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Industry Overview

The global appetite for composites is strong and continues to flourish as composites fuel the growth of new applications in a number of markets.

The U.S. composite materials market grew by 6.3 percent in 2014 to reach $8.2 billion in value and 5.5 billion pounds in terms of annual shipment. Looking ahead, key economic indicators and market dynamics suggest that in 2015, the U.S. composite materials market will grow 4.9 percent to reach 5.8 billion pounds of annual shipment. Dominating the materials market are glass fiber in the reinforcement segment and polyester resin in the resin segment. The U.S. market for composites end products was $21 billion for 2014. The total composites market including materials and end products was approximately $30 billion.

Globally, the U.S. is the second largest market for composites worldwide after China in terms of volume consumption. In 2013, the U.S. ranked No. 1 in per capita composite materials consumption with approximately 16 pounds, followed by Germany with approximately 8.6 pounds. Comparatively, per capita composites consumption in China was 4.8 pounds.

Composite materials have fueled the growth of new applications in markets such as transportation, construction, corrosion-resistance, marine, infrastructure, consumer products, electrics, aerospace, appliances, and business equipment. Composites are used to manufacture thousands of products that fall into three broad categories: consumer, industrial and advanced.

Consumer Composites

The composites industry has been producing consumer goods since the 1950s. Typically, consumer composites include products (that require a cosmetic finish) like boats, recreational vehicles, bathroom fixtures and sporting goods. In many cases, the cosmetic finish is an in-mold coating. Consumer products make up a significant portion of the composites market.

Industrial Composites

Composites are used in industrial applications where corrosion resistance and performance (in adverse environments) are critical. Generally, premium resins such as isophthalic or vinyl ester are required to meet corrosion-resistance specifications. Other specialty resins may be used depending on the chemical resistance properties required. Fiberglass is almost always used as the reinforcing fiber. In this segment of the industry, performance trumps cosmetic finishes. Industrial composite products include underground storage tanks, scrubbers, piping, fume hoods, water treatment components, and pressure vessels.

Advanced Composites

This sector of the composites industry is characterized by the use of high-performance resin systems and high-strength, ultra-stiff fiber reinforcement. The aerospace industry, including military and commercial aircraft, is the major customer for advanced composites. Stealth aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) take advantage of composites’ radar transparency. Advanced composites are also used for blast and ballistic protection. Additionally, they¬†have been adapted to use in sports equipment to make it lighter and stronger. A number of exotic resins and fibers are used in advanced composites, but epoxy resin and aramid or carbon fibers are most common.