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COMPOSITES IN THE MARINE INDUSTRY
Composites have a long history of use in the marine environment. Since the 1950s, fiberglass-reinforced polyester displaced wood as the material of choice for many sectors inside the marine industry.
But why is that?
Fiber-reinforced polymer-based composites possess an extremely important property when it comes to boatbuilding: corrosion resistance! Think about it: Wood degrades when moist and can be attacked by marine organisms. Steel rusts and aluminum corrodes when exposed to seawater unless protected by surface coatings. But just being corrosion resistant is not enough. Composite materials became widespread because they also represent the optimum alternative in terms of strength-to-weight ratio, fatigue resistance, durability, workability, and lower maintenance costs. Furthermore, structures with complex shapes and geometry can be made relatively easily compared to traditional methods and materials. Nowadays, the composite materials usage in the boatbuilding industry is about 6%. As for smaller boats (less than 50 meters of total length), they are unrivaled, as they account for more than 70% of the market. Most of these boats are made of hand layup fiberglass reinforced plastics; however, the composites have much more to offer! When we talk about high-performance boats (super yachts, racing boats), other reinforcement materials like carbon fibers, aramid fibers (Kevlar), and other resin systems, such as epoxies, come into play. The material selection, together with distinct manufacturing techniques (vacuum infusion, prepreg curing, etc.) allows for even greater mechanical properties. The result can be seen in the most prestigious races in the world, such as Volvo Ocean Race and America’s Cup. The boats that are competing every year are almost entirely made of carbon fiber composites!
The marine industry has experienced a steady rise in the use of composites during the last decades. Its market size was valued at USD 3.8 billion in 2018 and is estimated to expand at a CAGR of 5.0% from 2019 to 2025. Growing demand for corrosion-resistant, high strength, and lightweight parts in the marine industry is anticipated to drive this growth. Increasing demand for fuel-efficient and high-speed boats is expected to further fuel the market.
The Composite Engineer
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