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Safety Practices in Composites Manufacturing: Manual & Automated

Updated: Jun 13, 2021

Killer Composites?

Because of their superior properties, composites have been used in many industrial applications, including aerospace, wind turbines, ships, cars, fishing rods, storage tanks, swimming pool panels, and baseball bats. Each application may require different combinations of reinforcements and matrices, which raises safety concerns during the manufacture of these substances. This article focuses on the safety issues in composite manufacturing, be it manual and automated manufacturing.

Safety challenges while working with them?

The materials used in composites manufacturing, ie matrix (polyester, vinyl ester, phenolic, epoxies, methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, benzoyl peroxide, hardeners, and solvents) and reinforcement (carbon, glass and Kevlar fibers, honeycomb and foams), can be highly toxic to the human body. These materials can also be very toxic to the environment when dumped out uncontrollably, creating major future health and environmental concerns. Throughout the labor-intensive manufacturing process, workers inhale vapors of the liquid matrix, hardeners and solvents/thinners, as well as airborne reinforcement materials (chopped fibers and particles). These can often result in extreme rashes, irritation, skin disorders, coughing, severe eye and lung injury, among other serious illnesses, as demonstrated by the table below.

Level-1: Safety for Manual production


Primary steps to protect workers from those hazardous substances

  • Train the workers by showing how substances can enter the body and affect tissues and organs. Additionally, they should read the material safety data sheet (MSDS) before using the substances.

  • Know how and when to use protective clothing and other equipment (PPE). The process documentation should have the worker's clothing clearly indicated.

  • Understand the engineering controls (e.g., vacuum, autoclave, and fume hood) to prevent possible exposures to the workers and place clear signs when the system should be turned on. 

  • Possible engineering controls in processes should be identified and made available for the workers

Level-2: Safety for Automated production

Automation in composite manufacturing is increasing as manufacturers have to adjust to: