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What is the Popular 23 Types Composite CNC machining Materials

CNC machining Materials

Composites fill a gap where other materials fall short. Composite materials consist of at least two components: the reinforcement, which adds specific mechanical qualities like stiffness or strength, and the matrix material, which binds everything together. These materials combine the best qualities of their constituent materials, creating a new material that surpasses the limitations of any single component on its own. Each composite material has a unique set of properties, pros, cons, and ideal applications.

This article will look at 23 different types of composite materials. We will define them, discuss properties that make them unique, examine their pros and cons, and more.

1. Concrete
Concrete is a very popular composite material for construction projects. It employs cement as a binder which is mixed with water and aggregates like: sand, gravel, or crushed stone. This mixture, when hardened, transforms into a durable stone-like material. Rebar is often incorporated into concrete structures for added strength. Concrete’s biggest advantage is its excellent compressive strength. However, it tends to be brittle and weak in tension. Cracks may develop during curing due to tension stress and shrinkage, allowing moisture infiltration that causes metal reinforcements inside to corrode, which can weaken the structure over time.

Concrete’s popularity stems from its availability, durability, and the established process for making it. It’s valued in structures such as buildings, bridges, and roads for its affordability, fire resistance, and moldability. However, it can be damaged by freeze-thaw cycles and harsh chemicals. While concrete is incredibly versatile and strong in compression, it needs reinforcement to make its tensile strength more comparable to steel or wood. Despite that, it’s still the go-to material for large-scale construction projects because it’s so cost-efficient.

2. Plywood
Plywood is an engineered wood product made by gluing multiple layers of wood veneer together. The grain of each layer is oriented perpendicular to the adjacent ones. This cross-graining (or cross-lamination) technique enhances the material’s strength, stability, durability, and resistance to expansion, shrinkage, warping, and splitting, especially when nailed at the edges. Figure 1 below shows the cross-graining technique:

plywood illustration
Illustration of plywood’s cross-graining technique. Image Credit:
Plywood is made of at least three layers, or veneers, made from various woods and adhesives to give the final product-specific attributes. It always contains an odd number of layers to prevent warping and ensure stability. The sheets of wood are bonded together with heat and pressure.

The main types of plywood are: softwood and hardwood. The softwood type is made from; redwood, fir, spruce, cedar, or pine. It is typically used for industrial and construction purposes. Hardwood plywood, on the other hand, is made from dicot trees like: beech, oak, or mahogany. They are used for more demanding applications, such as heavy-duty floor and wall structures. Hardwoods are strong, stiff, durable, and resistant to creep.

While plywood is more resistant to moisture and deformation than ordinary wood, it is not entirely waterproof and can delaminate over time if exposed to excessive moisture. In comparison to solid wood or other wood composite materials like MDF (medium-density fiberboard), plywood offers a unique balance of strength, cost, and durability. It is a popular choice in both construction and furniture industries.

3. Fiber
Fiber refers to fine strands of materials such as glass, carbon, or flax which are used to reinforce other materials. Fibers are selected for their specific properties, such as high tensile strength, low weight, or corrosion resistance. They are embedded within a matrix (like resin) to form fiber-reinforced composites. These composites are engineered to achieve superior strength, durability, and flexibility compared to the base material alone. Applications of fiber composites span many industries — including automotive, aerospace, sporting goods, and construction — that need strong but lightweight materials. This method of construction shows its value by enhancing the physical properties of the matrix materials. However, the cost can vary significantly depending on the type of fiber used, with carbon fibers being more expensive than glass or natural fibers. Each fiber type offers unique benefits. For instance, carbon fibers provide unparalleled strength and stiffness, while natural fibers are cheaper and more environmentally friendly. The choice of fiber depends on the specific requirements of the application.

