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NetComposites, in conjunction with NPL, has published their Foresight Study and Competitive Analysis of the UK Composites Sector, undertaken for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).
This study of the UK polymer composites industry, undertaken from April to June 2001, shows how it interacts with a wide range of user and supply industries, how it competes internationally and how it considers its prospects for the future.
The industry is a diverse collection of companies and markets, with many obstacles limiting the faster growth of the industry and broader use of composites. The dispersed nature of the industry means that there is not normally a coordinated approach to threats and opportunities, but examples of good practice are reassuringly common. Importantly, the industry is positive in its attitude towards the challenges that face it and is generally progressing to overcome them, albeit at a slower pace than ideal.
Amongst the changes in evidence are signs of consolidation of the industry through restructuring and globalisation, with market trends towards mass transit and construction. In parallel, environmental issues are having a significant effect on the industry, with strong interest in recycling and significant movement towards cleaner, cheaper production technologies. Strong materials trends are therefore towards thermoplastics and stitched fabrics, whilst processing trends are away from hand lay-up towards resin transfer moulding, resin infusion and thermoforming techniques. The UK industry sees its main strengths in a good level of fundamental understanding and academic research, innovative ideas and manufacturing processes. Its main weaknesses include a shortage of trained staff, a lack of customer awareness, a shortage of design guides, high labour costs, unclear recycling routes and little applied development.
Opportunities for exploiting future trends include new markets in infrastructure, transport, offshore, lightweight products and renewable energy. Additionally, opportunities were seen in stronger company/university links, improved transfer of knowledge from academia and the use of new processes and new materials. The threats to the UK composites industry have been identified as low cost imports from cheaper countries, environmental regulations, reduced development funding for new ideas and the development of competitive technologies, such as titanium and high-strength steel.
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