composite material

What Is Composite ?

composite is a material made from two or more different materials (Reinforcements & Matrices), when combined, are stronger than those individual materials by themselves. The component materials don’t completely blend or lose their individual identities; they combine and contribute their most useful traits to improve the outcome or final product. Composites are typically designed with a particular use in mind, such as added strength, efficiency or durability. The Concrete is one example of a composite, Conrete made from Steel Bars, Cement and gravel.

The matrix material surrounds and supports the reinforcement materials by maintaining their relative positions. The reinforcements impart their special mechanical and physical properties to enhance the matrix properties. A synergism produces material properties unavailable from the individual constituent materials, while the wide variety of matrix and strengthening materials allows the designer of the product or structure to choose an optimum combination.


Reinforcements Materials
Reinforcements Materials

Reinforcement usually adds rigidity and greatly impedes crack propagation. Thin fibers can have very high strength, and provided they are mechanically well attached to the matrix they can greatly improve the composite’s overall properties.

Fibre-reinforced composite materials can be divided into two main categories normally referred to as short fibre-reinforced materials and continuous fiber-reinforced materials. Continuous reinforced materials will often constitute a layered or laminated structure. The woven and continuous fiber styles are typically available in a variety of forms, being pre-impregnated with the given matrix (resin), dry, uni-directional tapes of various widths, plain weave, harness satins, braided, and stitched.

The short and long fibres are typically employed in compression moulding and sheet moulding operations. These come in the form of flakes, chips, and random mate (which can also be made from a continuous fibre laid in random fashion until the desired thickness of the ply / laminate is achieved).

Common fibres used for reinforcement include glass fibres, carbon fibres, cellulose (wood/paper fibre and straw) and high strength polymers for example aramid. Silicon carbide fibers are used for some high temperature applications.


Particle reinforcement adds a similar effect to precipitation hardening in metals and ceramics. Large particles impede dislocation movement and crack propagation as well as contribute to the composite’s Young’s Modulus.


Many composite layup designs also include a co-curing or post-curing of the prepreg with various other media, such as honeycomb or foam. This is commonly called a sandwich structure. This is a more common layup for the manufacture of radomes, doors, cowlings, or non-structural parts.

Open- and closed-cell-structured foams like polyvinylchloride, polyurethane, polyethylene or polystyrene foams, balsa wood, syntactic foams, and honeycombs are commonly used core materials. Open- and closed-cell metal foam can also be used as core materials. Recently, 3D graphene structures ( also called graphene foam) have also been employed as core structures. A recent review by Khurram and Xu et al., have provided the summary of the state-of-the-art techniques for fabrication of the 3D structure of graphene, and the examples of the use of these foam like structures as a core for their respective polymer composites.



Polymers are common matrices (especially used for fibre reinforced plastics). Road surfaces are often made from asphalt concrete which uses bitumen as a matrix. Mud (wattle and daub) has seen extensive use. Typically, most common polymer-based composite materials, including fibreglass, carbon fibre, and Kevlar, include at least two parts, the substrate and the resin.

Polyester resin tends to have yellowish tint, and is suitable for most backyard projects. Its weaknesses are that it is UV sensitive and can tend to degrade over time, and thus generally is also coated to help preserve it. It is often used in the making of surfboards and for marine applications. Its hardener is a peroxide, often MEKP (methyl ethyl ketone peroxide). When the peroxide is mixed with the resin, it decomposes to generate free radicals, which initiate the curing reaction. Hardeners in these systems are commonly called catalysts, but since they do not re-appear unchanged at the end of the reaction, they do not fit the strictest chemical definition of a catalyst.

Vinyl ester resin tends to have a purplish to bluish to greenish tint. This resin has lower viscosity than polyester resin and is more transparent. This resin is often billed as being fuel resistant, but will melt in contact with gasoline. It tends to be more resistant over time to degradation than polyester resin and is more flexible. It uses the same hardeners as polyester resin (at a similar mix ratio) and the cost is approximately the same.

Epoxy resin is almost transparent when cured. In the aerospace industry, epoxy is used as a structural matrix material or as a structural glue.

Shape memory polymer (SMP) resins have varying visual characteristics depending on their formulation. These resins may be epoxy-based, which can be used for auto body and outdoor equipment repairs; cyanate-ester-based, which are used in space applications; and acrylate-based, which can be used in very cold temperature applications, such as for sensors that indicate whether perishable goods have warmed above a certain maximum temperature. These resins are unique in that their shape can be repeatedly changed by heating above their glass transition temperature (Tg). When heated, they become flexible and elastic, allowing for easy configuration. Once they are cooled, they will maintain their new shape. The resins will return to their original shapes when they are reheated above their Tg. The advantage of shape memory polymer resins is that they can be shaped and reshaped repeatedly without losing their material properties. These resins can be used in fabricating shape memory composites.

Traditional materials such as glues, muds have traditionally been used as matrices for papier-mâché and adobe.


Cement (concrete), metals, ceramics, and sometimes glasses are employed. Unusual matrices such as ice are sometime proposed as in pykecrete.

Where Composite Used?

The composite material most commonly associated with the term “composite” is Fiber Reinforced Plastics. This type of composite is used extensively throughout our daily lives. Common everyday uses of fiber reinforced plastic composites include:

  • Aircraft
  • Boats and marine
  • Sporting equipment (golf shafts, tennis rackets, surfboards, hockey sticks, etc.)
  • Automotive components
  • Wind turbine blades
  • Body armor
  • Building materials
  • Water pipes
  • Bridges
  • Tool handles
  • Ladder rails

Modern composite materials have a number of advantages over other materials such as steel. Perhaps most importantly, composites are much lighter in weight. They also resist corrosion, are flexible and dent-resistant. This, in turn, means they require less maintenance and have a longer lifespan than traditional materials. Composite materials make cars lighter and therefore more fuel efficient, make body armor more resistant to bullets and make turbine blades that can withstand the stress of high wind speeds.

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