4. Fiberglass
Fiberglass is a common composite material consisting of glass fibers embedded in a resin matrix. The glass fibers provide the composite with good tensile strength and flexibility, while the resin protects the fibers and distributes the load evenly throughout the material. This unique combination results in a strong, durable, and lightweight material. Fiberglass is an excellent choice for applications such as: automotive bodies, boat hulls, and low-load construction materials. It can strengthen vinyl windows to withstand extreme weather, make up non-slip walking surfaces in buildings, and serve as conductor rods or insulation filler. The material may be fabricated in numerous forms such as: channels, poles, and even sporting equipment. One of the key advantages of fiberglass is its resistance to corrosion, moisture, and various chemicals, allowing it to perform well in harsh environments. Additionally, its non-conductive nature makes it suitable as electrical insulation. Despite its many benefits, fiberglass can be brittle and prone to cracking under high impacts, and the manufacturing process can be somewhat costly. There are also some health concerns related to the use of fiberglass. Compared to materials like carbon fiber, fiberglass is a more cost-effective solution with a slightly lower strength-to-weight ratio. Overall, it is a versatile option for a wide range of applications that demand high performance without the cost of more advanced composites.

5. Pykrete
Pykrete is a unique composite material made from a mixture of 14% wood pulp or sawdust and about 86% ice. The addition of wood pulp to ice significantly enhances its strength and reduces its melting rate, making pykrete harder and more enduring than pure ice. Pykrete was investigated during World War II as a potential construction material for inexpensive, unsinkable aircraft carriers. It also finds use for ice roads used to transport heavy loads across frozen lakes. The primary advantage of pykrete lies in its simplicity and surprising durability and longevity. However, it still demands a consistently low temperature to prevent melting, so its practicality is limited.

6. Reinforced Concrete
Reinforced concrete is an advanced form of concrete that incorporates steel reinforcement bars, fibers, or meshes to improve its tensile strength. This combination harnesses both the compressive strength of concrete and the tensile properties of steel, allowing it to support heavier loads and span greater distances than plain concrete. Reinforced concrete is widely used in construction and forms the backbone of modern infrastructure, including: skyscrapers, bridges, and highways. Its benefits include durability, fire resistance, and the versatility to be molded into various shapes. However, it requires careful design and construction practices to prevent corrosion of the steel reinforcement, which can compromise the structure’s integrity. When compared to plain concrete, reinforced concrete offers superior structural capacity and flexibility. Despite the added costs in materials and labor, the extended lifespan and enhanced performance of reinforced concrete structures often justify the investment.

7. Reinforced Plastic
These composites combine reinforcing fibers with a polymer matrix (either thermoplastic or thermoset materials). Reinforced plastic combines the lightweight and corrosion-resistant properties of plastic with the strength of reinforcing fibers like: glass, carbon, or aramid fibers. These plastics are often also referred to as fiber-reinforced plastics, reinforced polymers, or fiber-reinforced polymers. This composite material is engineered to achieve a high strength-to-weight ratio. It is suitable for everything from automotive and aerospace components to sporting goods and construction elements.

Reinforced plastics offer significant advantages, including: corrosion resistance, low weight, and the ability to be molded into complex shapes. However, they can be more expensive than traditional materials and may require specialized manufacturing processes. Compared to unreinforced plastics, they are more durable and structurally sound. The cost of reinforced plastic components varies depending on the type of reinforcement used, with carbon fiber-reinforced plastics being on the higher end of the spectrum due to the cost of carbon fibers. The properties can be customized for particular needs by adjusting the: fiber type, fiber arrangement, and polymer matrix. For instance, aerospace engineers often utilize carbon fibers for their exceptional strength and stiffness. In contrast, construction projects frequently opt for glass fibers, which are favored for their affordability and resistance to weathering.

