A composite material is one which is composed of at least two elements working together to produce material properties that are different to the properties of those elements on their own. In practice, most composites consist of a bulk material (the 'matrix'), and a reinforcement of some kind, added primarily to increase the strength and stiffness of the matrix. This reinforcement is usually in fibre form. Today, the most common man-made composites can be divided into three main groups:
- Polymer Matrix Composites (PMC's) ¬ These are the most common. Also known as FRP - Fibre Reinforced Polymers - these materials use a polymer-based resin as the matrix, and a variety of fibres such as glass, carbon, aramid and natural fibres as the reinforcement.
- Metal Matrix Composites (MMC's) - Increasingly found in the automotive industry, these materials use a metal such as aluminium as the matrix, and reinforce it with fibres such as silicon carbide.
- Ceramic Matrix Composites (CMC's) - Used in very high temperature environments, these materials use a ceramic as the matrix and reinforce it with short fibres, or whiskers such as those made from silicon carbide and boron nitride.