Advanced Polymer Composites

Published - Jan 2000| Analyst - Sam Brauer| Code - PLS001D
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Report Highlights

  • The U.S. composites industry is slated to grow from over $5 billion in 1998 to close to $8 billion in 2003, with an annualized growth rate of 8.3%. With this rate of growth, the U.S. is expected to maintain its position as the largest single market and producer of advanced composites.
  • Boeing is now the largest airplane manufacturer in the world, and continues to increase the amounts of advanced composites used per airplane. This trend is expected to continue for the next few years. The defense industry-the driving force behind advanced composites for decades-has continued to increase the amount of advanced composites in weaponry.
  • The largest market for advanced composites, aerospace/defense, is expected to grow significantly over the next few years, which will certainly boost the total sales of the advanced composites industry.
  • Historically, prepreg has been the predominant manufacturing methodology for advanced composites. Trends in the industry have shown that resin infusion methods and pultrusion are growing much more rapidly than prepreg.



This report focuses on advanced composites and their uses. There has been enormous interest in the commercialization of advanced composite materials for a variety of applications, and many applications have met with commercial success.

Advanced composites were developed as part of the defense buildup against the former Soviet Union in the cold war era. Much of the cold war fueled developments in materials focused on composites. These composites were made from a variety of fibers and matrix combinations. Some of the fibers developed during this period include carbon fibers, E-glass, S2-glass, boron fibers, aluminum fibers, ceramic fibers and aramids. Many of these advanced composites have astounding properties of toughness, strength, light weight, and all too often, dazzling expense. Given the military heritage of these materials, the very desirable trait of affordability had been sacrificed. Therefore, several decades passed before advanced composites were widely used outside the aerospace/defense industry.

Advanced composites have been produced using a number of technologies and materials. Given that the advanced composites industry covers so many applications, agreement on what exactly an advanced composite is has been somewhat lacking. However, a general consensus has emerged, and that has been used to define the industry.

Advanced composites are high performance materials. For the purposes of this report, advanced composites are produced from continuous fibers, since discontinuous fibers have lower performance. There are four types of fibers that have been used to produce advanced composites in significant quantities: carbon fibers, E-glass, S2-glass and aramid. Coincidentally, four types of resins have also been used to produce advanced composites in quantity: phenolic, polyester, vinylester and epoxy. This report covers the products of advanced composites and many of their markets by material type. This report does not cover the entire markets for these materials, for in most cases, the "conventional materials" market is far larger, at least in terms of volume, than the advanced composites market.

Advanced composites have been manufactured by several processes such as prepreg, resin infusion, filament winding and pultrusion. These techniques that are used to produce advanced composites are another way to characterize the industry. By combining the products and the technologies of advanced composites, a reasonable definition of the industry can now be formulated. Advanced composites are high performance (strength to weight) materials manufactured from continuous fibers using either a prepreg, resin infusion process, filament winding or pultrusion. Consequently, this report does not cover sheet molded compound, prepregs sold in the electrical insulation industry, open layup fiberglass products, or chopped fiber parts.

This report examines both current markets and possible new uses of advanced composites, which should give some idea of the future markets for these materials. With this information, readers with interests can then make sound judgments regarding marketing strategies, investment decisions or strategic plans concerning the market of advanced composites. This report has been written to be readily accessible for those readers with a background, but accuracy concerning the technical aspects of advanced composite manufacture has not been sacrificed.


While there has been much ballyhoo in the popular press concerning the wonders of composites, it is occasionally difficult to get solid information on how much of these composites are being sold and where. Recent shakeups in the major trade associations of composite manufacturers have resulted in poor data collection and analysis. Given the current turmoil in the associations of the composites industry, this report offers a timely picture of trends in advanced composites that cannot be obtained from other sources.

Furthermore, much of the previous trade association data has examined the advanced composites industry as part of the overall composites industry, which has presented a very distorted picture. Quite often, the information presented by the trade associations has minimized the markets and the contributions of the advanced composites industry to the overall composite industry. This report shows that the markets and the contributions of the advanced composites industry are more significant than has been reported in most trade journals.


This report shows the size of the advanced composites market in the U.S. for specific industries. Since the U.S. represents the dominant producers and market for advanced composites worldwide, this report focuses heavily on trends in the U.S. Readers of this report will be able to distinguish the hype concerning the uses of advanced composites from the reality of the market. Many of the successes of advanced composites have received relatively little press, and a number of the published articles concerning the uses of advanced composites do not provide an accurate picture.


In order to generate the information necessary to construct a reasonable future market for these fibers, it is necessary to take a hardheaded look at the potential advantages and pitfalls of the current crop of advanced composites compared with conventional materials. This report does not focus on future markets consisting of future (fantasy) aircraft, such as a high-speed civil transport; rather, this report is restricted to the possible replacements of existing conventional materials by advanced composites. Applications of composite materials that are possible within 5 to 10 years are also discussed.

This report categorizes the products of advanced composites in two ways:


  • The materials used for advanced composites by fiber and resin type. This report covers applications for four fiber types: carbon, S2-glass, E-glass and aramid. This report also covers resins including: polyester, vinylester, phenolics and epoxy. There are sections of this report that cover some high temperature resins such as cyanate ester as well. Additionally, core materials such as honeycombs are covered in detail.

  • Advanced composites by process. This report breaks down advanced composite manufacture into four major processes: prepreg, filament winding, pultrusion and resin infusion. Resin infusion technologies are further segmented into low-pressure, moderate-pressure, and high-pressure resin infusion.


The report is broken into six sections. First, there is an overview that gives the broad details of advanced composites, along with some of their physical properties and methods of manufacture. Next, there is an extensive description of the industry of advanced composite manufacturers including fiber manufacturers, resin manufacturers, honeycomb manufacturers and composite producers, along with company profiles. Following this industry section, there is a description of advanced composites by fiber type, resin type and method of manufacture. After this products section is a description of the markets for advanced composites, including future trends. The report concludes with a brief section of report_highlightss of the international scene.


This report is the end-result of 5 months of concerted effort by the author. The primary sources of information for writing this report came from interviews with over 75 people in industry and government. The author also attended meetings and conferences, and much precious insight was gained from these sources as well. Many of the people interviewed are recognized authorities in the field and provided invaluable assistance, and I would like to thank all who took the time to speak with me for their help with this project.

Since this study was not commissioned by any corporation or individual, the author's brief in writing this study was to be as objective as possible.

Secondary sources used for this report include a number of publications put out by the federal government, including items on the Internet, corporate literature, publications in the peer reviewed literature, and texts on carbon fiber and composite structures.

Anytime an estimate for a number has been made, the underlying assumptions are discussed. Thus, if a reader chooses to interpret the raw data in a differing manner, it is possible to do so. Dollar amounts are in constant 1999 dollars, and average annual growth rates (AAGR) are calculated using standard tables.


The author has published over half a dozen studies at BCC, several of which related directly to this report. The author has also performed custom studies for BCC, and presented original research to corporate clients. The author earned a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry researching the formation of chromium complexes in an interdisciplinary group and is a member of SAMPE.

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