Polymers and Composites in the Transportation Industry

December 2018

The transportation industry comprises the automotive, aerospace, and marine industries.  Polymers and composites find many uses in automotive, aerospace, and marine vehicles.  Some of these applications will be summarized below.

At Bicerano & Associates, our expertise in polymers and composites helps our clients to develop polymers and composites for any application they may require.

Examples of Applications

The following industry and application highlights provide a sampling of the vast range of applications of polymers and composites in the transportation industry.

Automotive vehicles: 

  • Cars, trucks, buses, and ATVs are examples of land vehicles.
  • Uses of polymer matrix composite in automotive vehicles include tires and various belts and hoses as well as polymer matrix composite components (such as exterior body panels) in automotive bodies.
  • Tires are constructed from rubbers containing various additives. Most important among these additives is carbon black which enhances strength and durability by providing reinforcement.  The development of improved rubber formulations for use in tires and improved designs for the construction of tires both remain active areas of product research and development.
  • Some very expensive sports cars, such as Bugatti, use carbon fiber reinforced polymer matrix composite as the main material of construction of the body of the car.
  • The first polymer matrix nanocomposite ever used in a commercial product was a timing belt cover launched in 1993 for the Toyota Camry. This breakthrough was followed over the decades with other applications, such as hoses, bumpers, fenders, body panels, engine parts, fuel tanks, and mirror housings.  The technology has, by now, expanded to reduce the rolling resistance of tires, as well as provide ultra-hard protective coatings for paintwork, windscreen glass, and headlamps.
  • Polymers and polymer matrix composites are also used in interior panels, instrument panels, headlight assemblies, taillight assemblies, and trim.
  • Textiles constructed from polymeric fibers are used in many interior components, such as seat covers, air bag covers, seat belts, and carpeting. Textiles used in car interiors have historically been derived from fossil fuel based feedstocks which still remain dominant.  With sustainability becoming an increasingly more important concern, however, textiles based on biopolymers are being used increasingly more often nowadays in automotive interiors as alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.
  • Flexible polyurethane foam is the preferred material for use in the seat cushions of automotive vehicles.

Aerospace vehicles: 

  • Airplanes and helicopters are the most common types of aircraft.
  • Polymer matrix composites are also used in aircraft tires and interiors.
  • Aircraft tires need to satisfy some even more stringent performance and durability requirements than automotive tires because they must be able to withstand extremely heavy loads for short durations during landing.
  • The ability of polymer matrix composites to help satisfy the relentless drive in the aerospace industry to enhance performance while reducing weight is of especially great value. Most importantly, fiber-reinforced polymer matrix composites can be optimized to combine high strength, stiffness, and toughness, and low density, and thus to obtain exceptional strength-to-density and stiffness-to-density ratios along with superior physical properties, so that they are often the structural materials of choice for use in aircraft components including exterior body panels and in some aircraft most of the body.
  • Aircraft windows are manufactured from  light and relatively strong polymers possessing good optical properties, such as polycarbonate or an acrylic plastic.
  • Polymers and polymer matrix composites are used as materials of construction in many interior components of aircraft, such as interior panels, instrument panels, table tops, bar tops, countertops, doors, cabinets, trim, casings, and overhead storage bins.
  • Textiles constructed from polymeric fibers are used in many interior components, such as seat covers, seat belts, and carpeting.
  • Various types of polymeric foams, such as flame-retardant memory foam, closed-cell polyethylene foam, flame-retardant polyurethane foam, high resiliency flame-retardant polyurethane foam, and open-cell silicone foam are used in the seat cushions of aircraft.

Marine vehicles: 

  • The word “boat” is commonly used to refer to a marine transportation vehicle of any size and type. Such vehicles range in size and function from canoes to fishing boats, sailboats, yachts, passenger boats, cruise ships, warships, and aircraft carriers.
  • Polymers and polymer matrix composites are used as materials of construction in boat hulls, boat decks, instrument panels, casings, table tops, bar tops, countertops, doors, cabinets, and trim.
  • Polymer matrix composites are the main materials of construction of some boats.
    • Fiberglass boats are the most familiar examples. Fiberglass is a composite where a matrix polymer is reinforced by glass fibers which may be arranged randomly, or as a chopped strand mat, or as a woven fabric. 
    • The growing use of lighter, stiffer, and stronger carbon fibers instead of glass fibers is an emerging trend in boatbuilding.
  • Textiles constructed from polymeric fibers are used in many interior components, such as seat covers and carpeting.
  • Many types of polymeric materials, such as compressed polyester batting, polyester fiberfill, medium-density polyurethane antimicrobial foam, high-density polyurethane foam, Dry Fast open cell foam, vinyl/nitrile (PVN) closed cell foam, and fabric backed sew foam (a thin sheet of polyurethane foam), are used in seat cushions in boats.
  • Natural materials such as cork, balsa wood, and kapok had been used historically in the interiors of inherently buoyant life jackets, but the most commonly used materials today are foams of synthetic polymers such as PVC and polyethylene.
  • The outer shell of a life jacket is a durable fabric constructed from a polymer such as nylon or polyester that is designed to withstand extended contact with water. 
  • Sailcloth is manufactured by using any of several suitable types of polymeric fibers and then used in constructing sails for sailboats.

Call Bicerano & Associates Consulting, LLC at (912) 235-2238 or use our online form or email us at bicerano@polymerexpert.biz today!