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History of the Composites Industry

Visit our award-winning website, CompositesLab, to learn more about history of composites.

The use of natural composite materials has been a part of man's technology since the first ancient builder used straw to reinforce mud bricks.

The 12th century Mongols made the advanced weapons of their day with archery bows that were smaller and more powerful than their rivals. These bows were composites structures made by combining cattle tendons, horn, bamboo and silk which bonded with natural pine resin. The tendons were placed on the tension side of the bow, the bamboo was used as a core and sheets of horn were laminated to the compression side of the bow. The entire structure was tightly wrapped with silk using the rosin adhesive. These 12th century weapons designers certainly understood the principles of composite design. In recent times some of these 700-year old museum pieces were strung and tested. They were about 80% as strong as modern composite bows.

In the late 1800s canoe builders were experimenting with gluing together layers of kraft paper with shellac to form paper laminates. While the concept was successful, the materials did not perform well. Because the available materials were not up to the job, the idea faded.

In the years between 1870 and 1890, a revolution was occurring in chemistry. The first synthetic (man-made) resins were developed which could be converted from a liquid to a solid by polymerization. These polymer resins are transformed from the liquid state to the solid state by crosslinking the molecules. Early synthetic resins included celluloid, melamine and Bakelite.

Composites are no longer considered "space-age" materials utilized only for stealth bombers and space shuttles. This versatile material system has become a part of everyday life. In fact, composites are so widely used and in such varied of applications, the overall composites market had to be divided in the following major commercial segments to cover its thousands of products.

Aircraft/Military

Commercial, pleasure and military aircrafts, including components for aerospace and related applications

Appliance/Business

Composite applications for the household and office including appliances, power tools, business equipment, etc.

Automotive/Transportation

The largest of the markets, products include parts for automobiles, trucks, rail and farm applications.

Civil Infrastructure

A relatively new market for composites, these applications include the repair and replacement of civil infrastructure including buildings, roadsblockquote bridges, piling, etc.

Construction

Includes materials for the building of homes, offices, and architectural components. Products include swimming pools, bathroom fixtures, wall panels, roofingblockquote architectural cladding

Consumer

Products include sports and recreational equipment such as golf clubs, tennis rackets, snowmobiles, mobile campers, furniture, microwave cookware

Corrosion-Resistant Equipment

Products for chemical-resistant service such as tanks, ducts and hoods, pumps, fans, grating, chemical processing, pulp & paper, oil &amblockquote; gas, and water/wastewater treatment markets

Electrical

This encompassing market includes components for both electrical and electronic applications such as pole line hardware, substation equipment, microwavblockquote antennas, printed wiring boards, etc.

Marine

Products for commercial, pleasure and naval boats and ships.