What does a Formula 1 racing car and a composite door have in common? On the face of it, very little, unless their often bright colours are taken into consideration. Well, the link is more ‘out of this world’ than might be thought – because the materials used to make both are the result of space travel, and the experiments carried out on those missions to ‘explore brave new worlds’.
Often, the best way to test how materials behave is in zero-gravity conditions, and manned space flights have often been crewed by at least one expert in materials technology who is briefed to find out just how an absence of gravity affects some of the scientists’ newest discoveries. The common thread between the material which makes the bodyshell of a typical Grand Prix car and the types of window frames and doors which are increasingly fitted in modern homes is that both use composite materials whose development was greatly helped by those space missions.
Composite materials were first used in window and door manufacture long before this, though, early in the 20th century. The material concerned is called Fibrex, which is constructed of a combination of wood fibres and thermoplastic resin.
The wood fibres used are commonly reclaimed from other manufacturing sources, which greatly enhances the green credentials of composite doors and windows. When they are combined with the plastic, they create a material which can be easily moulded into non-standard shapes when it is heated, yet is remarkably tough and hard-wearing.
The pitfalls of using wood on its own to produce window frames and doors are well-known. They include a propensity to rot, and a need for regular maintenance, including painting or staining. Composite window frames and doors, however, do not suffer from such shortcomings. They are incredibly long-lasting, requiring only basic maintenance to keep them looking good. A door made of composite material, for example, can shrug off all but the hardest knocks, and marks can be cleaned off using a soft cloth and proprietary cleaning materials, while a wooden door will often bend, crack or splinter – meaning a much more tricky repair and restoration job.
There is also the added benefit that composites are usually individual pieces of moulded material, and as anyone who knows the basics of construction will know, a single piece of material is always stronger than one made up of more than one piece joined together. That encapsulates the main difference between uPVC and composite doors and window frames and is why, in the long run, composite materials stay better-looking for longer. conservatory roofs cardiff