A composite material is any material made by combining two or more materials in a structure whereby materials remain separate. This is done to produce materials with desirable properties such as high compressive strength, tensile strength, flexibility and hardness. The following are illustrative examples.
Reinforced ConcreteConcrete has a low tensile strength and is often improved by embedding a structure made from a material with high tensile strength such as steel reinforcing bars, known as rebar. Often used in the foundations of buildings and load bearing walls.
Glass Fiber Reinforced ConcreteCement poured into a structure of high-strength glass fibers with a high zirconia content. Often used in precast concrete products and exterior facades of buildings to improve the strength of concrete.
Translucent concrete is concrete that encases hollow glass tubes known as optical fibers. This allows light to pass through the concrete.
Engineered WoodA broad category of manufactured wood products that include inexpensive materials such as particle board. Engineered wood also includes specialty products such as veneers of thin sliced wood that are glued onto boards to feature an interesting wood grain for products such as furniture.
PlywoodAn engineered wood made by gluing thin layers of wood together. Each layer is situated such that its grain points in a different direction in a technique known as cross-graining that improves the strength of the wood across all directions. For example, a plywood may have five layers with grains running at 0, 45, 90, 135 and 180 degrees. This reduces expansion, shrinkage, warping and splitting.
Engineered BambooBamboo is a wood-like material that is naturally available in hollow cylindrical forms that include regular growth nodes every few inches. Generally speaking, bamboo has higher compressive strength, tensile strength and flexural strength than any wood. As such, it is popular as an engineered product produced with strips of bamboo fiber and glue to form boards. Depending on the manufacturer, this can be stronger than a hardwood such as oak.
ParquetryWood products formed with a mosaic of wood pieces often sold in squares for using in flooring. A decorative product that often makes use of premium hardwood such as oak, walnut and maple.
FiberglassA type of material that combines a plastic with glass fiber. Fiber structures may be woven into a fabric or randomly arranged. The result is a relatively inexpensive material that is stronger and more flexible than many metals by weight. Often used in boats, automobiles, aircraft and surfboards.
Ceramic Matrix CompositeCeramic dispersed in a ceramic matrix. These are typically two different ceramic materials with different properties. Ceramics are a broad category of material that include everything from bone china to carbon fibres. Ceramic matrix composites are designed to have advantages over plain old ceramics such as fracture resistance, thermal shock resistance and improved dynamical load capacity.
Metal Matrix CompositeA reinforcing material such as metal or a ceramic dispersed in a metal matrix. Often used as a high performance material for tools, disc brakes, engines and the landing gear of aircraft.
Carbon Fiber Reinforced PolymerA structure of carbon fiber set in a plastic. This has many variations that can contain metals and glass fibers in addition to carbon fiber. Produces a rigid material with a high strength-to-weight ratio. Used in the wings of aircraft, the bodies of performance automobiles and sporting goods.
Sandwich PanelA broad category of composite materials constructed with layers like a sandwich. For example, a foam material encased in sheet aluminum. This produces a composite material that is far lighter than a solid metal. Often used in commercial signs such as billboards.
Composite HoneycombA broad category of composite materials that include a honeycomb structure, a mass of hexagonal cells inspired by the shape of the honeycombs produced by bees in their nests. These are often used to produce flat, light materials with a high specific strength. Metal, ceramic and plastic honeycomb composites are used in aircraft and sporting goods. Paper and cardboard honeycomb composites are commonly used as packing materials.
Papier-machePaper bound with an adhesive such as glue or wallpaper paste. Often used in crafts, theatrical sets and interior design.
Plastic Coated PaperPaper with a plastic coating as a decorative element or to improve durability. For example, playing cards are often paper coated with a clear plastic.
Syntactic Foams Strong, lightweight materials made by filling metal, plastic or ceramic with hollow spheres known as microballoons. The microballoons may be formed with a second material such as glass, carbon or plastic. This is often used to great buoyant materials for marine applications such as boat hulls. Syntactic foams are also used in sporting goods such as tennis rackets and soccer balls.
Wood-plastic CompositeWood fiber or flour cast in a plastic. Often sold as a low cost alternative to natural lumber for applications such as floors, fences, window frames and park benches.
PykreteA composite of ice and wood pulp that is vastly stronger than ice alone. The physical properties of pykrete can be compared to concrete as long as the material is kept cold. In theory, this allows reasonably large structures to be constructed with ice.
Cement-bonded Wood Fiber Mineralized wood chips cast in cement. Known for its insulating and acoustic properties.
NotesAs composites often have an internal structure it can be difficult to tell when they are damaged. They also tend to be difficult to repair as compared with a single material such as a metal or plastic.
This is the complete list of articles we have written about materials.
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A list of common types of materials.
An overview of the common types of wood with photos.
A definition of compressive strength.
A definition of tensile strength with examples.
A list of the common types of metal.
The basic characteristics of gold including its properties, financial and cultural significance.
A list of the common characteristics of sustainable materials.
A list of common building materials with their uses and properties.
A list of common ceramics with their properties and uses.
A complete overview of bamboo wood.
An a-z list of natural materials.
A list of common raw materials.
A list of common construction materials.
A list of things made with wood.
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