Composite Material: Definition & Types| Composites

What is Composite Materials?

A composite material is a combination of two materials with different physical and chemical properties. When they are combined they create a material which is specialised to do a certain job, for instance to become stronger, lighter or resistant to electricity. They can also improve strength and stiffness.

The reason for their use over traditional materials is that they improve the properties of their base materials and are applicable in many situations.

Typical engineered composite materials include:

  • Reinforced concrete and masonry
  • Composite wood such as plywood
  • Reinforced plastics, such as fibre-reinforced polymer or fiberglass
  • Ceramic matrix composites (composite ceramic and metal matrices)
  • Metal matrix composites
  • and other advanced composite materials

There are several reasons why new material may be preferred. Typical examples are materials that are less expensive, lighter, or stronger when related to common materials.

More recently, researchers have also begun to actively incorporate sensing, actuating, computing, and communicating into composite materials known as robotic materials.

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What Are Composites?

A composite is a material made up of two or more different materials that, when combined, are stronger than these individual materials.

Put simply, composites are a combination of components. In our industry, composites are materials made from the combination of two or more natural or man-made elements (with different physical or chemical properties) that are stronger as a team than as individual players.

The component materials do not mix completely or lose their individual identity. They combine and contribute their most useful properties to improve the result or the end product. Composite materials are typically designed for a specific use, e.g. for additional strength, efficiency or durability.

What are composites made of?

Composite materials, also known as fiber-reinforced polymer composites (FRP), consist of a polymer matrix that is reinforced with an engineering, artificial or natural fiber (such as glass, carbon or aramid) or another reinforcing material.

The matrix protects the fibers from environmental and external damage and transfers the load between the fibers. The fibers, in turn, provide strength and stiffness to reinforce the matrix – and help resist cracks and breaks.

What is Composite materials
Composite Materials

In many products in our industry, polyester resin is the matrix and glass fiber is the reinforcement. However, many combinations of resins and reinforcements are used in composites, and each material contributes to the unique properties of the final product: fiber, powerful but brittle, provides strength and stiffness, while more flexible resin gives shape and protects the fiber.

FRP composites can also contain fillers, additives, core materials, or surfaces to improve the manufacturing process, appearance, and performance of the final product.

Natural and synthetic composites

Composite materials can be natural or synthetic. Wood, a natural composite, is a combination of cellulose or wood fiber and a substance called lignin. The fibers give wood its strength; Lignin is the matrix or natural glue that binds and stabilizes it. Other composites are synthetic (man-made).

Plywood is an artificial composite that combines natural and synthetic materials. Thin layers of wood veneer are adhesive together to form flat laminate sheets that are stronger than natural wood.

Are plastics composites?

Not all plastics are composites. In fact, most of the plastics used in toys, water bottles, and other familiar items are not composites. They are pure plastics. However, many types of plastics can be reinforced to make them stronger. This combination of plastic and reinforcement can create some of the strongest, most versatile materials (for their weight) that technology has ever developed.

Polymer resins (such as polyester, vinyl ester, epoxy, or phenol) are sometimes referred to as plastic.

Brief History

People have used composites for thousands of years. 3400 BC The first man-made composites were made by the Mesopotamians in Iraq. The old society glued strips of wood on top of each other at different angles to make plywood. Following this, the Egyptians began around 2181 BC to make death masks from linen or papyrus soaked in plaster. Later, both societies began to reinforce their materials with straw to strengthen mud bricks, pottery and boats.

In 1200 AD, the Mongols began constructing compound arches, which were incredibly effective at the time. These were made from wood, cattle tendons, horn, bamboo, bone, and silk bonded with pine resin.

After the industrial revolution, synthetic resins took on a solid form through polymerization. In the 1900s, this newfound knowledge of chemicals led to the manufacture of various plastics such as polyester, phenol, and vinyl. Then the development of plastics began, Bakelite was made by the chemist Leo Baekeland. The fact that it did not conduct electricity and was heat-resistant meant that it could be widely used in many industries.