8. Sandwich Panel
Sandwich panels are composite elements consisting of two thin, strong layers of material (such as metal sheets, plywood, or composite laminates) bonded to a lightweight core material in the middle. The core of the panel is usually made from insulating materials like: mineral wool, polyisocyanurate foam, or polystyrene. This configuration creates excellent strength-to-weight ratios and insulation properties, making sandwich panels ideal for aerospace, automotive, and construction applications. In particular, they’re seen in roofs, walls, and floors. The primary advantage of sandwich panels is their efficiency in providing high structural stiffness and low weight, along with thermal and acoustic insulation. However, their performance can be significantly affected by moisture absorption and delamination. Compared to traditional construction materials, sandwich panels can be viewed as modern alternatives that combine structural support with insulation, albeit at a higher up-front cost.

9. Parquetry
Parquetry is a decorative composite material made by arranging small pieces of wood in geometric patterns. This technique, dating back to the mid to late 1600s, is widely used for both furnishings and flooring. It’s known for its repeating squares, triangles, or lozenge shapes, often assembled using strips or blocks of wood. Parquetry uses a mix of different woods such as oak, walnut, cherry, lime, pine, and maple to form eye-catching designs. The diverse colors, shades, and textures of these woods make parquet flooring decorative as well as functional. While hot bitumen was used to attach parquet to the floor in the past, nowadays, a cold adhesive is commonly applied for installation. Parquet floors — particularly those made of wood — can be costly. Installation is also complex, requiring professional help unless you’re skilled in DIY projects. Additionally, parquet flooring might not be the best choice for areas with significant temperature or humidity fluctuations.

10. Syntactic Foam
Syntactic foam is an engineered composite material made by embedding hollow microspheres, known as microballoons, in a matrix material such as: metal, ceramic, epoxy, or polymer. The microspheres are often made of glass, ceramic, or plastic. The term “syntactic” refers to the orderly arrangement of these spheres; they create a closed-cell structure that significantly enhances the material’s properties. This innovative material boasts a low coefficient of thermal expansion, high specific strength, and low density thanks to the gas-filled microballoons. The advantages of syntactic foam include: its resistance to water absorption, excellent buoyancy characteristics, good strength-to-weight ratio, and thermal insulation.

Syntactic foam is primarily used to aid buoyancy in underwater vehicles and deep-sea installations as well as in aerospace for its insulation properties. However, syntactic foam can be relatively expensive due to its specialized manufacturing processes and materials.

11. Ceramic Matrix Composite
Ceramic matrix composites (CMCs) are designed to overcome the brittleness and fracture sensitivity of conventional ceramics. Both the reinforcement (which consists of refractory fibers) and the matrix material are ceramic. In some cases, both are made of the same ceramic material while in other formulations, secondary fibers are added to enhance existing properties. Because of their unique compositions, CMCs fall under both composite material and ceramic categories.

By embedding ceramic fibers within a ceramic matrix, CMCs maintain the high-temperature resistance and hardness of ceramics while significantly improving toughness and resistance to thermal shock. These properties make CMCs ideal for applications in aerospace, defense, and energy sectors — particularly in components that get exposed to extreme temperatures and corrosive environments such as turbine blades and heat shields. The advantages of CMCs include their: exceptional durability at high temperatures, resistance to wear and corrosion, and lighter weight compared to metal alloys with similar capabilities. However, the manufacturing process is complex and costly, limiting their use to high-value applications.

12. Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
Carbon-fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP) is a strong, lightweight composite material that contains carbon fiber as reinforcement. Plastics or other polymers make up the matrix. CFRP is renowned for its outstanding strength-to-weight ratio. It is used in high-performance applications such as: automotive racing, aerospace, sporting goods, and wind turbine blades. It is also used to repair and strengthen reinforced concrete structures. The key benefits of CFRP include: exceptional tensile strength, stiffness, and resistance to fatigue and corrosion. However, the high cost of carbon fibers and the complexity of manufacturing processes are significant drawbacks. Compared to metals and other composites, CFRP offers unparalleled performance when weight reduction is more critical than minimizing costs.

