In 2016, the volume of glass fiber reinforced plastics (GRP) manufactured in the European countries considered in this report will grow by 2.5%. Growth will thus continue at the same rate as in 2015. Total production is forecast to reach 1.096 million tonnes. Growth has therefore stabilised in this largest segment of the fiber reinforced plastics and composites industry. The composites market is very heterogeneous and there are wide regional differences.

Overall trend for GRP in 2016

Production volume of GRP has been growing continuously during 2016. As in 2015, the first six months of the year correlated closely with the forecasts and expectations of most market participants. The second half of the year is slightly weaker than expected. As in 2015, the European GRP market is expected to grow by 2.5% to an estimated total of 1.096 million tonnes. The overall percentage growth rate in the GRP market thus continues to outpace that of the European economy as a whole.

The largest buyers of GRP components are to be found in the transport and construction sectors. These each consume around one-third of total production and play a major role in national economies. The long-term trend for GRP production therefore tends to follow the growth of the economy as a whole. Nevertheless, no rapid expansion of production (similar to that seen in the CRP segment) is to be expected in the near future. This is partly due to the very considerable level of existing production and also the fact that fluctuations in one industry are usually “smoothed out” by other applications.

Europe’s share of global composites production continues to decline – despite the absolute growth in total production over recent years. Processing of commodities (standard products), in particular, has clearly shifted over this period towards Asia and America. In short, GRP production in Europe continues to grow but will probably lag behind the global trend.

Despite the different trends in the markets for the various manufacturing processes, the proportions of GRP used by the major application industries in Europe remain the same as last year. The transport and construction sectors each consume one third of total production. Other application industries include the electro/electronics sector and the sport and leisure segment.   

The strongly divergent trends observed in European countries over recent years have moderated to some extent. Growth is being recorded for every country/region apart from Austria/Switzerland. The strongest growth continues to be found in Germany (3.8 %) and Eastern Europe (3.6 %). According to the Turkish composites Association TCMA, the sector is expected to grow by 5% in 2016.

Other composite materials

GRP remains by far the largest group of materials in the composites industry. Glass fibers are used for reinforcement in over 95% of the total volume of composites (short and long fibers, rovings, mats …). Of the 8.8 million tonnes of composites manufactured globally in 2014 (Source: JEC Composites), 2.3 million tonnes were glass fiber reinforced plastics produced in Europe. Of these, the GRP market accounted for 1.04 million tonnes and short fiber reinforced thermoplastics for the remaining 1.25 million tonnes in 2014. Worldwide demand for carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CRP) is estimated at 100,000 tonnes in 2016.

Outlook

Often classified as lightweight materials used primarily in the automotive and aerospace industries, existing applications for GRP are frequently overlooked. Yet these “materials of the future” serve real, existing markets and many of them have been used in a broad range of established applications for decades. Naturally, research projects into further series applications are very welcome indeed. However, it is important not to overlook the potential and opportunities in other new and existing markets. Not only are we observing improvements in materials but above all the adoption of new processing methods. “Established” processes are also continuously being refined and adapted. The ongoing optimisation of RTM processes and meeting the future challenges of integrated production technologies continue to be important themes. Automation thus continues to be one of the most important issues.

The trend towards creating and refining multi-material systems and the use of hybrid components will remain one of the key challenges. Hybrid and corresponding multi-material systems are the future of lightweight design. Other factors will determine whether or how composites will be adopted in further sectors. For example, standards and regulations are often the keys to opening or closing doors of opportunity in the construction/infrastructure sector.

Composites are not only a reliable partner but a hope for the future in the area of materials. In combination with other materials, they often open up completely new horizons.

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This story is reprinted from material from Composites Germany, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.