Composite materials technologies

Composite materials are materials made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties that when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components.

Compared with “traditional materials” such as steel and aluminium composite materials offer advantages such as high stiffness, high strength, low density, long fatigue life and low maintenance.

The market can be segmented by Product, Resin and Manufacturing Process.

The Products

The two main products are glass fibre (fibreglass) and carbon fibre.  Glass fibre is more popular than carbon fibre but the demand for carbon fibre is projected to grow at a faster rate.

Glass fibre is made of fine fibres of glass.  It is robust, lightweight and strong and has lower stiffness when compared with carbon fibre and favourable weight and bulk strength properties when compared with metals.

Carbon fibre comprises of carbon atoms that are bound together in crystals aligned parallel to the fibre. Carbon fibres are combined with other materials to form a composite.  Carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP) is formed when carbon is moulded with plastic resin.

Carbon fibre properties include low weight and thermal expansion, high stiffness, temperature tolerance and high chemical resistance.


Thermosetting resins are the most popular.  These are synthetic materials that get strengthened when heated.  They cannot them be remoulded.

Thermoplastic resins harden when cooled down and without losing their plasticity.  They can be remoulded and reshaped when re heated.  They are less expensive, weldable, extra tough, non-toxic and recyclable.

Manufacturing Process

The layup process is the is the most popular manufacturing method.   This involves laying a layer of fibre in a sequence by using a matrix of resin and hardener.  The popular applications for this process will include for example boats, turbine blades and architectural mouldings.

Other manufacturing processes include filament winding, injection moulding, pultrusion process, compression moulding, and resin transfer moulding.

Emerging trends

Trends which will have an impact on the dynamics of the market include the development of low-cost carbon fibres; high performance glass fibre and rapid cure resin systems.


Markets and characteristics

The global market for composite materials was recently estimated to be worth USD 72bn and is expected to grow at 8% CAGR to reach USD 130bn by 2024.

As a comparator if we compare the growth of the composites market to that of the steel market, since 1960, the US the composite materials market has grown 25 times, whereas the steel industry has grown only 1.5 times and the aluminium industry 3 times.

Forecasters attribute the growing demand to increasing usage in the transport, wind energy, medical, aviation and aerospace sectors.

End use sectors for composites include:

  • Transportation including automotive
  • Aerospace, aviation and defence
  • Electrical and electronics
  • Construction and infrastructure
  • Pipes and tanks (e.g. oil and gas)
  • Marine
  • Medical
  • Renewables

Rising demand in the growing aerospace sectors in the key regions of the US and Europe will help drive demand as they seek to reduce weight and pollution. Composite material usage in commercial aircraft has increased to around 50% of the total weight of the aircraft. 50% in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and 52% in the Airbus A350 is carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP).  This compares with only 2%-5% in older models.

Globally the largest sector for composite materials is transportation accounting for c21% in 2015.  Durable and lightweight materials are appreciated in the design, manufacturing and fuel efficiency for cars, trucks, buses and trains.  The projected growth in this sector will be driven from seeking lighter weight materials linked to CO2 emissions, pollution and e-mobility.  In this sector corrosion resistance, fire retardance and durability are also important features fuelling demand.  To optimize the design, comply with the light-weight requirements in the industry as well as with the customer’s demands for fuel-efficient vehicles and emission standards, rapid advancements in lightweight technology is now essential.

As the medical industry advances, so the application of composites expands beyond its conventional usage in prosthetics and orthopaedics.  Carbon fibre’s inherent strength-to-weight ratio and resistance to chemicals, corrosion and temperature variations make it ideal for a huge array of applications.

Whilst Europe is reported as the single largest market for composites accounting for 30% of global demand in 2017, the Asia-Pacific markets will see the greatest growth in demand for composite materials.  The growing economies in Asia-Pacific markets are driven by investment in infrastructure and construction supporting urbanisation, investment in wind energy and transportation and aerospace.

Key characteristics driving global growth by sector are:

  • Lightweight in the transport, aerospace and defence sectors;
  • Corrosion and chemical resistance in the pipe and tank industry;
  • Electrical resistivity and high flame retardance in electrical and electronics sectors; and
  • Strength and low maintenance in the construction and infrastructure sectors.


The table below shows the common uses with each of the above sectors:

Sector Common uses


Rotors, wings, nacelles, interiors


Aircraft, armour, weapons


F1 cars, interiors, luxury and sport cars, specialist vehicles, bus and truck


Lineside infrastructure, interior panels, vehicle structures, station structures
Construction Cladding and roofing, pipes and tanks, bridges, architectural features, insulation panels, pipes and fittings


Naval structures, small craft, boat structures, masts, interiors
Oil & Gas


Blast protection, walkways, subsea structures


Wind blades, tidal blades, nacelles


The team at 3D Consultancy have industry leading knowledge and experience in composite materials technology and processes.

If you would like to discuss your project with an expert then get in touch for a confidential discussion.