Modern composites are the embodiment of the idea that we can make artificial materials with pre-defined or controlled properties. The foundation of the composite industry is the idea, unique in its simplicity, of reinforcing materials with fibres. Components with different properties are combined into a compound of a flexible matrix and strong, rigid reinforcing elements.
These elements bring strength and rigidity to the composite in the required directions, while the binding polymer resin matrix acts as a medium for transferring stresses between adjacent fibres and protecting the fibres from mechanical damage and aggressive environmental conditions.
Reinforced composites are anisotropic materials by nature, meaning that their mechanical and physical properties differ in each part and direction. This is why we can make composites with unique properties far beyond those of the traditional materials, such as steel and concrete, and also reduce the weight of the final product or structure.
The possibility to design and implement the desirable properties is one of the most important advantages of composite materials compared with traditional ones. For example, by properly arranging the reinforcement structure, we distribute the strength and rigidity, adapting it to the applied forces and environmental conditions. The classic theory of layers is used to design relatively thin composites, while new theories were developed to take into consideration the cross-section thickness effect and calculate three-dimensional stress fields.
With the development of the production techniques of composite materials and a decrease in the cost of their main components, composites have become widespread in many areas where specific mechanical properties (weight, physical and mechanical characteristics, weather resistance) are important, such as wind power, aviation, space, railway, maritime shipping, automotive, construction, and other industries..
With their intended use, composites can be divided into three large groups: consumer, industrial, and advanced composites.
The composite industry has been making mass consumption products since the 1950s. Generally, consumer composites include products that require cosmetic finishing,
such as boats, recreational vehicles, advertising structures, plumbing, and sporting goods. Consumer composites make up a significant share of the composite market.
Composites are used in many industries where corrosion resistance and the ability to operate in adverse conditions are crucial. Usually, more expensive materials, such as isophthalic or vinyl-ester resins, are required to produce the equipment operating in these areas.
Fiberglass is almost always the reinforcing fibre. These industries prioritise productivity over cosmetic finishing. Industrial composite products include underground vessels, pipelines, scrubbers, fume hoods, water treatment components, and pressure vessels.
This industry uses highly efficient resins and the reinforcement of high-strength fibres. The main customers of modern composite materials are the aerospace industry, including military and commercial aviation, wind power, and shipbuilding.
Stealth planes and unmanned aerial vehicles use the advantages of the radio transparency of composites. Advanced composites are also used for explosion-proof and ballistic defence applications. Moreover, they were adapted to make sporting equipment lighter and stronger.