The product range is impressive: examples include sandwich construction Fast Attack Crafts and passenger vessels with carbon fibre reinforcements, advanced high-speed catamaran ambulances and Mine Counter Measure Vessels. The offshore industry has acquired subsea protection structures, and Gardermoen’s new Airport Express Train has front ends in fire resistant composite.
Reidar Stokke, Special Advisor at SINTEF’s Materials and Chemistry Division, explains that the industry has contributions to make beyond Norway’s borders. “The Norwegian composite industry has a strong international position in areas within transport, aerospace, defence, offshore, marine and sports,” he says. “The industry consists of many relatively small companies including producers of pleasure boats, a group of companies that produces technically advanced products based on traditional glass fibre-reinforced composite materials and a limited number of both large and small companies with production based on advanced composite materials,” he adds.
The SINTEF group is the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia and one of the largest polytechnic research organizations in Europe. The Materials and Chemistry Division, which conducts the material research related to composites, carries out research on a contract basis for industry in Norway and abroad.
Einar Hinrichsen, Ph.D, is a Research Manager at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry. He believes that the use of composite materials is important for some of Norway’s most important economic activities, including oil and gas installations, the marine sector, wind energy and transport. “These fields of application often put high demands on materials, due to harsh environments and potential environmental risks related to material failure,” he explains. Research is addressing important scientific and technological issues in order to exploit the advantages of composite materials. “The development of new knowledge within the area will certainly contribute to strengtheningthe competitive power of Norwegian companies that rely on the use of composite materials,” says Hinrichsen. “SINTEF’s ambition is to make a significant contribution to the development of the necessary competence that will enable a reliable increased exploitation of composite materials.”
SINTEF collaborates extensively with NTNU (the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim), and RTIM, which acts as the host for NSK, and will also be responsible for some of the experimental facilities that are planned by NSK. SINTEF owns 50% of the shares in RTIM, and Hinrichsen is keen point out the strategic alliances that SINTEF has with other research environments. Some of the research groups are small, so this level of cooperation is important for the future of the industry.
SINTEF’s current project proposal, “COMPACT” (“Composite Structures Under Impact Loading) aims to create a high level of field knowledge and develop state-of-the-art technologies related to the design of composite structures under impact loading. Several companies, including Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace, Nammo Raufoss and StatoilHydro have expressed interest, and a proposal for this competence building project will be sent the Research Council of Norway in October 2008.
The establishment of a National Centre of Competence at Raufoss symbolizes the degree of synthesis within the industry. Hosted by RTIM, the centre developed out of an initiative by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, backed by NOK 5 million from Innovation Norway. Enquiries by the Norwegian Defence and Security Industries Association (FSi) revealed interest from several member companies, including NAMMO and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace. The procurement of new combat aircraft by the Air Force has provided a gateway for the development of the industry.
SINTEF is integral, collaborating with many of the business involved. Amongst the current projects is “A safe and Cost-efficient Basis for Design and Qualification of Composite Structures”, which sees SINTEF cooperating with FiReCo, Reichold, Devold AMT, Umoe Mandal, and Umoe Shat-Harding.
The Centre’s Onno Verberne predicts that not only will defence and aerospace materials be adapted to civilian contexts, but also the reverse. “An increased cross usage of materials and methods will lower the material and manufacturing costs of high quality parts and components,” he says.
Kongsberg’s new composite factory has 30,000 metres of floor space and represents an investment of EUR 90 million. Verberne is excited about its potential. “As NSK is still in its starting phase, most projects are in their definition phase. However, NSK is working on establishing projects related to the activities planned at the Kongsberg Composite Factory, related to titanium composites for aircraft parts, and together with the national industry group, Norsk Komposittforbund, and Standard Norway, on the standardisation of composite materials. In the latter project, Norway has received the chairmanship on the Technical Committee in CEN,” he says.
“The most important task of NSK is to be a catalyst in building up sustainable industrial activity on advanced composites in Norway. Whilst most other countries have built up such an industry based on their aeronautical activities, Norway does not have this natural starting point for this industry to grow on,” admits Verberne. “It will therefore be imperative that Norway involves other industrial areas to reach in sum a sufficient amount of activities to also justify a sustainable institutional and educational activity on advanced composites.” Challenges remain, but the industry is building on that age-old national culture of achievement against difficult odds. A bright future is visible on the horizon.