13. Wood-Plastic Composite
Wood-plastic composite (WPC) is a durable material made from recycled plastic and wood fibers, and blends the properties of both. WPCs are commonly used in: decking, fencing, and outdoor furniture. The key benefits of WPC include: its use of waste materials, reduced environmental impact, and low maintenance costs compared to solid wood. On the downside, WPC can absorb moisture over time, leading to eventual decay (though this happens slower than with pure wood). Additionally, it faces challenges with: thermal expansion, time-dependent deformation (creep), and paint adhesion. Despite these drawbacks, WPC remains a popular, durable choice for eco-conscious construction and design projects, albeit at a higher initial cost than treated wood.

14. Metal Matrix Composites
Metal matrix composites (MMCs) are advanced materials composed of a metal matrix and a reinforcing material. The reinforcement may be another metal or a different substance like ceramic or carbon fibers. These composites combine the properties of metals (e.g. high yield strength and ability to withstand various thermal and mechanical treatments) with the benefits of the reinforcing material (e.g. improved strength and wear resistance). Common matrices include lightweight metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and titanium for structural applications, and cobalt or cobalt-nickel alloys for high-temperature environments. MMCs are used in automotive, aerospace, and electronics industries for things like: engine parts, brake rotors, and heat sinks. The MMCs typically outshine the non-composited matrix metals in terms of: strength-to-weight ratios, thermal conductivity, and wear resistance. However, MMCs are expensive and complex to fabricate, and the materials’ selection and processing require careful optimization. Compared to traditional metals, MMCs provide tailored properties for demanding applications, offering a balance between performance and weight that is not achievable with metals alone.

15. Plastic Coated Paper
Plastic-coated paper is a durable composite material made by coating paper or paperboard with a plastic or laminate. Paperboard is a very popular option for this composite material. Plastic-coated paper is predominantly used in food and drink packaging, where the added plastic layer wards off water and seals in heat. This composite material is lightweight and waterproof, and tends to extend the shelf life of products by protecting them against moisture, grease, and other contaminants. Additionally, plastic-coated paper can be customized with various prints and designs, which is good for brand visibility and consumer appeal. The main drawbacks include environmental concerns — the combination of plastic and paper does not decompose quickly and is difficult to recycle.

16. Engineered Bamboo
Engineered bamboo is created by compressing raw bamboo culms to form a laminated composite. This composite is then bonded together to produce structural components similar to glue-laminated timber components. This process enhances the natural strength and flexibility of bamboo, making it an excellent material for flooring, furniture, and construction. Bamboo is a fast-growing, renewable resource that can even reduce manufacturers’ carbon footprints. Engineered bamboo’s advantages include: high strength and durability, resistance to moisture and insects, and a distinctive aesthetic appeal. However, there are some concerns about the use of formaldehyde-based glues in some products and the material’s susceptibility to scratching and denting. Compared to traditional hardwoods, engineered bamboo is a more sustainable and often more affordable option with similar or superior physical properties. This makes it a popular choice in green building projects.

17. Composite Honeycomb
Honeycomb structures, while varying in shape, consist of networks of hollow, thin-walled cells. Most often, those cells are hexagonal and columnar. This design minimizes actual material use and saves on both weight and cost. Additionally, these structures display high compression and shear strengths out-of-plane despite their low densities, leading to exceptional specific strengths. As a result, materials with honeycomb structures are extensively utilized in the aerospace industry. However, manufacturing them can be complex and costly, and they may require specialized repair techniques.

18. Hybrid Composites
Hybrid composites are materials that combine either a single type of reinforcing material with two different polymer matrix mixtures or that incorporate multiple reinforcing materials into a single polymer matrix. This approach allows engineers to tailor the material properties to specific application needs, optimizing for strength, stiffness, weight, and cost. Hybrid composites are used in things like automotive, aerospace, and sports equipment, where the synergistic effects of combining fibers can lead to performance improvements that aren’t achievable with single-fiber composites. Advantages include the ability to customize material properties and achieve a balance between performance and cost. However, the complexity of design and the need for precise manufacturing control can increase costs.

