Mapping The Future Of Composites

How can a highly fragmented industry like the composites industry come together to create a common vision of the future? The breadth of interests related to composite materials is both an advantage and a challenge when developing a shared vision. Inspired by this opportunity, ACMA hosted a roadmapping workshop in January, convening a diverse group of leadership across the field, including senior executives and thought leaders from industry, government and academia. The goal? To identify themes and address challenges common to multiple market segments. All composites industry markets were represented at the event, including transportation, wind, construction, marine and aerospace.

The two-day roadmapping workshop was jointly sponsored by ACMA, the Consortium for Accelerated Innovation and Insertion of Advanced Composites (CAIIAC) roadmapping team from Georgia Tech, and the Facilitating Industry By Engineering, Roadmapping and Science (FIBERS) Consortium from The University of Massachusetts Lowell. Participants heard from the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Department of Defense Office of Naval Research and composites programs sponsored by the Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Industry panelists from automotive OEMs, wind energy, composites manufacturers, resin suppliers and aerospace presented a snapshot of the present state of the industry and offered a preview of the future of composites. Participants discussed current composites application challenges, including mechanical performance (durability, damage tolerance and fatigue), environmental performance (thermal exposure and erosion) and producibility and cost (high part count per engine and quality).

The spectrum of applications discussed by attendees ranged from swimming pools to aircraft. The following emerged as high-priority enablers to unlocking industry potential:

Participants also discussed the need for greater awareness of composites. “The composites industry needs to promote itself and benefits to the general public,” said Rob Klawonn, president of Toho Tenax America Inc. “Government agencies and existing composites users and their suppliers understand the strategic importance of composite materials, but the average consumer is lacking a fundamental recognition of composites as a material or family of materials that benefit them. Everyone knows about the advantages of aluminum and steel, but composites do not have a unified image in the minds of the general public.”

During the final portion of the roadmapping workshop, attendees focused on prioritizing the various pathways to success. “The difficult part, but also the most fun, will be in us taking all of this intelligence and really aligning and choosing to move forward with key areas of focus which will make the most impact to our members,” said Kimberly Howard, vice president and managing director for Glass Reinforcements, The Americas at Owens Corning.

During the next few months, information gathered in the workshop will be integrated in the roadmaps for the FIBERS and CAIIAC teams.

Dan Coughlin is ACMA’s vice president of composites market development. Contact him at dcoughlin@acmanet.org or 202.760.0677.