The 1930s was an incredibly important time for the advancement of composites. Glass fiber was introduced by Owens Corning, who also founded the first fiber reinforced polymer (FRP) industry. The resins developed during this period are used to this day, and unsaturated polyester resins were patented in 1936. Two years later, more powerful resin systems became available.

The first carbon fiber was patented in 1961 and then became commercially available. In the mid-1990s, composites became increasingly popular in manufacturing processes and construction because of their relatively low cost compared to previously used materials.

The composites on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner in the mid-2000s substantiated their use for high strength applications.

What are the Different Types?

Some common composite materials include:

  • Ceramic matrix composite: Ceramic spread out in a ceramic matrix. These are better than normal ceramics as they are thermal shock and fracture resistant
  • Metal matrix composite: A metal spread throughout a matrix
  • Reinforced concrete: Concrete strengthened by a material with high tensile strength such as steel reinforcing bars
  • Glass fibre reinforced concrete: Concrete which is poured into a glass fibre structure with high zirconia content
  • Translucent concrete: Concrete which encases optic fibres
  • Engineered wood: Manufactured wood combined with other cheap materials. One example would be particle board. A speciality material like veneer can also be found in this composite
  • Plywood: Engineered wood by gluing many thin layers of wood together at different angles
  • Engineered bamboo: Strips of bamboo fibre glued together to make a board. This is a useful composite due to the fact it has higher compressive, tensile and flexural strength than wood
  • Parquetry: A square of many wood pieces put together often out of hardwood. It is sold as a decorative piece
  • Wood-plastic composite: Either wood fibre or flour cast in plastic
  • Cement-bonded wood fibre: Mineralised wood pieces cast in cement. This composite has insulating and acoustic properties
  • Fibreglass: Glass fibre combined with a plastic which is relatively inexpensive and flexible
  • Carbon Fibre reinforced polymer: Carbon fibre set in plastic which has a high strength-to-weight ratio
  • Sandwich panel: A variety of composites that are layered on top of each other
  • Composite honeycomb: A selection of composites in many hexagons to form a honeycomb shape.
  • Papier-mache: Paper bound with an adhesive. These are found in crafts
  • Plastic coated paper: Paper coated with plastic to improve durability. An example of where this is used is in playing cards
  • Syntactic foams: Light materials created by filling metals, ceramics or plastics with microballoons. These ballons are made using either glass, carbon or plastic

What are the Advantages of Composite Materials?

  • Low costs compared to metals
  • Design flexibility
  • Resistance to a wide range of chemical agents
  • Low weight
  • Durability
  • Electric insulation
  • High Impact strength

Why use Composites?

The weight saving is one of the main reasons for using composite materials instead of conventional materials for components. While composites are lighter, they can also be stronger than other materials. For example, reinforced carbon fibers can be up to five times stronger than 1020 grade steel and only one-fifth the weight, which makes them perfect for structural purposes.

Another advantage of using a composite material over a conventional type of material is the thermal and chemical resistance as well as the electrical insulation properties. Unlike traditional materials, composites can have multiple properties that are not often found in a single material.

Fiber-reinforced composite materials such as fiber-reinforced plastic (GRP composite materials) are increasingly being used in the development and manufacture of end products for marketing.

Examples of Composite Uses:

  • Electrical equipment
  • Aerospace structures
  • Infrastructure
  • Pipes and tanks
  • Homes can be framed using plastic laminated beams


What is composite materials?

A composite material is a combination of two materials with different physical and chemical properties. When they are combined they create a material that is specialized to do a certain job, for instance, to become stronger, lighter, or resistant to electricity. They can also improve strength and stiffness.

What are Composites?

A composite is a material made from two or more different materials that, when combined, are stronger than those individual materials by themselves. Simply put, composites are a combination of components. Composites are typically designed with a particular use in mind, such as added strength, efficiency, or durability.

What are the types of composites?

Types of Composites in Construction:
1. Polymer Matrix Composite (PMCs)
2. Metal Matrix Composite (MMCs)
3. Ceramic Matrix Composite (CMCs)
4. Particulate Reinforced Composites.
5. Flake composites.
6. Fiber Reinforced Composites (Fibrous Composites)
7. Laminated Composites.