In this series, Jennifer Gumpert, our VP of Business Development and Operations, walks us through material terms and concepts that are used frequently, but not always understood. This week: composites and natural fiber composites.
A composite material is a combination of two materials with different chemical and physical properties. When these materials are combined, they create a better material – one that is an improvement on the base material’s individual properties and can be applied in more situations. By creating this composite material, the resulting material may be stronger, or lighter; perhaps it has been made more durable or has better electrical conductivity.
A specific type of composite, known as fiber-reinforced polymer composites, are high-performance materials made from a matrix which has been reinforced with an engineered, man-made or natural fiber (such as glass, carbon or aramid). In a fiber composite, the matrix protects the fibers from damage and transfers the load between the fibers. The fibers, in turn, provide strength and stiffness to reinforce the matrix to resist cracks and fractures. Natural fiber composite is a subset of fiber-reinforced composites where the reinforcing fibers or both the resin and fibers are derived from renewable or natural resources such as wood or plants.
The concept of composite materials dates back to 3400 BC when the Mesopotamians glued wood strips together at different angles – creating the first plywood! Today, composite materials make up much of the world around us! Maybe you’ve installed fiberglass insulation, experienced the swing of a carbon fiber golf club, or lounged in the sun on a wood composite deck. These remarkable materials have been designed and tuned to withstand our most demanding applications.