Put very simply, a composite is a material made from two or more different materials that, when combined, are stronger than its individual components. The first known example of man-made composite materials can be traced as far back as 3400 B.C, as the ancient Mesopotamians glued wood strips on top of each other at different angles to create plywood.
They are an important and growing area in all sectors of manufacturing. In 2016, the Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) predicted that composite part production in the UK would increase by 16 per cent each year, to reach a value of 8.7 billion by 2030.
Today, a primary example of a composite is carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRPs), an incredibly lightweight and non-corrosive material that’s used extensively in the manufacture of automotive vehicles.
The widespread use of materials such as CFRPs is also part of what’s been dubbed ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’, which sees smart factories driven by digital manufacturing methods using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
In the UK, the application of composites in the automotive sector was founded in the use of CFRP materials in Formula 1 racing, before moving into niche sports-car production. The UK, however, never developed a significant supply chain to deliver low-cost composite parts at high volume.
The need for new composite standards
Furthermore, rapid technological advancement has fuelled changes in automotive circles. The industry is undergoing significant development work to develop new high-volume composite components, using materials and production techniques beyond existing methods like prepreg and autoclave manufacture.
There are many standards that automotive manufacturers can use to drive innovation and bring advanced products to market. The results of an industry wide consultation were published in a 2019 report, produced for BSI by Composites UK, and supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The results of this consultation will be used to develop a standards strategy for BSI, to support the use of composites, in the transportation sectors. The report identified around 1000 standards relevant to the use of composites across all industry sectors.
However, the report found that the UK transport sector – and the automotive industry in particular – did not find existing standards pertaining to composites fit for purpose. UK standards, it said, had not kept pace with the rapid developments occurring in the advanced materials space. They were also difficult for companies to locate.
Improving and updating standards around composites is important in accelerating new applications for composites in the automotive sector. The right standards can provide a major boost to end-user confidence, as well as promoting innovation and commercial uptake of any new technologies and materials.
A support mechanism is required to help organisations find the right composite-related standards. The report identified areas for modifications or additions to regulations, codes and standards to unlock market potential.
The report also flagged composite related quality assurance, data generation and recycling as areas requiring a new standards development strategy.
For the latter, it’s important to note that the automotive sector must adhere to the annual end of life legislation targets applied to European original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). This currently stands at 95 per cent recovery and 85 per cent recycling calculated by the average weight of each vehicle.
These requirements may present challenges for the uptake of composite components as, although technologies exist capable of recycling many forms of the material, a supply chain for UK manufacturers to deliver value out of the recyclate is still being determined.
For the automotive sector specifically, it was identified that new composite standards are also required around fire safety, test standards to cope with discontinuous or quasi-isotropic materials and guidance on design for manufacturing.
Standards development is already active in the area, for example the work of committees PRI/42 (Fibre reinforced thermosetting plastics and prepregs) and RPI/13 (Advanced technical ceramics) is of particular relevance.
Armed with the knowledge above, and with the ongoing support from the CLF, BSI is working together with CLF to help enable the use of composites and other advanced materials to drive competitive, safe, performance and environmental benefits for years to come.