Carbon fiber, the new age material on a growth path [Dec 2011]

“The role of carbon fiber is increasing day by day in general life. Whether it is the Boeing or Airbus aircrafts you fly or the laptop you carry. CFRP have higher strength-to-weight ratios and impact resistance, offering greater design flexibility and better resistance to chemicals and corrosion”, explains Kalpesh Patel, CMD, Kemrock Industries
Carbon fibers are a new breed of high-strength materials containing 90 per cent of carbon obtained by the controlled pyrolysis of appropriate fibers. Carbon Fibre is rapidly becoming the material of choice for a variety of high-end commercial applications, from aerospace to renewable energy. A new breed of high strength material, carbon fiber is ideally suited for applications where strength, stiffness, lower weight, and outstanding fatigue characteristics are critical requirements.
The strongest carbon fibers are ten times stronger than steel and eight times that of aluminium, not to mention much lighter than both materials, 5 and 1.5 times, respectively. Their fatigue properties are superior to all known metallic structures and they are one of the most corrosion-resistant materials available, when coupled with the proper resins.
Carbon fibre reinforced composites are high in strength and stiffness with the added advantage of being light weight. The properties of carbon fibers such as high flexibility, high tensile strength, low weight, high temperature tolerance and low thermal expansion make them very popular in aerospace, civil engineering, military, and motorsports, along with other competition sports. Owing to their high dimensional stability, low coefficient of thermal expansion and low abrasion, carbon fibers are used in missiles, aircraft brakes, aerospace antenna and support structure, large telescopes, optical benches, waveguides for stable high-frequency (GHz) precision measurement frames. Widespread application of carbon fibre can be judged from the fact that it is used in applications as diverse as aircraft and spacecraft parts, racing car bodies, golf club shafts, bicycle frames, fishing rods, automobile springs, sailboat masts, and many other components where light weight and high strength are needed.
The role of carbon fiber is increasing day by day in general life. Whether it is the Boeing or Airbus aircrafts you fly or the laptop you carry. CFRP have higher strength-to-weight ratios and impact resistance, offering greater design flexibility and better resistance to chemicals and corrosion.
The application of carbon fibre can deliver weight savings that transform previously fixed equipment into portable equipment, which for the service and maintenance industry can save time by taking the work to the job. This reduces down time and improves service to the customer. Correct design of components in carbon fibre can often reduce the weight sufficiently to avoid the need for lifting equipment.
As a result of wider acceptance and emerging demand, the carbon fiber industry as a whole is now considered to be highly attractive with above average revenue growth and profit margin potential for those competing in the market. Over the past 12 months, the demand for carbon fiber and carbon fiber reinforced composites has steadily increased with increased amount of industrial application. In 2010, industrial application already represented two-thirds of all carbon fibre consumption. They consume approximately 20,000 metric tonnes (MT) per year out of a total of 31,000. By 2015, industrial consumption is expected to increase from 20,000 to 47,000 MT per year. Seeing the current spate of demand, it could even touch 1, 10,000 MT by 2020.
From aerospace, to sporting goods, to wind energy, carbon fiber is rapidly gaining acceptance as an alternative material to metals, wood and plastics. It is becoming more widely recognised for its high-performance characteristics. The wind sector with its ever larger turbine blades and the automotive sector have emerged as the main growth driver for the carbon fibre industry in the medium to long term.
Carbon fibre holds all the qualities an industry needs in this digital age. The essential benefits of Carbon fiber are that it has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio (twice the specific strength and stiffness of steel). It is 70 per cent lighter than steel, 40 per cent lighter than Aluminium, 35 per cent lighter than Magnesium Alloy and 50 per cent lighter than SMC.
In spite of its many advantages, firms that produce carbon fiber and carbon fiber reinforced composites are approaching market opportunities with different strategies. Apart from the time taken to set up the plant, there are many clearances and certifications required before going into production, which is a lengthy and time consuming procedure. Besides this, the cost of funding has also to be factored, which in this is significant and expensive.Another impediment in the way of rapid growth is that despite a large potential of growth and increasing application areas, currently, the technology and production of carbon fiber worldwide is still under the control of Japan and the USA owing to the complicated production process, high technical content, and the politically restricted introduction of technologies and equipment. There are now less than 20 countries and regions that can realise the industrialisation of carbon fiber and no more than 12 enterprises that are capable of mass-production around the globe.
A market report on Carbon Fibre envisages the total sales of CFRPs to reach $ 28 billion by 2014 and jump to around $ 50 bn a year by 2025. The report adds that by 2014, Japan will produce 25 per cent of the worlds carbon fibre, USA 29 per cent, Europe 28 per cent and the Rest of the World 18 per cent. By this estimate India has a long way to go before it is featured along with the world players.
Also, application in high-end areas has been detrimental to price stability and reduction. As a product, carbon fibre is fairly a new entrant in the Indian market with bulk of its being met with imports. As a result, market for CFRP in India is fairly underdeveloped. But with increasing knowledge of the manufacturing and marketing of carbon fibre, local production is set to increase reducing dependence on imports. Sensing the untapped opportunity in the Indian Carbon Fiber market and to fulfill its dream to become one of the world’s most integrated facility in the reinforced polymer composite industry, Kemrock Industries & Exports Ltd set up a carbon fiber manufacturing facility in Vadodara in technical collaboration with National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL), Bangalore. This marked the beginning of a new era with the establishment of country’s first commercial carbon fiber plant at an investment of Rs. 250 crore and an initial capacity of 400 TPA.
Recently, after successfully acquiring requisite approvals and certifications, the company launched a range of carbon fibre products for industrial application under the brand name “JAITEC”. At present the company is producing 3K-24K small tows with properties similar to T700 fibre and this initial capacity is solely intended for the Indian market
The company plans to double this capacity to 800 TPA in its second phase of expansion by end of 2012, which will be intended for the commercial and export markets.
With this, Kemrock has emerged as a truly integrated player in the composite segment manufacturing composite raw materials and finished products along with carbon fibre for application in high end user segment.

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