotive introduced its first carbon fiber shell (called a monocoque). This innovation has revved up driver safety, driver comfort and overall performance.
McLaren declares carbon fiber is now “the material of choice” in the world of motorsports. Even mainstream car manufacturers are increasingly open to the advantages of carbon fiber, McLaren says, “as they seek to either take weight out of conventional vehicles or compensate for heavy batteries in hybrids and electric cars.”
Many suppliers and distributers with cutting-edge materials will be at CAMX in Anaheim with innovative solutions for lightweighting, tooling and parts, additive manufacturing, and more.
Aerospace companies founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the late Paul Allen of Microsoft are engaged in a space battle of sorts, and advanced composites technology is among the weapons.
While some companies ditched composites in favor of steel, Blue Origin (Bezos) and Stratolaunch (Allen) remain committed to composite materials for their reusable space vehicles.
Blue Origin reported in early May 2019 that its New Shephard rocket had wrapped up its fifth space mission. That mission flew 38 payloads for schools, government agencies and private companies.
In April 2019, Stratolaunch completed the first flight of the world’s largest all-composite aircraft. Stratolaunch says the goal of the mobile launch platform is to enable “airline-style access to space that is convenient, affordable and routine.”
America’s Cup Yachts
America’s Cup yachts are making waves in the composites industry.
Stars & Stripes Team USA, the U.S. entry in the 36th America’s Cup yacht race in 2021, has tapped Holland, Michigan-based Composite Builders to construct the team’s boat. The company is using advanced carbon fiber materials to build the Stars & Stripes craft.
Meanwhile, Spain’s Future Fibres is supplying composite yacht rigging to all teams competing in the 36th America’s Cup.
Around the world, wind energy is taking off. In the United States alone, a record 39,000 megawatts of wind projects are under construction or in advanced development, the American Wind Energy Association reported in April 2019.
As such, demand for wind turbine blades is rising. According to Wind Power Engineering & Development, materials for these blades include glass fiber reinforced polyester, glass fiber reinforced epoxy and carbon fiber reinforced epoxy.
“Because of composite materials, blades can spin faster and capture winds at lower velocity,” Mark Kirk, wind energy sales manager at Composites One, told Wind Power Engineering & Development. “Composites offer wind manufacturers strength and flexibility in processing with the added benefit of a lightweight material.”
A 2018 forecast from market research firm Acumen Research and Consulting indicates the worldwide composite materials market for wind turbines will exceed $12 billion by 2023.
Thousands of people who’ve had their limbs amputated continue to benefit from prosthetics made with composites.
Michael Came is a standout baseball pitcher at Olympia High School in Washington who lives with a carbon fiber prosthetic leg, according to Seattle TV station KING. He was born with fibular hemimelia.
Amy Palmiero-Winters, 46, of Hicksville, New York, also lives with a carbon fiber prosthetic leg. She recently became the first female amputee to complete the grueling 140-mile Marathon des Sables in Africa’s vast and unforgiving Sahara Desert, The New York Times reported. She lost her lower left leg in a motorcycle crash in 1997.
Nylon, fiberglass and carbon fibers and polyester, acrylic and epoxy resins are the commonly used composite materials in prosthetics and orthotics, according to the Association of Children’s Prosthetic-Orthotic Clinics.