Advantages and disadvantages of composites
28 September 2023

Lees dit bericht in het Nederlands


Composite materials are relatively unfamiliar materials and are often regarded as advanced materials for modern applications. In the past, almost all materials have undergone a similar evolution. In the past, for example, wooden ships were the most advanced option, but later steel became the norm. This transition did not happen automatically. There were various reasons for the switch, such as the need for increased strength, stiffness, or the scarcity of existing materials. Subsequently, new construction methods had to be developed, shipyards disappeared or had to be completely adapted to work with these new materials. Design methods and calculations also had to be adjusted, often as a result of trial and error and lessons learned from unexpected brittle fractures, such as those experienced with the American Liberty ships.

The question of whether composites are truly the latest thing can be disputed. Modern composite materials have been used in constructions for over 60 years. However, it does seem that there is a gradual transition towards the use of composites in an increasing number of industries.
Engineers are expected to be knowledgeable about the various materials available and make informed material choices based on the required specifications. They can utilize modern software, such as CES Edupack, to have direct access to knowledge about numerous materials and compare them based on desired properties.

It is also important to understand both the advantages and disadvantages of a material. Below are some possible advantages and disadvantages mentioned briefly:

Advantages Disadvantages
Weight saving High material costs
Great freedom in shape, material and process Calculation methods sometimes specialistic
Easy to color Color and gloss retention not always predictable
Translucent Behavior of details and connections relatively unknown
High degree of integration of functions possible Finishing not yet developed
Strength, stiffness, thermal and electrical resistance can be manipulated Rigidity and failure behavior can be unfavorable, sensitive to temperature, fire, and lightning strikes
Low overall maintenance costs High investment costs
Water resistant and resistant to many chemicals Sensitive to UV light
Use of sustainable materials possible Recycling not yet very developed
Automation possible Sometimes capital intensive production methods
The mentioned advantages and disadvantages above are relative to an unspecified “standard” material. It is important to contextualize these points in each design situation, as they may not be applicable or could even contradict each other in certain cases. Every design has its own specific context in which these pros and cons need to be evaluated.
An example of this is the lower weight of a material. If an object is rarely or never moved and its own weight does not pose a significant load, it does not make sense to design it with a focus on lightweight construction because weight reduction does not provide any benefit. Additionally, costs and sustainability should always be considered in conjunction throughout the lifespan of a design. In certain components or specific stages of life, costs can be high, such as investing in a mold, or the material itself may not be sustainable (such as the energy consumption during the production of carbon fibers). However, sometimes this can be offset by lower maintenance costs or lower energy consumption during transportation, and in some cases, it can even lead to energy generation, such as in a wind turbine. Therefore, it is important to consider the total, integrated costs of usage.
The number of advantages and disadvantages of a composite material on its own does not determine its overall usability. For a specific design, a particular aspect may be sufficient to ensure success, while the same aspect could be a stumbling block in another design. It all depends on the specific requirements and context of the design.
* Nijssen, R. (2015). Composieten Basiskennis. Retrieved from Composites NL: