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High-performance composites are in great demand in various sectors but their high cost is still a deterrent. Carbon composite experts from the SGL Group shares their viewpoint on issues such as industrialization challenges, the carbon fibre market, cost analysis and automation, citing two examples from the car industry and one from the aeronautics industry. Part one.
(Published on March-April 2009 – JEC Magazine #47)
1- DR JAN VERDENHALVEN CHAIRMAN CARBON FIBERS & COMPOSITES, SGL TECHNOLOGIES GMBH
2- DR MICHAEL HEINE, DIRECTOR PUBLIC FUNDING SGL GROUP, SGL CARBONGMBH TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION
In the 19th century, engineers around the world like Diesel, Edison, Stevenson, Daimler and Bosch, only to mention a few, lived up to the challenge of their times and set a technological basis for what is now well known as the age of industrialization.
What is the meaning of "industrialization”? The following definition was found in a standard dictionary: "Industrialization means the transitioning process from hand-made to factory based production, which is based on machines and is rapidly spreading into all economic sectors."
The carbon fibre market
It is worth benchmarking the carbon composite industry versus this definition. Let’s first have a look at the industry’s current situation.
Historically, the carbon composite industry has not shown a very impressive growth rate. Its stable 7% p.a. growth (Fig. 1) is relatively low compared with other industries like electronics or biochemistry. Since 2004, a step change to higher growth rates above 15% has been observed, though this seems to be driven by the obvious mega-trends of rising energy and raw material costs, as well as concerns for global warming.
The key growth segments are in industrial applications (mainly wind energy) and aeronautics. Compared with other materials however, these materials are still extremely marginal (Fig. 2).
From exotic to large-scale production
We have to admit that our products are still considered to be pretty “exotic”. What are the reasons for this and what can we do to change this? Table 1 lists standard requirements and criteria for traditional material markets. It shows the performance of the carbon composite industry against such criteria.
Obviously, the industry has to significantly improve its reliability and efficiency in the years to come to meet the standards of traditional materials.
While basic carbon fibre and intermediate material technologies are already quite developed and though part of our industry is reasonably wellstructured, the main issues concern the components or part manufacturing (see Fig. 3).
markets. Unfortunately, such a statement is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. At best, carbon fibres stand for 25% of the cost of a final part in industrial applications. Downstream manufacturing, which represents more than 75% of the total part cost, is actually responsible for hiking up costs (Fig. 4).
Therefore, the answer to the cost issue is not cheaper carbon fibre. As shown in Fig. 5, the manufacturing cost of carbon fibre is driven by raw material, energy and infrastructure costs (plant cost and depreciation). Labour cost is only 8%.
and industrialization. Carbon fibre manufacturing is already an almost unmanned process. It is the “industrialization” of the downstream industry that will make carbon fibres more cost effective as we move forward into the future.
Contrary to carbon fibre production, significant cost reductions and process improvements are possible in the downstream business. To demonstrate this, we would like to explain the process
chain of the SGL Group, starting with the precursor and ending with the carbon composite part (Fig. 6).
Our vision is to become the leading global supplier of carbon fibres and composites (CFC) with a broad material base and a fully-integrated process chain.