19. Mudbrick
Mudbrick, one of the oldest building materials, is made from a mixture of earth (clay and sand), water, and organic materials like straw or dung. They are traditionally shaped into bricks and dried in the sun. Even in the modern day, mudbricks are valued for their: low environmental impact, excellent thermal mass, and natural aesthetic. They provide significant advantages in energy efficiency, as their thermal properties help maintain comfortable indoor temperatures in both hot and cold climates. However, mudbricks require protection from moisture and regular maintenance to ensure longevity. Compared to modern construction materials, mudbrick is a cheap, environmentally friendly option that emphasizes sustainable, locally sourced materials, making it particularly appealing for eco-conscious projects.

20. Natural Composites
Natural composites, or natural fiber composites (NFCs) are composite materials that use reinforcing fibers sourced from renewable and carbon-neutral resources, like wood or other plants, that are then embedded in a matrix. Natural composites are used in various applications, leveraging their biodegradability and renewable nature. While their mechanical properties can be excellent, variability and susceptibility to environmental conditions limit some uses. Compared to synthetic composites, natural composites offer the advantages of sustainability and minimal environmental impact but often require careful selection and treatment for specific applications.

21. Kevlar®
Kevlar® is a composite material formed from spinning aramid fibers into a strong thread that is then used to weave fabric or embed into other materials as reinforcement. It is known for its high tensile strength-to-weight ratio. Kevlar®’s applications are diverse and include: bulletproof vests and other protective gear, racing sails, drumheads, and various components in the automotive and aerospace industries. The high strength and durability of Kevlar® allow it to absorb and disperse energy effectively, which is why it is used in protective equipment. It also maintains its integrity in extreme temperatures, which is essential for fire-resistant clothing and other high-temperature applications. However, the production of Kevlar® is costly, which can make the final products expensive. Additionally, while its strength is a significant advantage, its rigidity can pose challenges in manufacturing and handling. Another concern is its tendency to absorb water, which might affect its performance and longevity under certain conditions. Despite these challenges, Kevlar® remains a preferred material in situations that require strength and durability.

22. Carbon Matrix Composites
Carbon matrix composites, also known as carbon-carbon composites, are made by reinforcing a carbon matrix with carbon fibers, creating a remarkably strong yet lightweight material capable of withstanding extreme temperatures. This composite material is primarily used in high-temperature applications such as rocket nozzles, high-performance brake systems, and aerospace components that experience very high temperatures. One of the most significant advantages of carbon matrix composites is their ability to maintain strength and integrity at temperatures that would weaken or melt metallic components. However, the manufacturing process is complex and costly, involving multiple steps of carbonization and graphitization, which limits its use to specialized applications where its benefits justify the expense. Carbon matrix composites offer better thermal and mechanical properties at higher temperatures than other composite materials.

23. Fibrous Composites
Fibrous composites consist of fibrous materials (such as carbon, glass, or natural fibers) embedded within a matrix material (like polymer, metal, or ceramic). The high tensile strength of the fibers enhances the material’s overall mechanical properties, resulting in strong, lightweight, and versatile materials. Fibrous composites are utilized across a broad range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, construction, and sports equipment. They’re valued because they can be engineered to meet specific performance criteria. Advantages include: good strength-to-weight ratios, corrosion resistance, and design flexibility. However, the properties of fibrous composites can vary widely depending on the types of fibers and the matrix involved, as well as the orientation of the fibers. All of these factors also affect the cost and manufacturing complexity. Unlike monolithic materials, fibrous composites offer the potential for tailored mechanical and physical properties, enabling designers and engineers to optimize structures and components for specific applications and performance requirements.

What Is a Composite?
A composite is a material made by combining two or more different materials to create a new material with more useful properties. They may be optimized for: strength, durability, or resistance to certain environmental conditions. The components contribute their unique characteristics to improve the overall performance of the composite.

To learn more, see our full guide on What is a Composite.

