Matrix Composites & Engineering – Leaders in subsea buoyancy technology and systems

Matrix Composites & Engineering is a global leader in the design, development and manufacture of products that are intended to work in subsea conditions or other high pressure environments and are capable of testing to sea water depths of 6,750 m or 662 bar.

Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director, Composites Australia Inc

Matrix Composites & Engineering (Matrix) is strategically located within the Australian Marine Complex (AMC) at Henderson in Western Australia. The AMC is located around 23 kilometres south of Perth and is an internationally recognised industrial key sustainment precinct for Australia’s surface and submarine fleets, and one of only two sites identified for shipbuilding under the National Naval Shipbuilding Plan. Within and around the AMC is a cluster of companies that play a vital role in providing support to defence, commercial shipbuilding and repair, the resource sector, and offshore oil and gas.

Matrix produces engineered products, functional additives and advanced materials for marine, defence, offshore and mining, civil and infrastructure, and transportation applications. It has niche industrial expertise across a number of proprietary polymer composite and chemical technologies, notably for buoyancy systems for subsea applications. Matrix is a global leader in the design and manufacture of syntactic foam solutions and is the largest syntactic foam manufacturing facility in the world. It has the only plant in the southern hemisphere (indeed within the Asia Pacific) and is also the home to the largest deep water simulation facility in the Southern Hemisphere. The hyperbaric chambers are used to validate the design and manufacturing of products that are intended to work in subsea conditions or other high pressure environments and are capable of testing to sea water depths of 6,750 m or 662 bar.

Aaron Begley, Matrix CEO, explained, “The subsea environment is complex, harsh and corrosive. We developed our syntactic foams to have high strength at low density, resistance to hydrostatic pressure and long term exposure for use in drilling risers, though these materials can also be used in deepwater pipe insulation, and are equally efficient in on-land and space applications. Our buoyancy systems are API17L compliant to 4,000 metres and API16F compliant to 6,100 metres and are in operation around the world.” Matrix undertakes all its material science and engineering in-house and can tailor the physical and mechanical properties of its products.

While the debate rages over Australia’s submarine capability, transformative technology in the form of more nimble and cost-effective autonomous undersea defence platforms is maturing. Unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) or autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) travel underwater without requiring submariners. They can be teamed and networked with larger crewed vessels, air platforms or land based capability, and are used for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and mine countermeasures. “The systems UUVs and AUVs carry – being batteries, propulsion, sensors, guidance and communications – are invariably heavier than water and therefore need buoyancy to return to the surface. Our syntactic foams can be moulded to suit the most complex of geometries and can provide stable buoyancy to 4,000 metres and beyond. Our integrated fibre reinforcements also maintain overall structural integrity, substituting for heavier metallic chassis,’ advised Aaron.

Matrix’s manufacturing capability include vacuum infusion, resin transfer moulding, hand lay-up and manual, semi-automated and fully automated trimming and finishing. Its 22,000 m2 facility is ISO 9001 certified and boasts a large research and development office run by scientists and material engineers from a broad spectrum of industry disciplines.

Matrix syntactic foam sandwich panel showing hollow carbon fibre spheres bound together in an epoxy matrix and sandwiched between woven carbon fibre.