30 July 2021

New report released on UK composites industry competitiveness and opportunities

BEIS, Innovate UK, High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) have produced a study of the UK market for fibre reinforced polymer composites (FRPs).

This will be used by BEIS to inform future policymaking, and also by industrial companies and representative sector bodies to inform their wider communities.

Fibre reinforced polymer composites (FRP’s) are now used widely in a variety of engineering applications. They are an extremely broad and versatile class of material, encompassing a wide range of fibre and matrix combinations that provide a multiplicity of component design and manufacturing options. Their high strength and stiffness, coupled with light weight, leads to their use whenever structural efficiency is at a premium. The UK has played a major role in the emergence and global adoption of FRP’s over the last 60 years, with much of the underpinning theoretical and experimental understanding created by UK scientists, and with UK industry being the first to commercialise the production of carbon fibres. Over this period the global market for FRP based products has become significant (approx. £70B/yr) and is growing. In recent years, several detailed studies have concluded that there are considerable opportunities for the UK FRP industrial base to capitalise on both the domestic and global growth potential. The most significant study, a strategic report published by the Composites Leadership Forum (CLF) in 2016, identified eight end use sectors with the most significant growth potential for FRP’s. These were (in order of maximum predicted annual value by 2030):

  1. Aerospace
  2. Automotive
  3. Construction
  4. Defence
  5. Renewables
  6. Oil & Gas
  7. Marine
  8. Rail

More recently, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has highlighted the need to carry out a refresh of the underpinning data contained within the 2016 CLF report and thereby establish an up to date baseline econometric position for the UK FRP industrial base. The information generated will be used by BEIS to inform future policymaking and it will also be used by industrial companies and representative sector bodies (e.g. Composites UK, Chemistry Council, Composites Leadership Forum etc.) to inform their wider communities.

Working collectively, a team from BEIS, Innovate UK, High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) commissioned and executed this refresh activity. The study was undertaken by means of a collaboration between Lucintel LLC and Optimat Ltd, both of whom have considerable experience of conducting independent market studies in the advanced materials and industrial domain. The bulk of the work was carried out during 2020 and it comprised of face to face interviews with more than 100 organisations across the spectrum of the UK FRP industrial base, supplemented by significant secondary research and analysis.

The purpose of the report is to provide evidence to UK Gov’t regarding the major end use sectors, noted earlier – identifying those sectors that will provide the greatest potential for, and lowest barriers to, sustainable growth for the UK FRP industry. This in turn allows future policy and investment decisions to be focused and better targeted toward the most effective areas for growth.

Specifically, the key aims of the report are to:

  • quantify the current size of the UK polymer matrix composites industry and assess the near-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the industry
  • adopt an evidence-based approach (ie based on the balanced views from industry interviews and other verifiable sources) in order to provide forecasts of future growth in the industry.
  • gain an understanding of the overall UK FRP industrial landscape, highlighting the particular strengths and weaknesses.
  • understand trading patterns and distribution of ‘value add’ along the supply chains from raw materials to finished products.
  • identify any gaps in the evidence base and leave a legacy of improved data capture as a platform for future studies

The study output does:

  • provide the baseline current & future econometric position for the UK FRP industrial base. These are derived from a balance of industry views and described to a level of fidelity that satisfies BEIS, as the primary customer, and Innovate UK, HVMC, and KTN as the co-sponsors.

Importantly the study output does not:

  • provide detailed econometrics on every potential upside opportunity for the FRP industrial base. This is particularly the case where opportunities were unverifiable and/or, to varying degrees, speculative in terms of their timing and monetary value to the UK, and where new Government interventions would be required to realise them.

The primary output from the study will be an up to date econometric snapshot of the UK FRP industrial landscape, adopted by BEIS as an accurate representation of the current baseline position. Having established a commonly accepted baseline, there is abundant opportunity for the FRP community to build on these foundations by developing evidence based business cases for future interventions that will accelerate and increase the value add for the UK, above and beyond the baseline position.

Download the report here.

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