National Physical Laboratory (NPL) is outlining important steps for the country to take advantage of the growing composite product market; predicted to rise to £12.5 billion by 2030. This follows concerns expressed by industry, as the UK’s position to drive innovation from composite materials is threatened by a lack of appropriate regulations, codes and standards.
Composite materials are light, strong and durable and their application is set to transform almost every industry – for example, new carbon-titanium aeroplane engine fan blades promise to cut fuel burn by 20%, while the efficiency of wind turbines is largely determined by the use of advanced composites in their blade structures.
The UK is an internationally recognised leader in the development and use of composites. Yet, as the report highlights, there are significant gaps in the current regulatory framework of the sector. Codes and standards are not relevant to composite performance, and some even explicitly name other, more traditional materials. Where regulations do exist, they are disparate and frequently unclear. This is slowing and preventing the uptake of these materials, restricting the realisation of their benefit to the UK economy.
Industry leaders across the transportation, defence, infrastructure, and energy sectors have voiced their support for further steps to be taken to secure our composites future. These have emerged from a cross-sector workshop with technical experts and company leaders that took place earlier this year, organised by NPL on behalf of the Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) and hosted by Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
The resulting report outlines how these issues can be solved and the UK can gain from composite materials innovations in future. An interactive tool that links regulations, available design codes, specifications and standards for industry leaders will facilitate immediate uptake of composites across sectors, for example.
The report also recommends an advanced materials assurance centre that will provide a platform for regulators and the supply chain to cooperate and will be important for providing easy access to trusted materials data for the sector. A shared composite materials database would also make data generation and maintenance more cost-effective and serve as an instrument to further innovations and detailed standards and codes.
A ten-year roadmap is also recommended for developing the missing specifications, codes and standards to ensure the UK maximises industry uptake of these innovative materials and realises its projected economic growth.
Dr Stefanos Giannis, Principal Research Scientist in Advanced Materials at NPL and lead author of the report, said: “Across industry sectors, there is a clear consensus on what is needed to realise the composites opportunity. Since these materials are vital to innovation, a full commitment towards an assurance centre and the right regulatory framework is necessary to enable UK industry to reap the benefits from composites in the near future.”
The full report can be downloaded here.