Ancient builders created the first known composite material when they combined mud with straw to make bricks. Composite materials have been an important part of our lives ever since. Composite materials are formed when two or more materials are combined to create a superior material that takes advantage of the strengths of the individual constituent materials. Composites are used in a wide variety of applications such as construction, aerospace, automobiles and sports equipment.
Composite lumber made from wood remnants and plastic is a material with many applications. It is used to make outdoor furniture such as benches and picnic tables. Composite lumber is used to make decks, siding, fences, flooring tiles or any other nonstructural application where wood is used.
Fiberglass, a composite material of fine glass threads and resin, is among the most versatile of the composite materials. Fiberglass mats, called batts, are commonly used to insulate homes and other buildings. In the electronics industry, the substrate material of many printed circuit boards is made of fiberglass.
Fiberglass is widely used in the automobile industry. The most famous example is the Chevrolet Corvette auto body, which is made almost entirely of fiberglass. Most replica and kit cars have fiberglass bodies.
Other products made from fiberglass include boat hulls, in-ground swimming pools, surfboards, doors and shower and bath enclosures.
Concrete is a composite material comprised of cement and aggregate materials such as fly ash, sand, gravel and crushed limestone or granite. Concrete is the most used man-made material in the world and is used in numerous construction and building applications.
Among the many things made with concrete are roads and sidewalks, building foundations and pipes. Cinder blocks are made with a type of concrete comprised of cement and fly ash. Many large structures such as parking structures are made with reinforced poured concrete.
Advanced composite materials such as engineered cementitious composites, also known as bendable concrete, are being used to construct earthquake resistant buildings and bridges. These materials are have also been used to repair dams and bridges around the world.
Modern aircraft designers incorporate significant amounts of composite materials that reduce the aircraft's weight without sacrificing strength. The outer skin of military stealth aircraft is made from a special radar-absorbing composite that renders the aircraft undetectable to radar equipment.
In sports, composite materials are used to make equipment such as tennis racquets and baseball bats.
- San Jose State University: Exploring Materials Engineering
- Encyclopedia Britannica: Composite Material
- University of Michigan: ECC Applications
- MacLumber: Composite Plastic Lumber
- U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission: Composites and Advanced Matrials
- Fiberglass Construction: Fiberglass Constructed Products
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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