Trends in Glass Fiber and Composite Industries

Can you start by introducing yourself, telling us about the background of Michelman?

I work as the Group Marketing Director of the Industrial Manufacturing (IM) group at Michelman, a global manufacturer and developer of environmentally-friendly and water-based advanced materials for industry. These include fiber or fabric sizing and several fiber surface treatments.

In addition to that, we provide services and solutions for the coatings, printing and packaging markets. Michelman has evolved and became diverse since it has developed the first water-based coatings for the paper converting industry. Due to this, the company can meet the needs of its valued customers and the various industries.

In 2011, Michelman formally launched their Fibers & Composites Global Business and now develop fiber sizing, binders and lubricants used by fiberglass and other reinforcing fiber manufacturers. Michelman are the only producer of fiber sizing to have production facilities throughout the world and continue to make investments in our future.

My background includes over thirty years of engineering plastics, chemical intermediate manufacturing, fiberglass manufacturing, polymer composite component manufacturing, engineered wood release coatings and polymer science. I have worked for organizations such as LNP Engineering Plastics Inc., General Electric Plastics, Ticona Polymers Inc., Celanese, Johns Manville, and Arizona Chemical. I have commercialized numerous new products in the fields of plastics and composites while being a co-author of a patent in the field of polymer science.

In addition to my role of advancing and promoting our water-based technology, Michelman has provided me additional opportunities to play an active role in various industry groups (IACMI, SPE Composite Division, etc.) I also actively work with university-industry collaborations to advance the composite industry forward with the development and commercialization of new products.

Could you tell us about the technology you specialize in and its impact?

Established in 1949, Michelman is a company popular for its abilities in the area of emulsification and polymer dispersion technologies. Its success when it comes to polypropylene sizing applications has paved the way for it to acquire the Hydrosize® Technologies, Inc. Since then, the company has continuously innovated its process and materials capabilities.

Michelman produces a diverse line of fiber sizing and surface treatments that are utilized by fiber companies and composite producers to manufacture more durable, lightweight and sturdy composite parts. Fiber sizing has been widely used to protect the fiber during the production process and also, to contribute to the high-quality performance of these parts.

The company’s technology provides an avenue for the clients to design the reinforcement fiber’s surface chemistry to the matrix resin’s chemistry. Hence, the interfacial adhesion between the polymers and fibers are optimized.

Michelman became the interfacial adhesion experts due to the company’s expertise and the popular Hydrosize® brand. The products are diverse and are enhanced for a wide range of thermoset, thermoplastic and high temperature resin matrices. Also, the materials are utilized in glass fiber, basalt fiber, natural fiber, and carbon fiber production.

The fiber sizing improves the properties of composite fibers, including impact, increased heat and fatigue resistance suitable for a wide variety of end-use applications in various industries like aerospace, automotive, defense and electronics industries.

For instance, the following are graphs for the high temperature thermal stability of 3 Michelman products:

  • Hydrosize® HP-1632 - An APE free specialty coating and high temperature fiber sizing that gives outstanding abrasion resistance and adhesion properties.
  • Hydrosize® U5-01 - A specialty coating and fiber sizing that provides improved higher strength, thermal stability, and elongation to break. This product is also APE free.
  • Hydrosize® PA845H – Manufactured to be utilized as a carbon fiber sizing for high temperature applications, this product enhances adhesion to many polyamide matrices.

Who are Michelman’s main customers?

Michelman is a company that has established relationships with other companies throughout the composite industry value chain. The firm’s main focus is geared toward connecting with technical textile producers and fiber manufacturers.

Michelman usually connect and engage with larger and mid-sized glass and carbon fiber companies. Also, we call on alternative fiber producers, including those who produce aramid, basalt, natural and synthetic fibers. We have relationships and work with textile producers who are experts in finishing veils, scrums, pre-pregs/organo-sheets and reinforcement fabrics. Subsequently, Michelman has relationships with compounders and other downstream manufacturers to aid in their interfacial adhesion issues. Sometimes, the company works directly with these companies but also act as a bridge for fiber and fabric manufacturers.

