Fiber reinforced polymers (FRP´s), also known as composites, are inhomogeneous materials built up by a combination of oriented reinforcement fibers and polymeric matrix materials. Compared to conventional materials like steel or aluminum, the use of FRP´s enables a significant weight reduction up to 70%, while at the same time it shows improved static (stiffness, strength), dynamic (damping) and chemical (corrosion) characteristics. Despite the listed potentials, the extensive use of FRP materials is mainly limited to high-end application from the aerospace industry and the segment of luxury vehicles. However, in the near future, the use of fiber reinforced polymers, particularly in combination with common metallic materials, will also increase in price-driven mass production industries.
The forecasted demand for high-performance carbon fiber reinforced composite structures (CFRP) for different industrial sectors is illustrated in Figure 1. Until 2020, an overall annual growth rate of 17% is to be expected in all industries. This means an increase from 77.000.000 kg to 160.000.000 kg, considering the time period of five years between 2015 and 2020.
Figure 1: Forecasted demand for CFRP composites [LAES12]
The key driver of growth is likely to be the hybridization of composite parts. The intelligent use of continuous fibers for reinforcement purposes, only in areas where their mechanical strengths are fully exploited, and a combination of lower cost materials, e.g. short fiber reinforced polymers or metals, will drive the variety of hybrid parts with attractive cost profiles. This will also open up a broad spectrum of new application opportunities, some of which will feature completely new components and end product designs.
Drilling represents a crucial operation across all composite-based sectors because structural parts made of FRP have to be connected to other, predominantly metallic, components using bolted joints or rivets. Hence, an increased demand of FRP as well as hybrid materials goes in line with the need for more efficient drilling solutions to enable highly efficient large-scale production of composites in the future.
[LAES12] Lässig, R. et al.: Series production of high-strength composites – Perspectives for the German engineering industry, Roland Berger Study (2012)