“The key opportunity for carbon fibre in commercial aerospace is its potential adoption in narrow bodied aircraft,” explains David Schofield, the company’s managing director. “If that is successful, then even with just a 25% adoption rate it would increase the market for carbon fibre in commercial aerospace by a factor of two in the next 20 years.”

According to FMG, although the aerospace industry continues to offer huge potential for composite materials, it is surpassed by the automotive market.

“If 1% of a luxury or niche car was made of carbon fibre, then the carbon fibre automotive market would grow exponentially from the $250 million today up to $3 billion in the next 20 years,” reports Dr Myriam Yagoubi, FMG research analyst. “If mass market cars were to adopt just 1 kg of carbon fibre per car on average, the market could double again to $6 billion.”

Automotive companies are clearly discovering the benefits of composites as a way of reducing weight in their vehicles without compromising strength. With this in mind, the Automotive Council (0207 215 6485), through its Manufacturing Working Group, has put in place a national plan to help develop the necessary technologies and supply chain capabilities for the UK.

Says Dick Elsy, CEO of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult and chairman of the Automotive Council Manufacturing Group: “Increasingly, manufacturing sectors should learn from each other. In this case, the experience we have in the manufacture of composites for the aerospace industry will help develop the supply chain capabilities for composites in automotive applications. Such transfer of technology is tremendously important to UK manufacturing.”

Further support for the composites industry comes from the Composites Leadership Forum (CLF, 01442 275365), which launched the new UK Composites Strategy in May this year. The strategy intends to ensure that the country maintains its position as one of the world’s leading places for the research and commercial exploitation of composite materials and processes.

The 2016 strategy defines three key aims: to deliver and accelerate organic growth in already established sectors using composites; to develop technologies and supply chains to capture mid- and high- volume opportunities; and to diversify and enable UK industry to make a paradigm shift, taking advantage of composites in emerging user sectors.

Of course, for all of the industry analysis and strategies, real progress often only comes as a result of technological breakthroughs. By way of recent example, Kuroda Jena Tec (01623 726010), an established manufacturer of motorised machining spindles for grinding, milling and turning has seen active growth in new orders for contract research in the field of ultrasonically-assisted machining. Since 2011, the company has produced ultrasonically-assisted grinding spindle prototypes for grinding hard materials through the development of a modular unit providing 20 kHz axial frequency oscillation. This process capability is said to provide benefits in terms of material processing speeds, tool wear and material properties.

Designed in-house to provide different characteristics according to the application, Kuroda Jena Tec has subsequently designed and supplied a lightweight drilling spindle with up to 40 kHz oscillation for composite materials to a leading UK research organisation. Further development and application work is planned in this area with research organisations and machine tool OEMs.

This article was first published in the September 2016 issue of Machinery magazine.