Where is Michelman currently seeing growth in its markets and what trends are influencing that growth?

The company has been a part of the traditional glass fiber market over the past years and has gained an outstanding reputation for creating solutions for its valued clients. The products include fiber sizing for both continuous and chopped strand fiber that act as the thermoset and thermoplastic composite markets.

These markets tend to grow because of the many company and industry drivers like automotive lightweighting and energy efficiency. Recently, carbon fiber and other alternative fibers have started to gain popularity in the composite industry. The need for automotive lightweighting is now being tackled across the various areas of the structural components industry, including functional components.

For example, the producers of under the hood components, which need high heat performance and resistance to a diverse array of fluids and chemicals, are considering using composite alternatives, instead of traditional metals.

Under high heat, the polyamide based composites should perform effectively. Also, they should provide for water/ethylene glycol exposure for long periods. Michelman has focused mainly in developing solutions for this particular space. The most recent portfolio of the company, Hydrosize® Link, meets these obstacles and challenges.

Hydrosize® Link is a series of polyurethane film formers that are developed to provide improved reactivity with the polyamide matrix resin. These high-quality and best-performing sizing products are added during the process of fiber manufacturing. They are also triggered during compounding to heighten the interfacial adhesion between the polymer matrix and fiber. This enhanced adhesion gives outstanding resistance to the glycol fluids utilized in coolant systems. Also, it allows the car makers to manufacture cost-effective components that are high-performing and conform to the specifications needed.

Below is the graph that shows how Hydrosize® Link gives an excellent resistance to glycol fluids used in coolant systems.

In addition, continuous fiber thermoplastic processes and formats, like that of thermoplastic prepreg or organo-sheets, are starting to become well-known in the composites industry. These applications benefit from higher fiber aspect ratios, hence, allowing for a better and stronger structural performance.

Also, thermoplastic composites are more striking because of their fast part forming cycle times, recyclability, absorption of low-moisture, and high impact strength. Some industries, including the aerospace, defense and transportation industries, are expected to push the thermoplastic composites further due to innovations and improvements in new process technologies.

Lightweighting in car manufacturing can help companies attain enhanced mileage targets. Also, thermoplastic composites play a pivotal role because they offer a promising cost and performance balance, and they have fast cycle times. Moreover, these materials and processes continue to improve and evolve, hence, OEMs can now consider them for more structural uses.

I understand that Michelman collaborated in a project to manufacture a composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) made with recycled carbon fiber, could you tell us a bit more about this?

Michelman has collaborated with Vartega Inc., a manufacturer of recycled carbon fiber. The company also connected with Steelhead Composites, a producer of light-weight and durable cylinders for fuel storage. These collaborations aim to develop custom sizing that enables the first ever composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV) to be created from continuous recycled carbon fiber. Michelman’s sizing provided the opportunity for the recycled carbon fiber to attain higher and better performance than virgin carbon fiber when creating the COPV.

Before this breakthrough, recycled carbon fiber has been used as chopped fiber or filler or only as secondary products. However, with this successful collaboration, it has provided a milestone for the industry. The effective fabrication of this COPV shows that reclaimed carbon fiber can be successfully recycled to manufacture high quality OEM components and products.

Michelman has a wide range of fiber sizing solutions designed to use with recycled and reclaimed carbon fiber, like the Hydrosize® U2-04, Hydrosize® HP3-02 and Hydrosize® PA845H. These designs are compatible with previously sized recycled carbon fiber, usually epoxy, as well as with most common thermoplastic resins like polyamide (PA or nylon), high temperature thermoplastics like PEEK and PPS, and polycarbonate (PC).

Is there demand for more sustainable materials?

In fact, there is no growing interest in the usage of more sustainable materials, including biopolymers like polylactide acid (PLA) and biofibers like Kenaf, Hemo and Bamboo. Michelman has been an active member of various companies and government agencies to develop custom surface treatments or sizing that will provide better incorporation of these biofibers into polymer composites. Natural fibers are more challenging because of moisture sensitivity. The company is connecting with its customers and partners to address this problem.

