The Rise of Composites Across Industries

Imagine you are a passenger on a long flight flying from New York to Paris. Traditional flights in airplanes with low cabin pressure often leave passengers fatigued and uncomfortable due to very dry air. However, with the use of composite technology in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, air pressure can be elevated to 2X the pressure of a typical airplane to allow greater overall comfort to passengers. Composites also do not corrode the same way a metal would, therefore allowing higher humidity in the 787 and creating a more normal atmosphere for everyone on board. Additionally, the windows in the Boeing 787 are twice as large as in standard airplanes due to the stiff fuselage created with carbon fiber composite material.

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These are just some of the benefits that passengers can experience because of composite technology. Even greater benefits emerge in the infrastructure of the plane: the plane is lighter, faster, more fuel efficient, requires less maintenance, and performance is altogether maximized. Composite materials also have longer lifecycles because they do not fatigue in the same way that metals do, allowing for longer intervals between maintenance and extended product life. About 50% of the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 airplanes are now flying successfully with carbon fiber composites.

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BMW has also successfully implemented carbon composite materials into the bodies of their BMW i3 and i8 models. The body panels of the i3 are a combination of plastic, aluminum, and carbon fiber materials. The successes with carbon fiber composites in the i3 and i8 models have prompted BMW to explore more mainstream use of composites in their vehicles. They have launched their own joint carbon fiber line and are looking to incorporate carbon fiber materials into their popular 7 series line. The BMW Group and Boeing have also signed a collaboration agreement to work on joint research for carbon fiber recycling, as well as sharing manufacturing knowledge and exploring automation possibilities for production (BMW Group).

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The publicized applications of composites in the aerospace and automotive industries have helped elevate composites to a new level of visibility across industries. Composite technology has typically been costly, required large capital investment, and the material hasn’t been well understood. Renewed successes have led other industries to explore composite technology with additional victories. The marine industry has moved from fiberglass to carbon composites for high-end models and racing boats. Wind energy has also traditionally relied on fiberglass turbine blades, but blade production is moving to increased use of carbon composites for the added stiffness needed for increased blade length. The architecture industry is incorporating more composite materials into their designs with materials showing up in standard building products such as decking, siding, and framing. The sporting goods industry has been using carbon composites for several decades in the creation of golf clubs, tennis rackets, bicycles, and baseball bats, with new applications continuing to emerge. Even consumer products are getting into the mix with composite wheelchairs, electronic component covers, and home appliances.

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The Altair HyperWorks Suite has great capabilities to offer to all industries looking to incorporate composites into their designs. The technology for composite structure design is based in OptiStruct and RADIOSS. Altair’s design optimization tools are best in class and can help any industry design composite structures for maximum performance and weight reduction. Our software helps determine the best directions of the fibers within the composites to get desired stiffness and maximize performance. Constant thickness in composites isn’t always desired and our software can better determine where the thickness should be to give the best possible structural performance. We’ve also added a basic draping capability to HyperMesh and will continue to enhance this moving forward, allowing analysts to study curved composite panels and have accurate material direction information. Our acquisition of Multiscale Design Systems (MDS) will provide us better material models with damage and failure modeling as we incorporate this technology directly into OptiStruct and RADIOSS.

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Additionally, our partner software applications in the Altair Partner Alliance (APA) provide us with a lot of additional capabilities for structural analysis, micromechanical and failure modeling, injection molding of reinforced plastics, and material databases. Altair HyperWorks with the combined power of the Altair Partner Alliance has the most comprehensive set of composite analysis and optimization tools on the market today. Altair ProductDesign also has over two decades of experience in designing and analyzing composite structures in many industries. With the clear benefits and successes composite materials have to offer, Altair is the ideal partner for any company or industry looking to utilize composites in their current and future products.

Bob Yancey

Bob Yancey

Vice President – Additive Manufacturing at Altair
Bob has degrees from MIT, Virginia Tech, and University of Dayton with a focus on Aerospace Composites. His current role is to define the strategic direction of Altair to meet the growing and changing needs of the Additive Manufacturing market including laminated composites. He is an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington where he teaches on the topic of Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace Applications.He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and webinars, and a frequent author of technical papers, articles, and trade publications.
Bob Yancey
Bob Yancey

About Bob Yancey

Bob has degrees from MIT, Virginia Tech, and University of Dayton with a focus on Aerospace Composites. His current role is to define the strategic direction of Altair to meet the growing and changing needs of the Additive Manufacturing market including laminated composites. He is an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington where he teaches on the topic of Additive Manufacturing for Aerospace Applications. He is a frequent speaker at international conferences and webinars, and a frequent author of technical papers, articles, and trade publications.