Lightening the load: How TDAP helped to accelerate the development of low-cost composites

Not so long ago, composite materials were the preserve of low-volume specialist industries like motorsport and aerospace.

In the last few years, however, the increasingly stringent targets being introduced for passenger car CO2 emissions have brought weight reduction to the fore, leading to a surge in demand for more affordable composites that can be produced in higher volumes. It’s a trend that’s now spread to numerous other markets, ranging from sports equipment to renewable energy.

Composite Braiding is one of a new band of technology companies looking to revolutionise these materials. It drew on support from the Advanced Propulsion Centre to commercialise an innovative approach that brings lightweight and environmentally sustainable composites to applications where they might previously have been deemed too costly.

The company’s thermoplastic braiding method relies on a combination of several new material concepts and innovative manufacturing techniques. It results in a process that’s capable of braiding over a mile of fibres in a day, with thermoplastic matrices that can be cured in minutes.

Support from the APC’s Technology Developer Accelerator Programme (TDAP) has helped Composite Braiding take this technology from the demonstration phase through to a commercially-viable product. In total, the company received access to £104,500 through TDAP to develop its business and technology. This took the form of a UK government grant through the, which didn’t require the company to forfeit any equity or give away any intellectual property.

The benefits of taking part in the scheme extended far beyond funding, however, as managing director Steve Barbour explains: “The TDAP support helped us to refine elements of our technology, but it also provided a lot of valuable input on things like intellectual property, market research and strategic planning.”

Since taking part in the scheme, the company has more than doubled in size, with its headcount growing from three to seven full-time staff. The guidance provided by the TDAP team also played a part in the business securing further funding, Barbour believes: “Part of the process was working with the UK Business Angels Association, which was really useful.”

It also kick-started a dialogue with Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs, which can otherwise be hard for an SME to establish, he points out.

This support has helped Composite Braiding to optimise its technology, strengthen its business strategy and identify new markets. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, according to Barbour: “Sustainability is still one of the key trends. The lightweight nature of composites is very important during the product’s lifecycle. Equally, the materials are inherently recyclable and soon we’ll be starting with recycled material as well. The support from the APC has helped us to grow our business and respond to that demand.”

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