What new materials and technologies are currently entering the advanced materials sector and what do you foresee on the horizon?

In the advanced material and composites sector, there are continuous innovations and developments taking place. The union of process and materials innovation paves the way for new product ideas geared toward higher performance and enhanced environmental impact. For instance, many material and process technologies like unidirectional tape, comingled fabrics, fast-cure thermosets, and liquid thermoplastics, among others, are driving the industry further into more success.

The material and process combination and innovation allow the composite industry to target more or higher challenging structural and functional applications, which have usually been the domains of metals. Definitely, the use of an optimized sizing and surface treatment will help in creating higher performing composites.

What are the major challenges facing the sector?

One of the primary trials for the composite industry is the capability to design and validate the new materials and processes. One solution to this predicament is to develop the software utilized to model and predict the behavior of these anisotropic materials.

The Department of Energy (DOLE) is catalyzing production innovation by supporting the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing (IACMI). Purdue University is the leader in the institute’s modeling and simulation area. At the moment, it is researching and developing a plan for the integration of several software applications into just one organized software composite modeling system.

The capacity to mimic and model composite material performance aids in the acceleration of adoption and decreases the cost to validate through elimination of the need to prototype part design. Also, the new drivers of new levels of partnership through the industry are brought about by understanding how these processes and materials work together and acknowledging the positive economic impact of fiber and fabric sizing within manufacturing.

Some government-supported programs like the IACMI and Composites Germany – AVK Federation of Reinforced Plastics, are initiating forums where sizing companies, material firms, processors, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can work hand in hand in open discussions.

Michelman’s collaboration with Steelhead and Vartega to create the composite overwrapped pressure vessel using continuous recycled carbon fiber works as a paradigm of IACMI-enabled industry supply chain collaboration.

What’s the next step for Michelman?

Nowadays, there is a higher demand for composite materials because these are more durable, light-weight and economical than conventional materials. Composite materials conform with Michelman’s purpose of ‘Innovating a Sustainable Future with Expert Materials’ and also, align well with the global trends of energy efficiency and sustainability.

Michelman has embarked on a solution to connect and network throughout the value chain that will open the doors to anticipate market trends. In addition to that, in order to develop solutions for future needs. The strategy includes creating an important commitment to raise the capabilities through the attainment of many sophisticated and modern equipment. These will pave the way to more effectively develop and partially validate product concepts. Michelman hopes to improve the level of innovation and adoption of modern concepts in the composites industry.

How do you think that the research community, industry, manufacturers, and government best work together to enable new developments?

Some agencies like Composites Germany – AVK Federation of Reinforced Plastics and the IACMI, open the doors for various groups, industries, government agencies and the academe to unite and work together with the common goal of advancing the use of composites to make products stronger, more energy efficient and light-weight. These public-private partnerships aid in the acceleration of the development and adoption of composites through the creation of opportunities for open forums and collaborations. These have led to faster development and implementation of modern manufacturing technologies.

Polymer composites allow the OEM’s outstanding flexibility in their design freedom. Aside from that, it provides great versatility in their ability to make assembly operations simple and integrate functionality. As a result, there is an acceleration in the acquisition of new concepts. Moreover, some research and development programs aid in the development of a strong value chain and support a growing advanced composites industry.

In your opinion, what are the other hot topics in reinforced plastics, and indeed other materials, right now?

The other topics of interest in reinforced plastic include designing for end-of-life and recyclability, possibility of incorporating nanomaterials, and multi-million solutions like combinations of many metals and reinforced plastics. The composites continue to play a crucial role in advanced materials innovation and research in disruptive technologies. One illustration of this effort are nanomaterials.

Furthermore, sustainable materials and a decrease of the environmental impact will continue to drive innovation in reinforced plastics. Lightweighting for car manufacturers and aerospace applications will continue to be an industry driver. Lastly, metal replacement is increasing across several industries such as construction as the demand for composites has increased, and has penetrated various market spaces.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Michelman.

For more information on this source, please visit Michelman.

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