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Advanced engineering plastics and composites

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article image The Stealth Bomber relies on composites

Advanced Engineering Plastics are well placed on the plastics performance table, as are composites. People generally associate composites with carbon reinforced plastic. But what are composites, really?

They're a composition of different materials, or alloys. The best known composite is fibreglass, which has been used for decades in surfboards, canoes, kayaks, tanks, roofing and flooring, to name a few. Fibreglass is a thermo set resin, reinforced with glass fibres, essentially, a two-part alloy. That's the magic of composites - each part is separate, but needs the other to boost the benefits of the whole beyond the sum of its parts.

More recently, many other reinforcing agents and resins have been developed. The best known reinforcement is "Carbon". This usually refers to Carbon Fibre, which has advantages over Glass Fibre, mainly in strength and weight savings. For these reasons it is used in sections of jet wings, and many high stress applications. Carbon Powder is also used as a reinforcement in composites, but it improves other properties, not strength.

Fibrous reinforcements provide the best improvements to strength. Nature provides a great example of a fibre reinforced composite material, growing all around us, and like its synthetic counterpart, is used in critical applications like construction. Wood is a cellulose fibre reinforced resin or sap, which still sets many benchmarks for man-made materials.

Fibre reinforcements have another benefit. They also improve impact resistance. Glass is naturally brittle, but when stretched into fibres and blended with resin, it reinforces the impact resistance of the resin, rather than decreasing it. Carbon does even better. At the top end of the scale is a synthetic Polyaramid called Kevlar. While glass and carbon are inherently hard, and do wonders to stiffen composite materials, Kevlar has some flexibility, and its fibres find broader applications.

Yachtsmen use Kevlar reinforced sails to resist the enormous tearing action of wind in the huge sail areas used today. Bullet-proof vests can be worn comfortably, yet provide life-saving protection.

Thousands of reinforcements improve other properties, and so the realm of composites expands daily. These synergistic benefits expand the invasion of composites into unfamiliar territory, like aluminium smelting and areospace parts. 

PolySource Australia supply a wide range of safety anti-slip products and engineering plastics and rubber parts.

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