Advanced composite materials combine great strength and stiffness with low weight and high performance in demanding environments. This makes them ideal for use in aerospace applications, and in the UK it is therefore the aerospace industry which has driven the development and manufacture of relatively low-volume, high value composite materials.
Automotive companies are discovering the benefits of composites as a way of reducing weight (and therefore fuel consumption and emissions) in their vehicles without compromising on strength. This is driving up the demand for high volume, lower cost advanced composites. A demand which the existing UK composites supply chain – with its focus on being cost-effective for low-volume, high value added products – will need intervention and support to capitalise on the market opportunity.
There is a lot at stake. In the UK alone, the market for automotive composites is predicted to grow from a current value of approximately £300m to over £3bn in 2030, whilst the total global market could be worth £80bn.
Two prominent UK bodies have joined forces to exploit this opportunity:
Firstly the Automotive Council, through its Manufacturing Working Group, has put in place a national plan to develop the necessary technologies and supply chain capability for the UK and secondly the Composites Leadership Forum which has identified the national need for high volume, low cost composites for a broad range of sectors to exploit.
Together they have formed the new “Affordable Composites Group” (ACG) to proactively facilitate the development of UK technology capability and supply chain capacity to deliver high productivity manufacturing of globally competitive, higher volume composite structures and components. Their collaboration is a prime example of industry taking the lead in identifying gaps in the current supply chain and proposing (funding) measures to address those gaps.
Phillip Bruce – Chairman of the ACG – said: “It is extremely important that industry leads the thinking on what is needed for the UK to maximise the opportunities of the predicted growth in the market for lower cost higher volume composites. Now is the time to be proactive and gather support for quick delivery of measures, to avoid the UK losing out as industry offshores composites production”
There is also the opportunity for the HVM Catapult and academia to facilitate technology transfer into high volume automotive manufacturing by working with the automotive Tier 1 supply chain and the wider UK composites industry.
Dick Elsy – CEO of the HVM Catapult and Chairman of the Automotive Council Manufacturing Group – said: “Increasingly, manufacturing sectors should learn from each other. In this case, the experience we have in the UK in the manufacture of composites for the aerospace industry, will help develop the supply chain capabilities for composites in automotive applications. Such transfer of technology is tremendously important to UK manufacturing and could serve as an example for other sectors.”