Are you old enough to remember when the first iPhone came out? If so, you probably know that Apple wasn’t sure about the appeal of their new product even as they sunk millions into its development. But it all worked out just fine. At some point, the iPhone became too cool to ignore. The same thing is just beginning to happen in the composites arena.
Composite materials are materials made from multiple constituent materials with significantly different properties. When those materials are combined, the resulting characteristics are remarkably different from the original characteristics of each constituent.
Yes, that is a mouthful. For simplicity’s sake though, carbon fiber is one of the most widely used composite materials for modern fabrication. Today we have carbon fiber bicycles, car seats, golf clubs, and on and on. Furthermore, demand is growing because consumers are now latching onto composites as cool status symbols.
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Function, Style, or Both?
If you were one of the early adopters of the iPhone, what caused you to purchase your first one? A lot of people bought that first phone simply because they were already Apple fans. They defended their purchases by talking about the functionality of the wonderful new devices they spent hundreds of dollars on, but deep inside they just want to be cool as an Apple consumer.
We can apply that same thinking to current consumer trends relating to composites. Take bikes made from carbon fiber tubing, for example. There is no doubt that carbon fiber is lighter and stronger than aluminum. There is no doubt that a carbon fiber bike is easier to handle and more durable than its aluminum counterpart. But there are a lot of consumers who spend considerably more on a carbon fiber model even though they have no need for the extra durability or the lighter weight. The buy simply because carbon fiber is cool.
Let us talk about building construction and home improvement. Composites are emerging in this industry as well. For example, wood and plastic composites are very quickly gaining ground as the preferred choice for flooring. Consumers are looking to these composites not only because they are functionally superior, but also because they look more modern and up-to-date than other synthetic flooring options.
So When Did It Happen?
Carbon fiber and other composite materials are not new by any stretch. Companies like Utah-based Rock West Composites have been dealing in the materials for decades. But 10 years ago, carbon fiber wasn’t cool. It was considered a space-age material only scientists and engineers were fascinated with. So what happened? When did composite materials make the transition from geekdom to cool?
No one knows for sure when the change occurred. A good bet is to look at the early 2000s, when composite designers began producing a range of new products that combined carbon fiber fabrics with epoxy resins. The introduction of these new composite materials made it possible to begin designing finished products that were as aesthetically pleasing as they were functional.
The thing to understand is that aesthetics is a key ingredient in being cool. Take concrete, for example. A concrete slab is very functional but not very cool. Take that same concrete and use it to build an artificial mountain at Disney World, and suddenly you have something that’s cool. The only difference is the aesthetic appeal of the mountain over the plain and aesthetically uninteresting slab.
Right now is a good time to be involved in the composites industry. Composites are suddenly too cool to ignore, so the market appeal is considerably broader. There is nothing wrong with that.