Think of skiing. Old days, 2 m planks and the only glue involved seemed to be between the two feet of the skier who hoppety-hopped down the mountain (about the time when skiers wore bomber jackets, tights and waffled hair was a thing). Then the skis grew shorter, got a waist – the carving ski revolutionized the market and made skiing a whole heap less exhausting. Wide, swooping turns on skis seem to turn by themselves all the way down to the sunny après ski.
As freeriding and backcountry skiing grew in popularity, the skis grew longer, wider and lighter to improve performance in powder (the stance grew even more relaxed, and one-pieces made a comeback from the ‘80s!). The popularity came across the board, from racing skis that got a wider “all mountain” configuration to go on and off the pistes, huge planks for bottomless Canadian powder and heliskiing, to the backcountry skis that take their riders both up and down the mountain.
The latter, walking uphill on the skis before going down put lightweighting on the top of the agenda – but with no excuse to sacrifice downhill performance. In short: while ski core technology had barely changed, the requirements had drastically changed.
In the middle of this new demanding target group were the Bcomp founders to-be: mountain lovers and passionate skiers on weekends, doctors in engineering during the weeks. This combination put them in a unique position of passion and knowledge and they decided to develop the core they wanted for themselves.
While there is an array of various setups, few can meet the demands: carbon fiber is extremely light and robust for going up, but make for an extremely bumpy ride down because of poor damping properties. Traditional wood, on the other hand, has great properties for going downhill, but who wants to carry all that weight up a mountain? Foam works for extreme uphill performance, but has low durability and stability for going down. Honeycomb structures cannot cope well with the repeated impact skis suffer.
Uncountable hours of calculations, testing (and skiing) later, a couple of patents and the first bCore® touched snow and Bcomp was born. Bcomp is a Swiss company specialized in lightweighting, using natural fiber composites based on European flax and FSC®-certified balsa wood from 3A Composites plantations in Ecuador. Born from a quest of the perfect skis and board cores, Bcomp now also ventures into lightweighting in the automotive and motorsports industries with its powerRibs® reinforcements and ampliTex® technical fabrics.
The Bcomp founders’ approach to solve the problem was to take out as much weight as possible from the core, by optimizing its properties using a composites’ approach. Instead of high-density flat grain wood such as poplar or ash – traditionally used in ski construction – they developed a concept based on a highly porous material reinforced by composite shear webs. Neither the expensive carbon nor the heavy glass fibers – both highly abrasive during machining – were ideal materials for this application. This is where flax fibers came into play, with their high stiffness-to-weight ratio, their great machinability, and relatively low cost. Bcomp developed their first ampliTex flax biaxial reinforcement, which would play a key role in the development of the bCore® products to come.
This article appeared in the January–February 2019 issue of Reinforced Plastics.