Composite materials in the Faculty of Materials Engineering

Prof. Kurt-Martin Beinborn

Composites are a very diverse group of modern materials. Their common characteristic is that two or more solids are bonded together, creating a material that synergistically exploits the positive properties of the individual components.

For example, the positive functional properties of a plastic can be significantly improved by embedding tensile fibres, such as glass fibres. In this way, the tensile strength of such a GFRP composite (glass-fibre reinforced plastic ) can be increased to several times the strength of the plastic.

Composite materials


Man-made composite materials currently represent the pinnacle of technological materials development. Their development in recent decades is closely linked to aerospace technology.

Taking the example of the space shuttle, it is easy to show that it is thanks to the development of ultra-high temperature-resistant lightweight materials alone that space travel was ever possible in the form we know it today. The nose, the leading edges and the undersides of the wings, for example, are all made of carbon fibre-reinforced composite ceramics. In pictures, they are the black components.

In aircraft construction, car racing, sports items, and many areas of everyday life, more and more composite materials are being used to meet the need for optimized material properties.

Composite materials are therefore without doubt a state-of-the-art group of materials and their further development in the future will make is possible to produce a range of products and applications that today may seem fanciful.

Composite materials are therefore high technology at its finest, and we have the opportunity to bear witness to its development or, if we take the time to learn about it, even contribute!

... and yet age-old

However, despite all the joys of high technology, we must not forget the basis of composite materials – an ancient concept.

(Early) man used composite materials for many thousands of years, for example when building a mud hut reinforced with branches. Fauna has also produced a large number of even older examples of the production and use of composite materials (e.g. bones, termite mounds or even – somewhat coarser – beaver dams, a composite structure formed of sticks).

However, the oldest and perhaps best optimized composite materials are produced by the plant world. For example, grasses, such as bamboo, and wood are excellent fibre composites whose specific strength properties can even be comparable to modern materials.

Classification of composite materials

By structure

Composites are an extremely diverse group of materials. Their structure can be roughly divided into layered materials or coatings (such as enamel) and particle-reinforced composites. The following can be considered as reinforcing components:

  • Particles (unstructured or structured like platelets)
  • Whiskers (short monocrystalline fibres)
  • Short fibres
  • Long fibres

By material groups

Both the coating or reinforcing component and the base material or matrix can, in principle, consist of any conceivable material. Components are commonly made from the following material groups:

  • Metals
  • Glass
  • Ceramics
  • Polymers
  • Renewable resources

In principle, every component can be combined with any other component to create any design; as a result, there is an almost infinite number of possible combinations.

In the bachelor’s degree programme in Materials Engineering, students are currently offered a foundation lecture of two lecture hours per week and, for those interested, an advanced lecture of three lecture hours per week as a specialization.
The foundations lecture covers the whole range of modern composite materials from reinforced plastics, to metals, glasses, and ceramics as well as their basic working principles, production methods, and applications.

In the Composite Materials specialization, offered as part of both the bachelor’s and master’s programmes, students gain a greater insight into the production, design, testing, and failure behaviour of composite materials. As part of this specialization, special emphasis is placed on high-tech fibre composite ceramics and ceramic fibres, and the latest development trends are also taught.