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1st May 2019, Paris

Construction and infrastructure could be next leap forward for industry

Dr Chris Skinner, Vice-President of Strategic Marketing for Owens Corning Composites. © Inside Composites

Dr Chris Skinner, Vice-President of Strategic Marketing for Owens Corning Composites. © Inside Composites

Construction and infrastructure could be the next leap forward for the industry, believes Dr Chris Skinner, Vice-President of Strategic Marketing for Owens Corning Composites.

Owens Corning (OC) reported another record year in 2018, posting turnover of US$7.1 billion – up 11% on 2017.

Net earnings in 2018 of $545 million were up from $289 million in 2017, representing a jump of some 53%.

OC has three business divisions, Composites, Insulation and Roofing, with Composites accounting for 28% of sales – just over $2 billion – in 2018, although sales were down $27 million on 2017, and earnings were $40 million lower, primarily as a result of higher input costs and transportation inflation of around $43 million.

The company observes that the demand for composites is driven by general global economic activity and, more specifically, by the increasing replacement of traditional materials such as aluminium, wood and steel with composites that offer lighter weight, improved strength, lack of conductivity and corrosion resistance.

As a leader in glass fibre reinforcements, OC estimates that on average over the last 35 years, the annual global demand for composite materials grew at about 1.6 times that of global industrial production growth.

Discussing the future potential for growth in conversation at this year’s JEC World 2019 in Paris, Dr Chris Skinner, vice-president of strategic marketing for OC Composites, pointed to the significant progress being made in the wind energy sector and the high further potential in construction and infrastructure applications.

“The market for glass-fibre reinforcements remains strong in 2019, but we expect uncertainty later this year due to issues such as Brexit and the re-emergence of tariffs,” he said. “We have also started to see consolidation of the glass reinforcement supply chain in order to achieve the necessary scale required to support the customer base. Whether this has now peaked or there will be more to come is the question.”

The most significant competitors for Owens Corning in this market are China Jushi Group, Chongqing Polycom International Corporation (CPIC), Johns Manville, Nippon Electric Glass (NEG) and Taishan Glass Fiber.

Carbon and glass

At JEC 2019, Owens Corning highlighted its latest developments for the growing wind energy sector, Ultrablade-X and Ultrablade-HE.

“The wind energy industry is making tremendous progress based on reductions in cost, and wind blades are getting longer all the time, from 88 metres to 108 metres,” Skinner said. “The only way to fully reinforce these structures is with carbon, but obviously that pushes up costs. With Ultrablade-X we can offer optimised combinations of carbon and glass in fabric constructions which don’t have a negative impact on the vacuum infusion processing currently employed to make wind blades.”

The fabrics have a modulus that can be scaled through the adjustment of the carbon content and allow for optimal blade design, he adds, making it possible to achieve the best balance between the performance and cost of longer and lighter blades.

“Ultrablade-HE, meanwhile has an optimised fabric construction at a higher area weight but still allows for good infusion speeds and its increased warp content allows for slightly higher mechanical performance. It is available in a number of different styles and can also be customised.”

Both Ultrablade-X and Ultrablade-HE are based on the company’s advanced know-how in the knitting and sizing of glass yarns which is carried out at global centres around the world.

Skinner also noted rapid changes in the automotive market in the move to electrification as another area of opportunity, along with a resurgence in the interest in glass fibre reinforced composite rebar for concrete.

“The advantages are obvious – corrosion resistance, improved durability, light weighting, enhanced ease-of-installation, greater tensile strength and long service life,” he said. “This is a product that is now 40 years old but we have done a lot of work recently and made technical modifications to meet standards. We are now getting to the point of parity between glass and steel in this application and we believe this will lead to a tidal wave of applications for composites in construction and infrastructure. It has been a long time coming, but is now definitely gaining traction around the world.”

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