What Is the Use of Composite?
Composites combine the best properties of their component materials, resulting in enhanced strength, lighter weights, increased durability, and improved resistance to environmental conditions. These characteristics make composites ideal for industries like: aerospace, automotive, construction, and sports equipment. In the aerospace and automotive industries, they contribute to fuel efficiency by reducing weight while maintaining strength. In construction, they function as durable, low-maintenance materials that can withstand harsh conditions. Composites are also used in sports equipment, offering high performance with minimal weight. These superior properties drive their widespread popularity in several industries and applications.

How To Choose the Type of Composite To Use
Choosing the right composite is an important step toward your project’s success. Follow the following process to choose the right type of composite:

Before assessing potential materials, it is important to determine and specify the material requirements. This means defining the function of the material in the project as well as the physical and chemical properties that it must possess.
Research potential composite materials to create a shortlist of options for your project. Make sure they meet the requirements you set in Step 1.
After compiling a shortlist of potential materials, do a cost analysis to narrow it down. Besides the upfront cost of the material, consider factors such as: the lifespan of the material, maintenance costs, durability, and replacement costs.
The environmental impact and safety considerations of the composite material are very important. Evaluate the sustainability of the material as well as potential health and safety risks related to its use.
Ensure that the use of any potential composite material complies with local and international standards and regulations for your application.
Once the shortlist has been sufficiently narrowed down, acquire material samples and perform prototype testing with the most promising materials. This will show you whether they perform sufficiently in the real-world application.
What Is the Best Manufacturer of Composite Materials?
No single composite material manufacturer can be cited as “the best” because the scope of both materials and uses is so broad. Choose one based on the style of composite you need, the purpose it will serve, and the relevant industry standards. Every composite-heavy industry (such as aerospace, automotive, construction, and sports equipment) has its own needs and thus different preferred suppliers.

For aerospace and automotive applications, companies like Toray Industries, Hexcel, and SGL Carbon are renowned for their high-quality carbon-fiber composites. Toray is one of the largest suppliers of carbon fiber and carbon fiber composite materials in the world, providing materials for aircraft, cars, and sporting goods. Other renowned companies include Trex and Fiberon, who make wood-plastic composites for construction (decking and fencing), and DuPont, which owns patents on aramid fibers like Kevlar®.

To find the best manufacturer for the exact composite you are looking for and which matches your project’s needs, do some research to find the top suppliers. They should specialize in the materials you are looking for. Look for suppliers with good reputations that won’t exceed your project budgets.

To learn more, see our choices for the Best Composite Manufacturers.

How Does the Arrangement of Fibers Impact the Properties of Composite Materials?
The arrangement of fibers within composite materials plays an important role in determining their mechanical properties, such as: strength, stiffness, and impact resistance. Fibers add strength and stiffness when they’re placed in tension, but don’t do much for compressive forces or forces applied perpendicular to their lengths. This makes the overall composite anisotropic. In contrast, woven or randomly oriented fibers improve impact resistance and durability by distributing loads and resisting cracks in all directions roughly equally. This strategic orientation also influences thermal and electrical conductivity, with conductivity being higher along the length of the fibers. Moreover, the fiber arrangement affects manufacturability and cost, as simpler arrangements are generally cheaper and easier to produce.

Does the Arrangement of Fibers in Composites Impact Their Directional Strength?
Yes, the arrangement of fibers in composites significantly impacts their directional strength. The composite material exhibits higher strength and stiffness along the fibers’ length, making it highly anisotropic. This means that the material can withstand greater loads in the direction of the fiber alignment compared to perpendicular directions. In contrast, when fibers are randomly distributed or woven, the material’s strength is more uniform in all directions. However, it won’t be as strong in any particular direction as one whose fibers are all aligned on that axis. This directional dependency is a key consideration when designing and using composite materials. It allows engineers to tailor composites to meet specific strength requirements based on the anticipated stresses on their product.


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