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Airtech Europe
Airtech Europe
Techtextil NA & TexProcess

Adrian Wilson

Editor's Viewpoint

14th January 2019, UK

What are the 21st century icons in composites?

LEAP jet engine. © Albany Engineered CompositesInside Composites plans to publish a special booklet to coincide with JEC World 2019 in Paris, entitled 21st Century Iconic Designs in Composites.

Understandably, we are not short of contenders for inclusion, but would welcome suggestions from our readers via email ([email protected]) or the comments box on this site.

Please let us know which composite products and designs you consider to be truly special.


There are plenty of iconic examples to be found in architecture, of course, which perhaps reach their zenith in some of the buildings to be found in the richer countries of the Middle East. The Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia which was inaugurated in 2012, springs to mind – a towering structure of majestic excess, and at 607 metres high the second tallest building in the world when it was completed.

Many principles of green building practice were employed in its design and erection, including the extensive use of composites and structural engineering from specialists such as Gurit and Owens Corning.

The Mecca Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. © Gurit

Other architectural wonders are perhaps less appreciated, such as the latest offshore windfarms. Each of the 32 turbines installed at the new Burbo Bank Extension offshore from Liverpool in the UK, for example, are taller than London’s Gherkin tower, at 195metres from sea level to blade tip, employing composite blades that are 80 metres long and weigh 35 tons each. Imagine the attention such an installation would make if it was to suddenly appear in the middle of a city!

Formula 1

Each successive Formula 1 racing car, along with the exclusive supercars produced by the likes of Ferarri, McLaren and Lamborgini, are automatically icons.

However, the McLaren MP4-12C launched in 2011, was notably one of the first sub-£200,000 road cars to be based on carbon.

BMW, with its i3 and i8 electric hybrid road cars, saw the setting up of a huge global manufacturing network. © BMW

Pushing the boundaries further in this respect, has been BMW, with its i3 and i8 electric hybrid road cars, which saw the setting up of a huge global manufacturing network, including the world’s biggest single-site carbon fibre plant to date.

While the design of the i3 is not to everyone’s taste – perhaps Chris Bangle’s fabric-covered Gina of 2001 would win hands-down in terms of pure design – it surely has to be considered iconic just for the pioneering role it has played in flying the flag for the composites industry in automotive.

LM Wind Power has produced more than 185,000 blades since 1978. © LM Wind Power

In this context, so too, would the Airbus A350 XWB for aerospace, and there can also be no denying the aesthetic engineering of the latest LEAP turbofan aircraft engine. This is providing double-digit improvements in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions compared to previous models on the very latest planes, along with dramatic reductions in engine noise and exhaust gas emissions.

At the very opposite end of the scale are the intricate prepreg materials manufactured by North Thin Ply Technologies and employed in, among many other uses, luxury Swiss watches, jewellery and frames for glasses as well as the designs possible with the high definition plastics of companies like Roctool.

Exciting surface effects created with Roctool’s HD plastics inductive mould heating technology on a PX 160-540 as part of the KraussMaffei Open House in Queretaro, Mexico. © KraussMaffei

There are also plenty of beautiful examples from the sporting goods sector. The list really is exhausting and perhaps Inside Composites is setting itself an impossible task here, but we’d love to hear what you think.

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