'Automation and environment, the challenges of composites'

Interview with Fabrizio Sarasini, professor of Science and Technology of Materials at the University of Rome La Sapienza and expert in the sector

Composites Portal continues the journey to discover the future of advanced and innovative materials. Today it is the turn of Fabrizio Sarasini, professor of Science and Technology of Materials at the University of Rome La Sapienza and expert in the sector.


Professor Sarasini, what is the future of composites?
"The last 20 years likely represented the most significant 20 years of growth the composites manufacturing industry has ever seen and composite materials showed great potential for a wide variety of applications, with the automotive and aerospace sectors triggering new developments. One field that is growing rapidly and can benefit from the advantages of composites is the development and manufacture of electric vehicles, where the structural elements need to be lightweight and strong. In this regard, composites can be manufactured according to complex shapes and can become part of the integral structure. But in this continuous growth, composites need to face two challenges: increased automation and reduced environmental impact". 

3D printing and composites: a winning combination or not?
"In the framework of increasing automation, the digital composite manufacturing should be considered an asset and not a liability and will be one of the most interesting and impactful areas. Additive manufacturing enables moldless fabrication of composite components with no additional cost for geometric complexity, reduced production waste and, most importantly, tailored fiber distribution and selective reinforcements. An additional time-dependent change in functionality (shape, property) can be incorporated in 3D structures when in contact with an external stimulus (e.g. temperature, UV light, humidity, electric and magnetic fields), the so called 4D printing. But there are still some challenges to face, such as the material – continuous fibers vs. chopped fibers, or thermoplastic vs. thermoset polymers, increasing fiber content, and printer type for an industrial scale up". 

Is the performance of composites, for example their resistance, still a myth?
Composite materials are great because the huge variety of matrices, fibers and manufacturing processes available result in engineered solutions for almost any application. When going to the nano-scale, almost limitless possibilities exist to meet specific high-performance requirements in electrical, thermal, mechanical and other fields (e.g., carbon nanotubes, graphene, and more recently, Mxenes, which are transition metal carbides and nitrides with graphene-like structures)". 

Do you see new professions in the future of composites and advanced materials?
"As previously mentioned, the biggest advantage of composite materials is their high design freedom and flexibility. But this complexity is also a challenge, in terms of expertise required. People dealing with composite materials need to be able to design, produce and control systems consisting of several types of materials. A specific background integrating chemistry and engineering skills is needed, along with design engineering to model in a software environment materials characterized by a great complexity without uncertainties". 

Biocomposites are fascinating but, in your opinion, will their application grow over time or will it remain limited?
"Biocomposites, here considered as fiber reinforced polymer composites where the fibers and/or matrix are sourced from renewable resources, have witnessed a significant growth over the last 10 years mainly driven by the automotive and construction industries. The demand for lightweight products coming from the automotive industry and the growing awareness of green products are expected to increase further their use. Natural fibers, such as flax fibers, display nowadays consistent quality and properties that make them suitable even for demanding applications in marine, aerospace and motorsport".

Fabrizio Sarasini received the Laurea degree (cum laude) in Materials Engineering and the Ph.D. degree in Materials Engineering from Sapienza University of Rome in 2002 and 2007, respectively. He is currently an Associate Professor of Materials Science and Technology at the Department of Chemical Engineering Materials Environment of Sapienza University of Rome. His research interests include the design of sustainable composites for semi-structural applications, the low and high velocity impact response of composite materials for structural applications, and the fiber/matrix interfacial modification and assessment.

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