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Unclear regulations ‘preventing multi-billion pound composite material opportunities’

Professional Engineering

(Credit: Shutterstock)
(Credit: Shutterstock)

“Disparate and frequently unclear” regulations are slowing and preventing the uptake of composite materials, restricting a potential multi-billion pound benefit to the UK economy.

That is one of the findings of a new report from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Increasing UK competitiveness by enhancing the composite materials regulatory infrastructure. The document found the country’s high standing in the development and use of composites contrasts with a patchy regulatory framework.

Composite materials are light, strong and durable and their application is set to transform almost every industry, the NPL said. New carbon-titanium aeroplane engine fan blades promise to cut fuel burn by 20%, for example, while the efficiency of wind turbines is largely determined by the use of advanced composites in their blade structures.

The composite product market is predicted to rise to £12.5bn by 2030. Despite the huge amount of money to be made, NPL workshops with transport, defence, infrastructure and energy leaders found “the UK’s position to drive innovation from composite materials is threatened by a lack of appropriate regulations, codes and standards”.

There are “significant gaps” in the regulatory framework of the sector, the report said. Codes and standards are not relevant to composite performance and some even explicitly name other, more traditional materials, such as steel. Where regulations do exist, the report said they are “disparate and frequently unclear”. This is slowing and preventing the uptake of the materials, restricting their benefit to the economy.

The report recommends a 10-year roadmap for developing missing specifications, codes and standards, to ensure the UK maximises uptake of the innovative materials and realises its projected economic growth.

An interactive tool that links regulations, design codes, specifications and standards for industry leaders could enable immediate uptake of composites across sectors, the NPL said.

The document also recommends an ‘advanced materials assurance centre’ to provide a platform for regulators and the supply chain to co-operate, which could be important for easy access to trusted materials data for the sector. A shared composite materials database would also make data generation and maintenance more cost-effective, and serve as an instrument to further innovations and detailed standards and codes.

Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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