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Composite materials are formed by combining two or more materials that have quite different properties. The different materials work together to give the composite unique properties, but within the composite you can easily tell the different materials apart – they do not dissolve or blend into each other.
Composites exist in nature. A piece of wood is a composite, with long fibres of cellulose (a very complex form of starch) held together by a much weaker substance called lignin. Cellulose is also found in cotton and linen, but it is the binding power of the lignin that makes a piece of timber much stronger than a bundle of cotton fibres.
The greatest advantage of composite materials is strength and stiffness combined with lightness. By choosing an appropriate combination of reinforcement and matrix material, manufacturers can produce properties that exactly fit the requirements for a particular structure for a particular purpose
The right composites also stand up well to heat and corrosion. This makes them ideal for use in products that are exposed to extreme environments such as boats, chemical-handling equipment and spacecraft. In general, composite materials are very durable.
Another advantage of composite materials is that they provide design flexibility. Composites can be moulded into complex shapes – a great asset when producing something like a surfboard or a boat hull.
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