Composite materials made from glass and carbon are extremely popular. So much so that people tend to think of carbon fiber and fiberglass products when they think of composites. But truth be told, not all composites are made with glass and carbon fibers. Indeed, the vast majority of them are not.
A composite is any material made with two or more base materials with combined properties superior to those of the individual base materials. Reinforced concrete is an excellent example.
Building with Concrete
Concrete is a composite material itself. It is made from Portland cement, sand, and a coarse aggregate. All three materials have their own desirable properties. Put them together to make concrete and you have a superior product for constructing sidewalks, bridges, buildings, etc.
The main downside of concrete is its brittleness. Throw in concrete’s tendency to absorb water and you have a real problem using the material for building things like bridge decks and pilings. Water seeping into the concrete eventually leads to cracks as it expands and contracts. That is where rebar comes into play.
Rebar reinforces concrete to make it stronger. Reinforcing with rebar reduces cracking, although not entirely. The point is that both rebar and concrete are made better when you combine the two.
Carbon and Glass Fiber Composites
Composites made from carbon and glass fibers combine the fibers with an epoxy resin. At Rock West Composites in Salt Lake City, Utah, they sell a variety of carbon fiber products, glass fiber products, and epoxy resins. The right fiber-epoxy combination results in an incredibly good material with multiple applications.
Just like concrete, the two materials that combine to make a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) have very good properties on their own. But those good properties are made even better when the materials are combined. That’s the way composites work. And by the way, it is the same with fiberglass.
Wood Composites for Construction
Moving on from concrete and carbon fiber, wood composites are extremely popular in the construction trades right now. For example, manufactured timber is a composite product that combines several different wood materials to create something that can be used as flooring, framing, or even roofing materials.
And speaking of flooring, modern homes now feature floors that look like genuine stone or wood. Yet the floors are actually made with composites. Manufacturing and printing technology are so advanced these days that you really cannot tell without getting on your hands and knees and looking very closely.
All About Strength
So why do we rely so heavily on composites in the 21st century? Rock West says it is almost always about strength. Composite materials are designed to be stronger than the materials they replace. In some cases, there are other benefits as well. For example, let us talk about carbon fiber again.
A carbon fiber reinforced plastic is several times stronger than both steel and aluminum. It is also more rigid. But guess what? Carbon fiber products are lighter than their metal counterparts. And they are not just a little bit lighter, they are magnitudes lighter.
The fact that carbon fiber is both lighter and stronger than steel is the only reason companies like Boeing and Airbus are able to build and fly modern jumbo jets. The Boeing 787 Max wouldn’t be possible if it were made entirely of steel and aluminum. The wings alone would be monstrous.
So now you know. Not all composites are based in glass and carbon fiber. There are all sorts of composites made from a variety of different materials. And they all make the modern world better.